Photojournalism takes flight

The photojournalist’s toolbox may soon include cameras, lenses, iPhones, and now drones.

A partnership of 15 different media companies, including The New York Times, The Washington Post,The Oregonian, The Associated Press, and Reuters, are working with the FAA on a new testing program that will allow journalists to practice using drones to cover stories. The program will help simulate news events, and allow photojournalists and videographers to practice using the aircraft to document those stories. The results will help the FAA develop new rules about how journalists can use drones.

Members of the coalition say the drones can be useful to cover a variety of stories, from natural disasters to stories on city streets.

“Whether it’s the approach of a hurricane in coastal Florida, or the droughts in the Southwest, or the riots in a city environment, UAS (unmanned aerial systems) will become a new tool and they will become an accepted standard in the coming years,” said attorney Charles D. Tobin, who represents the media coalition.

Photo by Joe Songer/al.com

A photojournalism drone in flight. (Photo by Joe Songer/al.com)

This is an exciting opportunity, and one that the group needs to get right. Drones have the potential to be a powerful tool for photojournalists, allowing them to take aerial photos, capture vast images, and shoot airborne footage that can help tell print and TV stories in new and unique ways. Imagine being able to get a sweeping shot over a drought-parched landscape in southern California, or a view of the massive amount of people clogging the streets for the Golden State Warriors championship parade! What secrets are being hidden over a previously-inaccessible ridge in the wilderness? This is an evolution in the way that stories can be covered; photographers don’t have to be stuck on the ground anymore, and can document a story from conceivably every angle.

And it’s going to be important that the tests by these media companies focus on that positive impact, because drones also come with the potential for abuse. For starters, it brings up privacy issues. Shooting photos of private property from a sidewalk has always been fair game, but as the Student Press Law Center points out:

“…they cannot use technology to improve upon what an unaided person would be able to see or hear from that public place.”

The idea of a drone seems to fly directly in the face of that idea.

And there’s also going to be the issue of operator error/interference. If a photographer covering a wildfire flies a drone that gets in the way of a helicopter, that could be dangerous. What areas in the skies will the FAA allow drones to fly into, and what will be deemed no-fly zones due to police or emergency crew activity?

Fortunately, those concerns will likely be calmed by the professionals taking part in the training. These aren’t some straight-outta-college young journalists, these are some of the top photographers, newspapers, and media organizations in the world. They employ the best of the best, and I’m confident they’re already thinking of ways to continue the evolution of photojournalism without sacrificing the foundations of journalism ethics.

As the world continues to change, journalists tools need to change with them. How journalists cover breaking news and confirm information isn’t the same as it was 20 years ago, and it’s not going to be the same 20 years from now. Drones could be a powerful tool for keeping the public better informed. Journalists have always tried to get every angle of a story, and photographers want every angle of a shot. Physically, drones can be a great way to do that. I’m excited to see the ways this innovative group of journalists will find to use these new tools responsibly.

Keep watching the skies.

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Coexisting: Sports and Photographers

Last week, LeBron James was fouled while driving to the hoop in game 4 of the NBA Finals. After he absorbed contact from Andrew Bogut, James tried to sell the foul to the refs, only to land awkwardly, and fell (I would say propelled himself) headfirst into a row of photographers sitting courtside, with his head smashing into the lens of an NBA TV camera operator.

Here’s the video:

Suddenly, what was a painful yet isolated incident turned into a debate about whether photographers should even be allowed to sit along the baseline.

It started as soon as the incident occurred. Take a look at the video again. At the :21-second mark, the man in the dark suit (who was identified as Nike executive Lynn Merritt, who is in charge of James’ “brand”) appears to point and yell at the camera operator. “Fucking asshole,” he says. “It IS your fault.”

I’m not quite sure what he was angry about –the fact that the photog was sitting in the appropriately assigned spot? The photog’s lack of superhuman speed to avoid being crashed into by the strongest player in the NBA? It’s not fair (or sane) to think that the photog was responsible for James’ head wound.

