Just Keep Flying
December 2009

by Dirck Halstead

As we begin a new decade, few of us will miss these past ten years.

For those in journalism, it was quite simply a disaster!

In 2009 alone, 105 newspapers were closed, and over 30,000 newspaper jobs were lost in the U.S. Magazines cut back on the use of photographs as ad pages dwindled. Newsweek gave up entirely on the idea of being a newsmagazine. Until the ’90s, the three top newsmagazines —Time, Newsweek and US News & World Report were the source of assignments for many freelance photojournalists. Today, the idea of a well financed, globetrotting photographer seems almost arcane.

On New Year’s Eve, The Washington Times wiped out its entire photo staff — terminating prize-winning photographer Mary Calvert, along with her eight colleagues. The very same day, Pulitzer Prize winning AME of Photography Janet Reeves, who had just joined the Times in September after her paper, The Rocky Mountain News closed, was also laid off.

During the decade, technology changed at an ever-accelerating pace. Nikon and Canon introduced their first high-definition video DSLR cameras, which will allow our Platypus Workshop students to shoot stills and video on the same piece of equipment. But for the manufacturers, these developments represent a double-edged sword. Now that both stills and video can be shot on a $1,500 camera, who would need to buy a $7,500 camcorder, or for that matter an $8,000 top-of-the-line professional still camera.

The “pro market” was being wiped out. Canon, for example, reorganized and the people who used to specialize in either still or video equipment found themselves selling both, and additionally being responsible for printers. The company that had prided itself as a market innovator has now dropped plans to attend major industry events in 2010, and sadly for us, has terminated their 10-year support of The Digital Journalist.

Though, as the saying goes, “It’s always darkest before the dawn.”

This coming spring Apple, according to all credible reports, will deliver its new tablet. Although this breakthrough product is not yet acknowledged by anyone at Apple, Business Week has already dubbed it the “Jesus Tablet.”

Apple’s tablet has the potential to save publishing. As we’ve pointed out, in earlier editorials, print newspapers and magazines are no longer economically sustainable. The industry has yet to come up with a way to effectively monetize their websites. However, this promised technology breaks all the old rules, as SPORTS ILLUSTRATED proves in its demo of the magazine’s design for the tablet. The presentation is like nothing we’ve ever seen on the web. Graphics, photographs and video all flow in a new and provocative way. Most important, subscriptions can be sold as “apps.” Advertising is finally dynamic, which in turn means advertising rates will eventually go up dramatically.

Ah, the end of printing presses, but also the end of free content on the web. Publishers aren’t going to make that mistake again.

And what will these tablet publications need more than anything else? Visual content. Of course, a lot of it will come from citizen journalists, but they will also need the pros.

One of my favorite movies is “The High and The Mighty.” Most of you probably have never seen it, since it came out in the ’50s. It’s the story of a propeller-driven airliner, which loses an engine and suffers a broken fuel line, desperately trying to make it safely to San Francisco.

According to the flight engineer’s calculations, there’s not enough fuel, they need another 11 minutes worth. The plane is going to ditch in the Pacific. But as the pilot, played by Robert Stack, starts to prepare for descent, the co-pilot, John Wayne, barks “don’t be so anxious to take a swim, bub!” then smacks him across the face, and says, “Just keep flying!” They touch down in San Francisco with less than 30 gallons in the tank, barely enough to measure.

So, as we start into the new decade, our advice is: “Just Keep Flying!”

Happy New Year!

© Dirck Halstead
Editor and Publisher of The Digital Journalist

Dirck Halstead was Time magazine's Senior White House Photographer for 29 years. He now is the Publisher and Editor of The Digital Journalist, the monthly online magazine for visual journalism, and a Senior Fellow at the Center For American History at the University of Texas in Austin. His new book, MOMENTS IN TIME, published by Harry N. Abrams, is in bookstores, and available from

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