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Making images for BAGnewsNotes is a unique way of working with an editor. Although it’s Michael’s site, we’re both pioneering a new format, so I have more of a stake. It’s more of a cooperative situation rather than me working for a boss.
Traditional media can be very hierarchical. I’ve had a lot of assignments when I felt like the editors were my bosses and I couldn’t offend them or differ from their conception of the story too much. Of course, when you trust them and they trust you, then you can really speak freely and there’s a give and take. That’s how I’ve felt with Michael. He’s comfortable criticizing what I’m doing, and I feel the same way talking to him. So we have more ability to do that than might be typical in our industry.
I do have to point out, though, that sometimes there are great people, with imagination and vision, like Jamie Wellford, international photo editor at Newsweek, with whom I also have that relationship, because fundamentally it’s just good people that really matters.
Also I know that we can screw up more more, because we’re still at the beginning of this. If we make mistakes, it’s not so horrible because we are trying to break new ground. It’s not going to be perfect; it’s just the two of us. We can’t be perfect in everything we do. And that’s OK in a way that it wouldn’t be for Time or Newsweek.
I also believe that the work I’ve been doing with Michael is indicative of changes in traditional media, where photographers are being seen more as reporters and analysts. Last year I was in China and I covered the Sichuan earthquake. Because I ended up being on the phone a lot with editors and reporters, they started giving me credit on print stories, in part because they have to be more accountable about giving credit than they used to be.
Increasingly, whoever is out there, if you can verbally report on a situation or figure out what’s going on, that’s going to go into the mix, because things happen so fast now. It’s not like the editors and reporters have the luxury they once had to wait until the end of the week to figure everything out. They have to have the story together very quickly. Even weekly magazines don’t have the long deadlines that they used to.
As a photographer, you’re out there seeing things. And the desk views your pictures relatively quickly, which is another source of information for them. In fact, not only are we becoming reporters, we’re also becoming our own technicians. A lot of photographers I know record audio to do multimedia as well as take still photos. We’re becoming this one-person multimedia insanity. You can’t possibly be at your very best trying to do three or four tasks at once. But I think in some ways it’s good, if it means photographers are being taken more seriously as observers and reporters.
On the other hand, nobody is paying us more for our increased responsibilities, and that’s true not only for photographers but for everyone in this era of bankrupt news organizations and newspapers closing down. And ultimately that is the bottom line: if there’s not enough money to pay us or our expenses, then the coverage simply won’t exist, whether in traditional or new media. Enthusiasm, volunteerism, and the sheer love of our craft can only take us so far. It is my hope that we figure this out sooner rather than later; it’s all over, otherwise.