(As an aside, Merritt is the same errand boy James used to confiscate video of him being dunked on by Xavier’s Jordan Crawford. GOTTA PROTECT THAT BRAND!)

So immediately, with Lebron on the ground with a gash on his head, the attention wasn’t James’ injury or about exaggerating a hard foul – it was a problem created by the presence of the media.

But the anti-camera sentiment continued moments later. Watch at the :49 second mark. As ABC TV cameras tried to get a shot of James – you know, for the live game they are covering, a security guard steps in the way of the shot. “They don’t want cameras,” she says, sticking her hand on the camera lens.

You can see more in this video:

James walked to the scorer’s table, escorted by security guards who created a human shield (!) between James and the cameras. At at the 1:10 mark, even ABC play-by-play man Mike Breen admits the ridiculousness of the efforts to … I dunno … keep photogs from stealing James soul or something.

“The security is trying to push away the cameras. Not going let them shoot it. Getting a little overzealous here,” he said.

I admit that the last thing you want when you’re hurt is a camera in your face, and I’ve been a part of broadcasts that knew better than to broadcast a gruesome injury or show a replay of someone in tremendous pain. But this isn’t a high school kid with a blown knee or Paul George snapping his leg in half. LeBron James knocking his head and being hurt in the NBA Finals is news, and crews showed appropriate restraint: the photogs moved out of the way for medical teams and the ABC photog who was shunned by the security guard was giving enough space to not be intrusive.

Following the game, James took his stance against the position of photographers, telling Northwest Ohio Media Group that he will tell concerns about how close photogs are to the court at the Players Association meetings in July. “Something has to be done,” he said. (In the same article, author Chris Haynes notes that the NBA has made changes over the last five years to “reduce the baseline photo area by nearly 50 percent).

The message was clear: photographers should move away from the sidelines.

But photographers are already near the limit of where they can sit on the baseline and still be able to do their jobs.

The NBA requires that four feet of space be given on each side of the stanchion (the post holding up the hoop), and the stanchion also sits four feet off the court. The idea is to provide a “safety lane” for out of control players so they don’t crash into people or equipment. Add to that the number of premium baseline seats that are packed into the space behind the basket, and there’s already not a lot of room to work with. Also keep in mind, the hoop hang out a couple feet over the court, so there’s even more space between the hoop itself and where photographers sit. Also, last year the NBA reduced the number of credentialed photographers allowed along the baseline.

Some “hot take artists” have made the argument that cameras have zoom lenses, so why should photographers sit so close? A seemingly valid point, but it falls apart when you realize that zoom lenses don’t have x-ray vision and can’t see through a basketball hoop support. I get angry when a referee walks in front of my shot, but at least he moves out of the way after a moment.

Photographers need to be able to do their jobs and document the games. Many of the amazing basketball photos features in news, magazines, and on posters come from photographers sitting along the baseline. Do you think this shot of Michael Jordan soaring through the air would be possible if the photographer was moved back several feet? I doubt it. Could photographers adjust? Possibly, but photographers have already made the adjustments, staying in their zones and giving space for players, referees and fans.

But it’s the photographers and camera operators jobs to document the game and share the story with their audience. It’s the same as a news photographer taking pictures at an event or on the street. They do what they can to not become a part of the proceedings, and give enough space to not interfere (there’s an unspoken rule among photographers that creates an invisible barrier at the scene of news, ensuring no one runs in front of each others’ shots). But it’s their job to get the photos. They can’t write on their web site the next day that “I couldn’t get the shot. They wanted me to stand farther away.” The audience doesn’t care. And if a photographer is following the rules and laws of a situation, they should do what they can to get the shot. Yes, there are times when a photographer and a subject collide, or find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time, but those unfortunate moments are rare exceptions.

I think James and those who share his opinions on baseline photographers are reacting too quickly, and making the issue appear larger than it really is.

The James collision was a freak accident, but an isolated one. Let’s not blame photgraphers. Let’s blame the forces of gravity that caused it to happen and move on.

How I Got The Job: The Complete Stories (So Far)

I’ve been very fortunate in my career to have worked with so many talented people. The business of storytelling seems to attract a lot of good individuals, in a variety of different fields. I’m lucky to have worked alongside so many of them, and to be connected to so many others.

