E-Mail From New Delhi
Laid Off? Time to think like an entrepreneur and explore freelance videojournalism opportunities.
April 2009

by Brent Foster
Freelance Videojournalist

[Editor's Note: One of Prof. Ken Kobré's videojournalism students at San Francisco State University was distressed to discover that there wasn't much of a market for freelance video stories he intended to peddle. With newspapers slashing budgets, laying off staffers, and sending their videographers back to the photography department, there isn't much hope of them purchasing material from outsiders. We wondered if anyone was able to actually make a living – or even a dime – as a freelance videojournalist. So we put out the call -- on Twitter and Facebook, of course.

This led to a lively e-mail correspondence with Brent Foster, a former Los Angeles Times videojournalist who had left earlier this year for New Delhi to pursue a freelance VJ career. We asked him lots of questions about the protocols and infrastructure for marketing freelance video stories. How do you get assignments? What are the rates? Who owns the footage? Greatest challenges? Triumphs?

Here's what he had to say in e-mails to KobreGuide.com Editor Jerry Lazar.]

Hi Jerry,

Good to hear from you.

Yes. Still in India, till at least the end of June.

Wow. Where to begin. Well, it's been just over two months now that I've been working as a freelancer after leaving my staff job as a visual journalist at the Los Angeles Times. So far it's been like the elevator business...it has its ups and downs. 

As you assumed, Jerry, most of the time is spent hustling. Sending e-mails, applying for grants, pitching to clients. A lot of no responses, or simply "No." That has been hard on the ego at times, but perfectly normal I think at any time, recession or not.

© Brent Foster
Brent Foster made sure he was in the right place at the right time. When "Slumdog Millionaire" was nominated for multiple Oscars, he called and e-mailed editors to let them know he was in Dharavi, Mumbai's largest slum, where part of the movie was filmed. He sold a multimedia piece to TIME.com.
I think my biggest challenge has been letting people know I'm here, and reminding them as often as possible. So far, most of my clients have been people I know personally, or people who I've been introduced to, via e-mail, through former colleagues.

The biggest challenge I continue to face is basically a journalism identity crisis. I'm finding it hard to get photo editors that I don't know to take me seriously as a photographer, and video/multimedia editors to take me seriously as a videographer/multimedia producer, when they see that I do both. 

Most of the papers and magazines that I've worked for have separate departments for both photo and video/multimedia, and it almost seems to be a curse to pursue both. I haven't had a single freelance assignment yet that has run both in print and online (for the same company anyway).

Making money has been a challenge, and so far to be honest, I'm just breaking even. That being said, I am trying to justify it as starting a new business. I find I'm reminding myself of this daily. What business starts up and is making a profit two months in? 

In terms of pitches, so far the stories I've done for newspapers as a still photographer have been assigned, and the multimedia content I've produced has been about 90 percent me pitching an idea, and an editor going for it. 

So far, I've maintained rights to all the still photography, and have agreed, for the most part, to give exclusive rights on the video content. Pay has been all over the map, as there truly is no model for multimedia yet.

I continue to look at my first year as a building year, and want to continue to grow both in still and video, so most of my stories have been trips I've wanted to take timed around news events. For example, when "Slumdog Millionaire" was nominated for so many Oscars, it seemed a very natural time to work on a story in Dharavi, where part of the movie was filmed. I simply began to call and e-mail editors to let them know where I was, and what I'd be doing. I was able to sell the multimedia piece to TIME.com and also sell the stills to a fine-art magazine later on. 

I also just returned from Africa where I worked on a couple stories in Rwanda which will run this month on the 15th anniversary of the genocide, allowing me to fund an inaugural trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo. 

I'm not really sure if there's a successful business approach to this yet, or a right or wrong way to go about it. I do know the nice thing is I am starting to get work in various forms -- print, Web, even radio -- all which allow me to fund still photojournalism and multimedia pieces that I feel are important to do. 

Recently, as you posted on KobreChannel.com, I became a part of The Bombay Flying Club. Next week we start our first project together. I'm really excited to work with talented people who have the same passion for storytelling that I do.

Couldn't agree more that this is the time to pave the way and shake up newsrooms as we go. It goes without saying that it's time to do so, but it's not going to be easy either. I'm sure looking forward to trying though. :)

Take care, and keep in touch.



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© Brent Foster

Brent Foster is a freelance photojournalist, multimedia producer and videographer based in New Delhi, India. Foster was a staff visual journalist for the Los Angeles Times before deciding to give freelancing a try. Foster keeps a blog focusing on all things multimedia and his India travels at http://visualjournalist.org.