The Digital Journalist

Getting to Know You, Part II

Editorial by Dirck Halstead

In last month's editorial, we started to answer some of the questions being posed by freelance television photojournalist Porter Versfelt, who wanted to know why still photojournalists felt they should own the rights to their images. A concept which seemed out of the question for television shooters.

We explained that for still photojournalists, many of whom are freelance, the photographs they take become not only their legacy, but their insurance policy as well. Since they're not guaranteed pensions or other benefits, they depend upon future sales of their images to provide a livelihood for them and their families. 

We also looked at how still photographers are used to working alone - while those on the television side have traditionally worked as part of a team.

This month, we want to touch on some of the prospects these changes in technology and communications will provide for both still and television photojournalists. Without getting into a long discussion of the Platypus concept (see The Platypus Papers on this website), it is a simple fact that everything is changing in our photojournalist universe. The World Wide Web is redesigning the mode by which people access news, entertainment and information of all sorts. 

As broadband reaches a critical number of homes, all media - whether it be print, radio, or television - will be racing to be on top. If I were to guess who will win, I'd place my bet on television. But television will also be subsumed by the Web. Most important, as the cost of equipment necessary to produce programming comes down (from $60,000 Betacams to $3,500 digital cameras; and $150,000 edit bays to $3,000 nonlinear systems), INDIVIDUALS will start to create their own programming.

Now, seasoned television photojournalists, having worked as part of a tight, collaborative unit, for large corporate employers, will experience the same joys (and anxieties) involved in creating a story all by themselves, that still photojournalists have known for years .

Our paths as still and television photojournalists are crossing. Still photojournalists are learning how to tell visual stories through sequences and sound. Television photojournalists are becoming more self-reliant, and more willing to "think outside the box." Both will share the same hunger and excitement to tell stories.

The primary goal in the creation of the Platypus Workshops has been to provide a forum, a setting where both television and still photojournalists can learn ways to combine their experiences and know-how to expand their horizons. 

At our most recent Workshop in March at  the University of Oklahoma, still photojournalists sat through a week of lectures by the best teachers in broadcast journalism. The television people watched with some amazement as the still people cut their first pieces, using the latest nonlinear hardware and software. 

I predict that by next year, the television people will be using the nonlinear systems, and much of the discussion will turn to examining the opportunities offered by the ever accelerating changes in technology.

One of the interesting by-products of the "lean and mean" corporate culture during the past two decades, is the alienation of the creative process by many of the largest media companies, not only in this country, but around the globe. In many cases they have purged their most talented storytellers. In time, these individuals will band together on a free, consensual basis to create their own networks on the Web. 

You can already see this happening, just click on Ifilm, The Digital Filmmaker, and The Digital Journalist. The doubters, of course, will say that the giants shall rule by either crushing or buying the new suppliers. My bet is, though, that the eventual role of the big corporations will be as "content amalgamators" who will use their power to market the work created by these new networks.

However, if we are to profit from this evolution, it is critical that we own the rights to our material, whether still or video. It is our only position of strength. If we sign away our rights, all power will go to the organizations who are so eager to secure ownership of our work.  Television photojounalists need to understand why still photographers, for all these years, have insisted on ownership of their work.

As former NPPA president and KAKE TV anchor, Larry Hatteberg has said, "there is uncertainty in the future, but there is no denying we are moving into a new century, with a new way of thinking. Our minds must be open to new ideas, or we will be left with the flashbulbs of the past."

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