The Editors Speak Up

Go Digital, Young Man
by Jay Colton

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.

The paradigm shifts that have occurred in the photographic world, though not cataclysmic in scale, have nonetheless set the stage for the evolution of a new species. The new arena is the world of Cyberspace, growing exponentially every year, and poised to change the face of our business forever.
In the last 10 years the industry has, as a whole, gone digital. Sure, most cameras still shoot film, but every printing plant and every magazine works from digital files. Every person I know in the publishing field uses a computer. Every newspaper and magazine receives photos via the wire and the Web. And most of all, a greater percentage of the industry is moving that way each day. So, let me see, most of the industry is moving towards digital technologies. Gee, I wonder where the jobs and opportunities are?
As the Platypus has been adopted by Dirck to symbolize the hybridized, difficult to categorize, new journalist, so too has a new species of cybereditors evolved. When there is a niche in the evolutionary landscape, it is filled with the most adventurous and opportunistic species. The cybereditor sees the landscape as changing but looks for opportunities to exploit. A new type of journalism is appearing; one that combines the written word, audio, video, graphics, and still images in an interactive and interesting whole. The cybereditors may try to work with others who see the landscape in the same way (probably Dirck's Platypi ), developing a new modus operandi in the brave new world.
At the core of this highfalutin' technical wizardry lies an old fashioned concept: the relationship built between an editor and a photographer, each enriching the other. Like a compound lens, together, the two bring ideas into focus. Through their imagination and determination they bring concepts into action. Those who can get people motivated are the movers and shakers. The best editors have always had this ability. Their vision is not relegated to simply picking the best picture or photographer, but having the insight to resolve disparate ideas into a clear personal vision, and providing the opportunity and moral support to accomplish the goal.
The editors who can challenge and explore will succeed in the times ahead. But it takes courage and conviction. You must develop respect and trust and believe in each other's vision. In these days of electronic anonymity it is too easy to forget there IS a person at the end of the camera. They are not just pictures, they are the result of hard work by dedicated professionals.
It is my pleasure to know John Morris, whose current book "Get the Picture" [Hot Link] underscores the importance and viability of the editor/photographer relationship. I recommend this book to anyone in the field of photojournalism. The truths and strength of conviction contained in this book make it required reading.
There are two distinct forces at work in the Internet, which I believe are creating the impetus toward opportunities in the photographic area of the Net. The first is the autonomous individual empowering movement of the Net. The future, in my opinion, is an incredible empowering place for people with imagination who are observant, diligent, and willing to embrace new technology. We live in a time when any journalist can post his or her website replete with pictures and information. Empowering the individual is the key point here. We no longer have to wait for magazines to publish a story. We can do it ourselves.
The second is the realization by every major corporation that the Net WILL be the way of disseminating information in the future. Everybody will have a home page. At the same time, every major corporation is looking for ways to utilize and cash in on the Internet. The major problems they deal with include: how to make the Internet an economically viable method of selling their product; how to make it interesting so people will come back; how to make it an effective marketing tool; and most importantly, where to find the people to do it for you. Their problems are our opportunities.
Just as there are many jobs in photography production in ancillary markets (everything from annual reports to weddings), the Internet too has secondary niche markets in which to parlay an idea into a commercial venture. Companies are devising and designing ways to secure a place on the highway of the future. They are investigating and investing in everything from selling products to allowing shareholders an up-to-the-minute look at the company and its earnings. The secret here is that the Internet is the tool of the information age and it is being used to parlay fortunes by people who can devise a way to use the Net to their advantages. If you analyze the current situation, extrapolate its direction, and use your imagination constructively, the results should be successful. Another thing that has not changed: imagination, diligence, and application are still the constituent parts for the formula for success.

 It is opportunity that I look for in the challenges of a constantly evolving workplace. Fluidity is the key. Embrace change. Go with the flow and ride the wave. Learn to surf the Internet that is.
Things aren't the same. They will never be again, because the past can never be recaptured. You can be part of the past, or part of the future. As the Web becomes a content hungry machine and as the nature of information gathering evolves, the people who secure their niche will be better enabled to leverage their position. Having adopted new technologies and skills they will be better adapted to the future. Sure, magazines will still be around,  but just as old fishing grounds have become depleted, so too will these areas have a greater number of competitors in a shrinking market.
The Web actually has created opportunities for photo editors, albeit a small group of them. However, we do see a trend towards embracing the world of electronic journalism. Many staunch opponents, and slow to recognize critics, have come aboard realizing they will not derail the freight train, and rather than be run over they have hopped aboard.
In the future, I think there will be electronic photo divisions in every major agency. The photographers who have generally been hired to be problem solvers will continue to find a way to get the images and get them to the editors. There will be interesting developments in the way websites function, and someone will find formulae that will work. They will become commercially viable. There will be increased hybridization and cross pollination between video, still photography, and the written word. As voice technologies come to dominate the Net in the next 10 years, you will see many individual and team journalists who will be able to create websites of dizzying depth. Sites that will utilize the unique aspects of interactive information married to solid traditions of journalism will proliferate.
What we see occurring is the first foray of adventurers. After the initial wave of explorers, the settlers will change the electronic terrain forever. But, we are living in pioneer days. To paraphrase Greeley, "Go Digital, young man." There are many places to explore, develop, and leave a legacy.
The new cybereditors will be able to envision, conceptualize and execute great ideas on the Net. They will find a way to do things in a new medium which will articulate, excite, and promulgate their ideas. Who are they? Well, the jury is out, but there are more than a handful of us tinkering away, chipping at the old paradigm, and finding a way to promote personal vision into popular culture. We are looking to forge a new form of communication that strives to achieve old goals; we wish to fascinate, educate, and perhaps touch the hearts and minds of people we reach.

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