The Digital Journalist

Back to Basics
September 2007

by Beverly Spicer

After slipping deep into the memory hole last month about my first impressions and experiences in photography, there is no more time to linger or wax poetic about the past. August took three of us from The Digital Journalist to two state-of-the-art photo conferences, and a grand departure from the past it was. Dreamy notions of black-and-white film photography gave way to the fast-paced mental SuperDrive of the digital world and a clear look at the latest in the evolutionary chain of photographic hominids: the Backpack Journalist. Click on the photo of Kevin Sites to see more about Backpack Journalism.

First up was The NPPA Women in Photojournalism Conference dubbed "Expanding Our Vision," a weekend of presentations, workshops and portfolio reviews for still and video photographers held in Austin, Texas, August 17-19. I've been to many a photo conference, but have never seen quite the combination of the latest technology, networking, and sincere mentoring opportunities for young photographers. It was impressive, and various presentations from working professionals created a forum for frank discussion about the environment budding professionals can expect to enter. There can be no mistaking it: women in journalism are catching up in numbers with their male counterparts, especially as technology goes smaller and the load required to lug around lessens.

Women in Photojournalism (WIJ) is in its 17th year and though conceived and organized by women, the conference is for all photojournalism enthusiasts, male or female. It was the most educationally-oriented broad-spectrum conference on photography I've ever attended. I tried to figure out just what was so great about it – why it felt so comfortable and nurturing to photographers and video journalists – and realized the question was the answer. I heard a theory that a high testosterone factor promotes the more aggressive competition we sometimes see at gatherings where luminaries are known to display their photographic feathers like peacocks doing mating dances. I don't know about that, but I did note that at the WIJ conference, classic feminine aspects of inclusiveness and encouragement were stunningly apparent. I saw young photographers being welcomed into an association of like-minded individuals who want to assemble as many tools as they can and help each other advance. The philosophy seemed to be mutual benefit rather than cutthroat competition. Click on the photo to find out more about what Women in Photojournalism has to offer all photographers.

The week following the WIJ conference, Dirck Halstead presented a one-day Platypus Short Course called "Video for the Web" as part of a 2-1/2-day fast-paced and fascinating course in multimedia journalism for online publications. The workshop was conducted by the Inter-American Press Association (IAPA) and the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas at the University of Texas. Sixteen journalists from six Latin American countries participated, plus three of us from The Digital Journalist. Coordinated by UT journalism Professor Rosental Alves, the entire course's bottom line was two-part. It is now absolutely essential for reporters and editors to have training in multimedia, and if a photographer is not versatile, the job will go to someone else.

One of the most astonishing comments was offered during a teleconference with one of the original backpack journalists, Naka Nathaniel, multimedia producer for The New York Times. He showed us exactly what he has in his bag of tricks and said he so favors video journalism that he doesn't even care if his stories appear in a print version of the paper. I had a small epiphany listening to him describe his love for his craft and the technology, and realized that the digital eclipse that fragmented my once-coherent world as a black-and-white, manual camera film photographer has now given way to a new coherence where the photojournalist is again fully in control of his medium, and maybe even more than ever. When TV began to threaten still photography, the story required a producer, reporter, cameraman and audio technician. Now, with a video camera with satellite uplink, one person with a strong back and up-to-the-moment skills can get the whole story, and can do so unobtrusively. Click on the photos of our videoconference with Naka for the NYT series on Darfur, "The Power of Courage," published in November 2006, with Nicholas Kristof reporting and produced by Naka Nathaniel.

And so it goes in photojournalism: versatility is in, video is here to stay, and as The Digital Journalist Editor/Publisher Dirck Halstead has been saying in his Platypus workshops for 9 years – still photographers, beware. Print versions of newspapers may indeed become a thing of the past in the not-so-distant future, and who survives as a journalist may depend on packing the on-location capability of four people plus a faraway in-house editorial staff into one portable backpack. The good news, says Nathaniel, is that it is a profoundly exciting time for those who are prepared to condense the work of many into one roving journalist with a satellite uplink. True, everything has changed, but it is still all about the story. Who gets to tell the story is as always who survives and thrives in the environment, which today is a full-blown technological revolution.

This month we go to Perpignan, France, for the 19th annual Visa Pour L'Image, Festival International du Photojournalisme. Digital Journalist Chief Dirck Halstead exhibits his retrospective work and book "Moments in Time" at the 16-day-long festival, and I'm blogging on a daily basis the first week to provide a window on our experiences in France at the finest photojournalism festival to be found anywhere in the world. Explore their site, especially the exhibitions.

From here, it looks like it is a whole new world of news reporting and storytelling that some will reject but many will embrace. Like the host of young talented potential Backpack Journalists we've met in the last few weeks, those who open their minds, arms and hearts to versatility in the media of still and video journalism will be in great demand for years and years to come.

Read the Tdj Blog from Visa Pour L'image in Perpignan

© Beverly Spicer

Beverly Spicer is a writer, photojournalist, and cartoonist, who faithfully chronicled The International Photo Congresses in Rockport, Maine, from 1987 to 1991. Her book, THE KA'BAH: RHYTHMS OF CULTURE, FAITH AND PHYSIOLOGY, was published in 2003 by University Press of America. She lives in Austin.

The links that appear in this column are from World Wide Web. Credit is given where the creator is known, or the image is linked to the site where it was found. The Digital Journalist and the author claim no copyright ownership of any video or photographic materials that appear herein.