Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Is There Life After Videojournalism?

Newspaper photographers who've made the leap to videojournalism with varying degrees of enthusiasm and success are now wondering if all that technical training was worth it, now that papers in their death throes are cutting back on video and laying off staffers.

We've asserted all along that those who possess both solid visual storytelling and journalism skills should pursue assignments from non-profits and corporations who need their stories told online -- and can afford to pay for it.

And now the Photo District News backs us up with an excellent report by David Walker, "Multimedia Journalists Discover Life After Newspapers."

As layoffs continue to decimate newsrooms all over the country, a pressing question for staff photographers is, what is plan B when the pink slip comes? How do you translate your photojournalism skills into some other means of earning a living?

A handful of former newspaper photographers with strong multimedia skills and some entrepreneurial drive are reporting at least one promising lead: the growing demand for story-driven video production from non-profits and corporations trying to build brands and markets through the Web in particular.
Examples abound:

  • Former Virginian-Pilot staff photographer Chris Tyree has launched a multimedia production company called Weyo with Stephen Katz, who is still a staff photographer at the paper and won POYi Newspaper Photographer of the Year honors in 2008. Clients include Physicians for Peace,, and the Samaritan's Purse Canada.

  • Geri Migielicz, who was the San Jose Mercury News's director of photography, left in February to start Story4, an independent multimedia production company serving primarily non-profit organizations. Former Mercury News videojournalist Richard Koci Hernandez and Dai Sugano (still with the paper) are Story4 contributors. Clients include Big Sur Land Trust and the Women's Foundation of California.
Some videojournalists are going it alone, including Pulitzer prizewinning photog David Leeson, who took a buyout from the Dallas Morning News last year, and has since gone on to produce videos for the engineering department of Southern Methodist University.

But what about established video production companies that corporations and PR companies usually hire for video? Don't they already have a lock on the big-bucks clients? Turns out that a videojournalist's storytelling skills can be a big plus in this market.

And how about the pay?

PDN reports that fees are all over the map -- but, generally speaking, corporate and even non-profit marketing budgets easily put newspaper budgets to shame. Fees range from $5,000 to $15,000 for a video -- and that effort might also entail providing stills and even an accompanying Website. Bigger projects can draw six-figure pricetags.

MediaStorm president Brian Storm acknowledges that the corporate work he does for clients such as Starbucks pays multiples of editorial gigs, but helps foot the bills for those do-good journalism projects that are closer to the heart.

So staff videojournalists who are looking to augment their dwindling and uncertain salaries, or to build an exit strategy, would do well to read PDN's report on how some videojournalism pioneers are putting their skills to profitable use.

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