But what’s best about these people has been their willingness to go out of their way to help others. That’s never been more evident than in the past 28 weeks, when person after person came forward to share the stories of how they got their first job out of college.

When I approached these people about sharing their stories, my hope was to show my students at Oregon State University (and others reading this around the world) that the path to getting their first media job isn’t the same for everyone. But my concern was that people might not have been willing to be very open. The journey to a first job can be very difficult – with emotional low points, tense contract negotiations, and insider secrets. How many of these colleagues would be willing to give the honest truth?

Short answer: All of them.

Over the past six months, I never got a single rejection. In fact, many responded by saying they wished they’d had stories like these when they were first starting out.

As a result, How I Got the Job was born.

I’m sincerely grateful to all of those who have participated. You’ve been able to shine a light on the process of landing your first media job, and my hope is that students will take away your experiences and use them to get the job of their dreams.

And for those of you who are graduating seniors this year, pay attention: the How I Got the Job contributors showed the value of paying it forward. When you are off doing great things in the world with your skills, I hope you will continue the tradition of helping others find their own success.

How I Got the Job will likely slow down a little this summer, but it will pick back up again in the fall. In the meantime, go back and relive some of the amazing stories shared by people in all walks of multimedia.

Reporters/Anchors

Emily Wood

Justin Bourke

Whitney Clark

Molly Garrity

Kirstin O’Connor

Bryan Navarro

Christine Pitawanich

Erin Maxson

Ryan Pfeil

Ian Cull

Rob Scott

Sharon Ko

Producers

Stephanie Golson

Hannah Everman

Sarah Schueler

Wiley Post

News Photogs

Scott Perry

Evan Bell

Adam Thompson

Eric Carlton

Video Production

Reid Johnson

James Churchill

David Heil

TV News Production

Will Mahon

Pat Stumbaugh

Meteorologists

Derek Kevra

Megan Parry

Sports Reporters

Lindsay Joy

How I Got the Job: Reid Johnson

Everyone takes a different path to their first media job. Some people land their first choice right out of college. Others need to apply to dozens of places before landing an interview. There’s not a perfect way to get the job you want, but it can help to learn from the experience of others. In our feature “How I Got the Job,” we talk to some of the best people working professionally in media about what they did to get a foot in the door, and what it took to finally sign the contract. This week: Reid Johnson, former TV news photog and current owner of Best Made Videos.

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Reid Johnson and girlfriend Dorothy Cicero

What first got you interested in a TV news career?

I was in a print journalism class. I realized what a limited scope the class focused on and got frustrated. It talked mostly about print news and old school front page layout and I wondered how long that type of education would be relevant for. I took a radio class where a professor recognized my technical proficiency and recommended I take a TV class. I enjoyed the more hands-on experience. My final project in my junior year was a Meatloaf music video. What other profession can give you that?

Do you remember what you included on your first tape/work sample?

I included a story about snowboarding on the quad at Gonzaga University, a story about couch surfing, and one about cars trying to outrace trains at crossings. The snowboarding video had won an award, so I felt that was good to include

How many rejections did you get?

I sent out 12 tapes; three to Yakima, Eugene, Tri-Cities and Bakersfield. Got one call back from the NBC affiliate in Bakersfield. They flew me down for an interview before my finals senior year, I took the job and drove out a week after graduation

What happened in your first interview?

If a small NBC station in Bakersfield flies you in for a photog job, you basically know you have it. They just want to make sure you’re not crazy. We talked about movies and TV for a few minutes, then I went and drove around with a reporter/photographer working on a story. I got the offer before noon and hung out around the station the rest of the day

Why did you decide to leave TV news?

I was tired of having people with less information and knowledge than me dictate my daily life in my career.  Gonzaga did a good job of making well-rounded people who knew a little bit about all aspects of a TV station, but my last station had assignment desk people and producers who had no idea what it was like to be a photographer.  I felt they had no idea what they were asking for. I was tired of feeling like i had to go into work every day and fight against a deadline AND everyone at my station. I felt like my creativity and drive was being wasted every day because of my station’s poor news judgment. My station also just added an 11 p.m. news hit, and the thought of going from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. in a live truck every night doing live hits was just too much to handle

What are some of the best parts about being in a video production business?

