The Story of the Platypus
December 2009

by Dirck Halstead

Over the past 10 years that we have been sponsoring the Platypus Workshops, I am always asked, "Why do you call a DV workshop the Platypus?"

In those classes, I explain it.

Through the history of our planet, and life on earth, there was a period when dinosaurs and terradactyl roamed the planet. They were huge. They could crunch any foe with one bite from their massive jaws, or dispatch others with one swish of their enormous tails.

In photojournalism, we have all seen those dinosaurs come and go. There were the photographers for Colliers, The Saturday Evening Post, Look, Life, National Geographic, Paris Match, Stern, the big newspapers, The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and the agencies, The Associated Press, United Press International, Reuters, Agence France-Presse, Sygma, Contact Press Images, Magnum, Gamma, and lately, Corbis and Getty.

These publications and agencies stomped across the globe. We owe much of our photographic legacy to them.

But, just like the dinosaurs, their time in the media firmament is coming to a close. Together, they employed or represented 90 percent of the photojournalists working in media.

When we started the Platypus Workshops we took as a model that strange little mammal which, by being adaptable and swift, recreated itself to adapt to the changing circumstances as the behemoths thudded to the ground. Platypuses are not sure of their genre. They are mammals that suckle their young, lay eggs, are equally at home on land or water. And they are not necessarily nice. You don't want to get into a fight with one. A male has poison in its claws.

But, the little beast has endured while all other life around it has been extinguished.

What we were saying is that the old models of photojournalism were being extinguished. I doubt that anyone who has been let go by a newspaper, magazine or simply can't find any new clients would readily disagree.

But the Platypus, as it scurries along, is below the fray. It recognizes and prepares to deal with the changing circumstances in media. It is not involved in the fight of the titans. It just continues to do what it can do and comes up with the solutions that will enable it not only to survive but also prosper.

As we watch all the institutions of media crumble around us, we invest our hope in that adaptable, ugly, nasty little beast to see us through to the next side.

© 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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