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The switch from "Photojournalist" to "Photo-Journalist"

The switch from "Photojournalist" to "Photo-Journalist"

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Jack talks about his transformation from being a news photographer to a technical editor for photography-based publications.

By Jack Howard

April 24, 2009

It was late summer 2005, and the news freelance gigs had begun drying up in New Jersey. I went from shooting about forty to fifty assignments a month for five or six dailies to about eight to twelve assignments a month. My phone could go days between calls from a photo editor. Meanwhile, Mason Resnick announced on the Pop forums that he was stepping down as Managing Editor to start a new venture. Knowing that Mason lived just a few miles from me, I invited him out for a pint of Guinness to celebrate this new chapter in his life. Little did I know that this simple act would likewise launch the next chapter(s) in my life. On a different note, Phototalk was flickering towards total darkness, as site owner Somara faced a number of major personal challenges in a row over the course of 2005 and the something that had to give in the midst of it all was that great little online photo club.

 

We met up at Tumulty's Pub in New Brunswick, NJ, a great dark wooden space with Lionel trains rolling noisily along elevated tracks. Mason talked a little about some of the characters at Pop, particularly the legendary Burt Keppler. I talked about my adventures as a news shooter in the NJ metro area. After a while, Mason mentioned the story pitches I'd thrown his way at Pop, and asked how serious I was about wanting to write about my photo experiences. After a few minutes of tips and suggestions and brainstorming, I had my first shooting/writing assignment for Adorama Academy: A piece on wide-aperture telephoto action photography. 

 

Over the next few months, I freelanced a number of articles for Mason. I also became friendly with Phil Ryan, his replacement on the Pop forums. And Phototalk.net went dark for the final time. In early January, 2006, I saw a job listing on MediaBistro for an Associate Editor with Pop Photo, for their website, PopPhoto.com. I reswizzled my resume to showcase the writing I'd done for Adorama Academy and my old paper, and zapped it over to both the HR address in the listing and directly to Phil Ryan, who by that time had become Editor of PopPhoto.com. 

 

Within a few weeks, I was on-board as an Associate Editor for PopPhoto.com. I was nervous about making a change, but told my fiancè I'd give it a shot for six months and see how I felt about it. My third day on the job and Phil asked me if I had studio lighting experience. "Of course," came my reply. He showed me into the studio and I was face-to-face with Burt Keppler and a number of items laid out on a sweep, which needed to be shot for his next monthly column. Any other day I could have shot the five or pieces of gear in about ten minutes start to finish, but I took my time on this shoot, so I could spend more time talking with the elder statesman of technology journalism. Being in the studio with Burt Keppler made it all real--I was working for Pop Photo!  I tested cameras, played with all sorts of gear, and had some amazing experiences in my time at Pop. Within three years I rose from Associate Editor to Online Technology Editor to Editor of PopPhoto.com. At certain times, the siren song of full-time assignment-based photography beckons still; but overall, I've come to love the mix of writing and shooting that being a specialized new media "Photo-Journalist" offers. 

 

But it wasn't all a bed of roses. The trials and tribulations, failings and foolhardy schemes, legacy product management versus new media teams of Big Media's transition from monolithic pulp and newsprint-based offerings to a brave new world of on-demand, online content across multiple rich media platforms of pixel-based prose and photos played out at Pop, as it is playing out everywhere else in the industry, as witnessed by MediaBistro, @themediaisdying, Folio Mag, and other industry journals, blogs and magazines. Leave the "monetization" meetings to the pencil pushers. I've just always wanted to make and share content that is relevant to photographers!

 

My time at Pop ended this past November in an "Editorial Restructuring." It's amazing the euphemisms businesses come up with to describe letting people go, isn't it? But it simply could not have come at a better time! I didn't know it, but the folks at Adorama were looking to expand their editorial outreach mission with someone with a skillset and experience that pretty much dovetailed perfectly with mine, with a mission to do exactly what it was that I wanted to do: make and share content that is relevant to photographers in a new media environment. I went from my Unemployment Orientation with the NY Department of Labor to a meeting with the folks at Adorama and walked away with this new position!  I started just after the first of the year, and we've been in semi-stealth development since then.

 

If there is a lesson to be drawn from my experiences in job transitioning it is this: Keep an open mind, and keep a good network of allies and associates!

 

 

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