Working for myself, setting my own hours. The money is better. When I’m done with a story i don’t have to worry about the desk finding 18 more things for me to work on. The ability to be creative, more so than when I was in news. I do lots of fun events, weddings, most of the time everyone is happy and wants you to be there, unlike my news experience when it always felt like you have to chase people down. The ability to own everything that I do top to bottom. Being able to produce things I’m proud of. I don’t think i saved a single story I did in my last year of news because I was never proud of any of it. Either time restraints or story restraints, I never felt like i got to work to my full potential at my last news station.

What has been the most challenging part of starting your own business?

Lots of things. Dealing with multiple deadlines for multiple projects instead of just one or two stories a day. Money things, hiring an accountant, state licenses and business licenses and things like that. Having to realize that some clients will just never be happy. Also, trying to realize that not everyone will want to hire you, lol.

What’s one thing you know now that you wish you had known in college?

I wish I could know that news really wasn’t for me, and that video production was. I took my news job because I needed to work after college and I couldn’t find anything in video production at the time. Doing news however got me used to short deadlines, and fast turnarounds that today give me a greater edge in my current business. The flexibility I had to learn in news gives me a leg up on the competition today.

How I Got the Job: Will Mahon

Everyone takes a different path to their first media job. Some people land their first choice right out of college. Others need to apply to dozens of places before landing an interview. There’s not a perfect way to get the job you want, but it can help to learn from the experience of others. In our feature “How I Got the Job,” we talk to some of the best people working professionally in media about what they did to get a foot in the door, and what it took to finally sign the contract. This week: Will Mahon, newscast director at KDRV in Medford, Ore., and production director at PillowBox Media.

Will1_small1What got you interested in a TV career? 

My interest in a TV career was a bit of a happy accident. I didn’t exactly go to school for it, and I hadn’t really considered the work I was doing as anything more than hobby. The initial addiction to visual media started when I was pretty young – junior high I believe. A youth group I was involved in was conducting a small film festival, and my best friend at the time had just acquired a shiny new copy of Adobe Premiere Elements.

After learning the ropes, I plunged in headfirst and before I knew it I had edited my first video. I was hooked. My face would reflect the dull blue glow of an LCD screen for hours, pouring over articles on shooting, editing and effects. The idea that I could tell a story with little more than my cheap Kodak and a razor tool gave me a sense of direction that few things could rival.

I could make people feel something –  and that felt good.

My love for media grew exponentially. I took several classes on digital media in high school and my free time was spent shooting, editing and experimenting. I was driven by the idea that, with time, I too could become as good as the industry giants I looked up to.

When did you start looking for your first TV job?

In late 2009 I traded the dusty caldera of northern Nevada for the lush greenery of southern Oregon. It was a bit of a culture shock, but I loved every bit of it. I came to the Rogue Valley jobless and not really sure of what direction I wanted to go in. I dabbled in temp work and some freelance web design gigs. None of it felt like a fit.

One drowsy autumn afternoon, I meandered over to the TV jobs section on Craigslist. I saw a few posts for the local TV stations, and while I entertained the idea, I didn’t feel like I had the skills to do it yet. While scanning through the posts I came upon a listing for  an independent satellite/web TV station. After mustering up some courage, I hastily put together an email introducing myself and listing my skills.

It worked. I got a call back later that day and started working as an editor and assistant camera operator.

I was with the company approximately six months. I learned a lot, but it wasn’t the level of professionalism that I had been yearning for. I turned my eyes back to the job listings from the local news affiliates, crafted a resume and crossed my fingers.

It took a few months, and a few different versions of my resume before one stuck. My phone rang while I was at work, I quietly stepped outside and answered. It was the news director for KOBI-TV and she wanted me in for a working interview. I almost fainted from excitement.

Do you remember what you included on your first tape/work sample?

