I’m feeling lucky. I still have a job. I’ve ditched the management title and have returned to the photo department as a still shooter. My video camera sits idle on a shelf—at least for now. The couple of years away from my still cameras have left me a bit rusty, but I coming around. Still photojournalism has always been my calling. It’s really what I’m best at.
The Spokesman-Review photo department has changed dramatically in the last eight years. S-R shooters were rockin’ in the 1990’s. It was like the golden age of photojournalism at The Spokesman-Review. We did lots long-term documentary projects that were supported by an enlightened photo-friendly management. I worked with a group of really talented photographers that made coming to work (a least most days) worthwhile. But even then, I knew the good times could not last forever.
The first round of layoffs hit in 2001, which started a downward spiral that still never seems to end. By 2003, I knew the space devoted to documentary photojournalism was never going to return. I turned to the web and with a video camera in hand and set out to reinvent myself as a videojournalist. I was thankful for the support I received from a new team of management who seemed hell-bent on making our newsroom web-centric. Back then, talk of innovation just scared the shit out of everyone in the newsroom. But as time passed, the idea that we were scooping ourselves by publishing to the web first had started to feel kind of ridiculous. The increase of broadband penetration in 2004 gave me hope for a future where my 320 pixel wide video stories would someday be able to be seen full screen.
In the last three years, I’ve put lot of energy into sharing what I have learned with other S-R staffers and journalists from all over the country. I’ve made it a point to not guard my gift, but instead share what learned with anybody that wanted to learn web-based video storytelling.
This last year was going to be my crescendo of sorts. I was promoted to multimedia editor. I trained and outfitted 12 reporters, photographers and web producers with top-notch video cameras and MacBook Pros loaded with Final Cut. A new Spokemsan.com website was conceived and developed with multimedia in mind. Within days of launching this video/web initiative, the economic house of cards came tumbling down. Seven of the twelve young journalists I trained soon joined the legions of other out-of-work reporters, web producers and photographers. Two senior managers who pushed all this web innovation also resigned.
As a much smaller organization, I am not sure what the strategic vision for my newspaper is now. Losing half the newsroom staff to layoffs and buyouts changes things. No longer can we devote as much time to stories. I’ve seen this in the few short weeks I have been back in the photo department. We used to have the luxury of hanging out with our subjects or choosing the best time to shot a documentary style photo. Now it is run and gun, just get it done. Where we used to have 13 shooters, now we have 6. Three of us are multimedia willing and able. I am putting most of my chips on us to carry on the multimedia tradition. But I got to tell you, I not feeling very creative right now. With the recent layoffs, the spirit of innovation has left the building. Retrenching is the order of the day.
What I have to remember is that the work I did this past year was important. We truly were moving toward a multi-platform, multimedia centric newsroom. That is still the recipe I believe will save newspapers. What coming challenges the new year brings is anybody’s guess. Short-term, I have to stop staring at my unused video camera and get the hell out of the building. There are too many good stories out there that aren’t being told.