Are Picture Editors an Endangered Species?
Editorial By Dirck Halstead

Time Magazine Deputy Picture Editor, Jay Colton, writes in an article in this month's Digital Journalist, "Dinosaurs once roamed the planet uncontested, the pinnacle of the evolutionary ladder. Their demise, it is speculated, came when a chunk of rock hurtled through space and fell into what is now the Yucatan basin, causing one of the great extinctions of history. Our human story was made possible by seeking to take advantage of the circumstances. On a constantly shifting playing field those best adapted to the new situation survive. " 

In the months since we introduced this topic, we have received many suggestions from our readers nominating those picture editors whom they believe represent the values that are most prized in a photographer/editor relationship. These values include: a clear defining vision that conveys not only the values of the editor, but of the publication as well; how well the picture editor stimulates the photographer to do his or her best work; how effectively the picture editor sustains and defends the photographer once the assignment is given; and last--but not least--how forcefully the picture editor projects the reputation of the photo department in the eyes of the editors and the publisher, and maintains respect and credibility. 

We have spent the past two months interviewing by phone, email, and in some cases in person, the editors who have been nominated by our viewers. The results of these interviews will be included in our October issue, which deals with the future of photojournalism. We have asked several of them to write articles for this issue about how they manage to cope in today's environment. In most cases, their professional life was no bed of roses. The constant pressure to do more, with less, has pushed the limits of their professional capabilities. 

While most editors find that the computer has made inter-office decision making faster, thanks to direct e-mail communication with other editors, some have found that they now spend most of their time searching data bases, and much less time over the light table interacting with photographers 

Non-linear editing has made the process of editing a major movie longer and more expensive, because the director, wanting to take advantage of the capabilities of digital editing, now shoots ten times the amount of film--knowing it can be covered in the edit suite. The same thing is happening in print. 

Down-sizing in publications has resulted in a depletion of experienced assistants to the editor. A senior picture editor at a major wire service, who has been working for his company for nine years, is now the senior person in the newsroom. Most of his colleagues at the picture desk are interns. As a result, there is no one of wisdom to help guide the editor when difficult choices have to be made. 

However, there are still some great picture editors who, despite having to carry an increasingly heavy load, with fewer resources, are pushing their publications and photographers to excel in visual storytelling. For example: the July 6th issue of Time Magazine offers a picture essay by British photogapher Zed Nelson about the effect guns have on American society. The essay, shot throughout the United States over a two-year period, is a classic example of the role the picture editor plays in photojournalism. Time's Picture Editor, Michele Stephenson, first spotted the pictures in the German publication Stern Magazine about six months ago. When Managing Editor, Walter Isaacson, decided to do a story on guns, she remembered the essay and obtained the pictures. The eight-page black and white essay is one of the largest packages of photographs by an individual photogapher that Time has ever run. 

Here are a few of the outstanding picture editors, working today, selected by you, our readers: 

MONICA CIPNIC, PICTURE EDITOR OF POPULAR PHOTOGRAPHY: More of our viewers suggested Monica than any other editor. As picture editor for the best known photo magazine in publishing, Monica has constantly tried to be a "pointer" to new talent, while celebrating the greats of photography. Photographers such as Pete Turner and Eric Meola discovered what a big difference Monica could make in their careers. 

MARYANNE GOLON, PICTURE EDITOR OF U.S. NEWS &WORLD REPORT: After spending more than 15 years as a deputy picture editor at Time, MaryAnne was hired away by USN &WR's James Fallows, to reinvigorate the No. 3 newsmagazine. According to staff photographer Chick Harrity,"her enthusiasm and drive have motivated not only the staff and contract photographers that she inherited when she arrived at the magazine, but also the new contract photographers that she has added--in addition to the abundance of new talent she consistently brings to the magazine for special projects. Her vision has resulted in a mix of photography that has people on the street taking notice." 

JOE ELBERT, DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY, THE WASHINGTON POST: Having a photographer win a Pulitzer or Photographer of the Year Award is always great for a picture editor. But, when it happens year after year, to many photographers on one staff, then obviously we are seeing leadership at work. Along with his deputy, Michel duCille, Joe has boosted morale and enthusiasm for "seeing" to new levels at this paper. 

TOM BETTAG: EXECUTIVE PRODUCER, NIGHTLINE, ABC NEWS: One of the pioneers in the new visual journalism, Tom Bettag was there for emerging Platypi when they first sprang from their Video News International nest. Bettag, almost alone in the industry, welcomed photojournalists such as David Hume Kennerly, PF Bentley and Bill Gentille, as they shot their first documentary pieces on High 8. Without his vision and help, this new profession of video-journalism would have been stillborn. 

DAVID FRIEND, CREATIVE DIRECTOR FOR VANITY FAIR: We first encountered David on a trawler sneaking into the bombarded harbor of Beirut in the summer of 1982, when he was a reporter for Life Magazine. Since then, he has been the guiding light for that magazine as the Picture Editor and Asstistant Managing Editor. Earlier this year, when Life decided to abandon photojournalism to concentrate on more entertainment and "lifestyle" issues, David took a walk. He has since been hired by Conde Nast to take over the creative direction of Vanity Fair. David has been one of the most powerful forces in photography, mounting shows and exhibits, and honoring the traditions of photojournalism. 

JAY COLTON, TIME MAGAZINE DEPUTY PICTURE EDITOR: Jay is one of the most forward-thinking editors in the picture industry. During his tenure as Picture Editor for Time Daily On-Line, he commissioned some of the first Platypus multimedia essays. Now in charge of special event coverage, working with Picture Editor Michele Stephenson, he continues to infuse photographers with his enthusiasm for photography as it goes through the transition to the new cross-platform visual journalism. 

ROBERT PLEDGE, DIRECTOR, CONTACT PRESS IMAGES: Robert is a rock of integrity in photojournalism. He started Contact following a dispute with his former employer, Gamma, when one of its photographers sold an image that had been shot while on assignment in Vietnam for Time to its competitor, Newsweek. With the help of photographers such as David Burnett, Pledge has made Contact the premiere picture agency for photojournalism in the world. 

In this issue, we offer some of their thoughts in their own words. We hope you are as inspired by them as we have been. 

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