This part was a little strange for me. When I landed my first news job as a video journalist, the concept of a reel or resume tape was foreign to me. I didn’t send anything other than a PDF resume and cover letter. To this day I have no idea how I got into the industry without having a reel. I’m honestly dumbfounded by it.

If I had to guess I would probably have to give an incredible amount of credit to the photog I was shadowing during my interview – Travis Koch. He put in a really good word for me, and guided me through the whole experience.

What happened in your first interview?

My first interview was a working interview. That’s something I was incredibly thankful for, considering that I was fairly nervous to talk to someone I didn’t know about why they should pay me to have fun.

Fortunately the news director let me know that this was going to be the situation beforehand. I came in dressed to work. I sat in on the morning meeting and tried to not draw any attention to myself. I just sat quietly and attempted to play catch up with people who had been in the business for years ahead of me. After the meeting I tailed my mentor photog for the VOSOTs he was assigned that day.

It was a pretty surreal experience, but at the same time I felt like I was in my element. Travis handed me his camera and let me give it my best shot. I grabbed B-roll while he made small talk with the people I was about to interview. We eventually made our way back to the station where I ingested the footage I had shot. He gave me the basic once-over on how to edit news pieces and left me to work. I was sweating bullets. “This is the real test.” I thought. Not yet used to the fast pace of a newsroom, it took me probably a half hour to edit that single vosot. Once again I mustered up some of the courage left inside of me and called it good. The day ended with exchanging a few words and a firm handshake.

Driving home that afternoon I felt like I had found my place in the world for the first time. Some hidden, yet cerebral part of me knew that I would be back in that newsroom soon.

About week after I had my initial working interview, I was working my other job when my phone rang, the news director said that she’d like to offer me the photog spot. I accepted and started a few weeks later.

How many rejections did you get?

I actually never received any outright rejections. I do know that my resume was likely passed on several times, even by the station that eventually hired me. I persevered, refined and re-executed my resume until I got a phone call. Looking back, it was actually a valuable learning experience. It taught me a great deal on how to reexamine my work and how to be okay with changing things that needed to be changed, no matter how much I liked them.

Did you have to change anything about your approach to the job search?

Yes. In the beginning I was trying to do too much. My resume designs were over the top, filled with too much text and were filled with pretty words. I think if you’re just starting your career in TV it’s a good lesson to learn to keep things simple, concise and clean. It’s deceptively easy to create something that is overly-produced. Don’t become a victim of trying to show off your expert camera skills by using movement and rack focusing and cross dissolves in every other shot. One of the hardest concepts I’ve had to learn have been learning when to say “No.” and how to keep things simple and clean.

Looking back, what would you have changed about the process?

You know, I’m pretty appreciative for the way things have happened. I feel as though had it gone any other way I’d likely have missed out on a lot of important learning opportunities.

Getting the job as a photog lead me to getting a job in master control, where I gained a lot of technical and production experience. Going from master control to being the full time editor, photog and live truck operator taught me how to use my time and how to be efficient. I even managed to front a couple packages and live shots. My time spent at KOBI prepared me for production work at KDRV. The production work lead to my current position as a newscast director. All of that, with my hobby and freelance work I feel has prepared me for the next step I want to take.

I suppose if I could change anything, it would have been to learn to lean into the uncomfortable moments of the job. I wish I could have gotten more comfortable with getting Man-On-The-Street interviews, as well as not being as afraid to tell people “no” when I should have said it. I think without those experiences though, the path I have taken thus far could have been drastically different.

I’m proud of where I came from, and I’m excited for where I’m going.

Bend but don’t break

Vic ‘The Brick’ Jacobs is not a normal guy.

Just one look is proof of that. With his massive fur hats and long beard, spouting eastern philosophy with a New York accent, Vic is – to put it lightly – a unique presence in Los Angeles sports talk radio. “The Lakers must come out of the darkness and into the light,” he intones. “And Kobe will be the vessel that carries them there. Like the bamboo he must bend but not break. FEELING YOU!”

He’s not exactly your typical sportscaster.

But the great thing about Vic is that he has always been true to himself. The whole schtick, it’s all real. He’s genuine. And the inexplicable truth of his career is that he took that schtick and became one of the top personalities in one of the top media markets in the world. It’s because he never took no for an answer.

In a great profile in Vice Sports, Vic shares his bizarre path to becoming a sports anchor, and later, a sports talk icon in Los Angeles. After bumming around Asia, doing drugs and taking odd jobs, he finally ended up in Guam, where he developed a wacky style covering sports – using props and unique catchphrases. He wanted to be an entertainer on TV, and he wanted to do it through his love of sports.

When he returned to America, he put in the hard work, and sent demo tapes to every market in the country. The response from news directors was predictably harsh.

They called him a circus act and told him to go back to Guam. In their view, Vic didn’t fit the cookie cutter mold of the typical sports anchor. He wasn’t a haircut, he wasn’t a good-looking guy in a suit. He was … different. And different doesn’t fly in TV news.

This is the point in the story where anyone would have given up. Receiving rejection letters is hard, especially pointed ones.

Instead, Vic wrote back. “I suck? You’re a freaking news director in Minot, North Dakota, look at you. Look at you.”

If only we all had that confidence in our job searches.


I know from experience how hard job searches can be in the news business. I experienced it straight out of college, and again at various points in my career. The process tends to be the same for everyone: put together a reel of your best work, send it off to dozens if not hundreds of markets around the country, and anxiously wait for your hard work to be judged by strangers.

Most of the time, you receive silence, which is disappointing enough. But that radio silence only magnifies the pain of those rejection letters you do receive.

“You do not meet the requirements we are looking for.”

“You were not selected to move forward in the application process.”

“I don’t have any openings at the moment.”

“We’re in a hiring freeze right now” (Editor’s note: then why post the freaking job??)

One of the parts that makes you feel the most helpless is when you are rejected and never given a reason, or not given anything to work on. In 2012 I had made it through two rounds of phone interviews with a TV station’s news director and assistant news director before I was completely given the cold shoulder. It wasn’t until I called to inquire on the status that I was told I didn’t get it.

“You just weren’t the right fit,” the told me.

Weren’t the right fit? What does that even mean? I asked him if there was any main reason that I didn’t get the job, or if there was anything I could to to improve.

“You know, it just…” he stuttered. “It just wasn’t the right fit.”

Gee, thanks for the honest feedback.

The main thing – and the hardest thing – to remember in your first job searches is not to let this rejection get to you. It’s a hard road, but you are putting in the right work to land a job.

Keep in mind that sometimes you just aren’t what they are looking for. Maybe they need someone with more experience, or someone who’s a little more polished on-air. It doesn’t mean you should stop trying, it means that your perfect job is somewhere else.

And don’t let the silence get to you, either. News directors get hundreds of applicants for a single news job, and they honestly don’t have time to reply to every single applicant and tell then all the ways they can improve. Keep getting feedback from your peers and mentors and turn it into a reel that they can’t ignore next time.

But when news directors have the gall to tell you that you suck – and a few will – don’t listen. Personal attacks or unconstructive criticism don’t help anyone. Take the good critiques and improve on them, but don’t listen to anyone who can’t offer anything worthwhile for you. Like Vic the Brick told them, there are reasons some of these people are working in Minot, North Dakota or toiling away in market 150. They could be just starting off like you and not know better, or they’re not finding their own ways to improve. Good news directors will use their communication with you to challenge you to do better and push you out of your comfort zone. Bad news directors will just try to tear you down.

Now, I’d not advocating writing back to news directors and telling them off like Vic did. Instead, I’m telling you to keep your chest puffed out.

Like the bamboo you must bend and not break.

Take the silence or the rejection and focus it into ways to improve. If you’re a wacky, zen-spouting host like Vic the Brick, find the best ways to tailor that for your job. Or if you are just looking for your first news reporting gig, find out what you can offer a station that they need.

Because it will happen. You’ll find that job. Whether it’s two weeks or two months from now, you’ll find the spot that best lets you use your talents to make a difference. If Vic could do it, you can too.