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.
"NGOs and corporations are just now starting to see the power of multimedia stories," says Brian Storm, founder of MediaStorm. "A pr message has no authenticity. It won't go viral. Organizations are looking for a new way to get their message out, and journalists can play a role in that."
Now showing on the home page of the Big Sur Land Trust of Carmel, California, for instance, is a four-minute mini-documentary about the historical, physical and emotional connections Big Sur residents have with the land they live on. It's a promotional and fund-raising video with the look and feel of a newspaper multimedia story. And no wonder: It was produced by Geri Migielicz, Richard Koci Hernandez, and Dai Sugano, the Emmy Award-winning multimedia team employed until recently by the San Jose Mercury News. (Sugano is the only one still with the paper.)
Migielicz, who was the paper's director of photography, left in February to start Story4, an independent multimedia production company serving primarily non-profit organizations. Her partners are Cliff Schiappa, a former AP bureau chief, and Liza Culick, a non-profit business consultant. Koci Hernandez and Sugano are Story4 contributors.
"Knight-Ridder [owner of the Mercury News] was dissolving, and we thought there was a market for video content on the Web," Migielicz explains. "In a market that's crowded with messages, [organizations] have to communicate in an effective way. As journalists, we're used to boiling a story down to its essence, and conveying it in a concise, powerful way."
Big Sur Land Trust, she explains, "wanted to roll out a strategic plan with video rather than paper or speeches. The executive director is using a DVD in a pitch to organizations and donors. By design, it's a non-commercial mission statement." While the Web version is 4 minutes, the full-length DVD includes 26 interviews and runs about 15 minutes.
So far, Story4 has landed its present work and other projects by word of mouth. The company is currently finishing up post-production on a multimedia project for the Women's Foundation of California. The video will enable donors to see the foundation's projects and programs in action, and view the life stories of some of the foundation's clients.
Other projects are also on the horizon. "All of a sudden we're getting a lot of inquiries," Migielicz says.
Meanwhile, across the country in Norfolk, Virginia, 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. "We're trying to brand ourselves as storytellers to the non-profit world," Tyree says. Clients so far include Physicians for Peace, Resolve.org, and the Samaritan's Purse Canada, among others.
Tyree quit his job last August, right before a wave of layoffs hit The Virginian-Pilot. "It became obvious that stories I was interested in--about social justice and social responsibility--weren't getting [published] as much" because of budget pressures and cutbacks, Tyree explains.
He figured his storytelling skills would be in demand in the non-profit sector, despite that sector's history of spending little for photography and not using it very well. "Non-profits are the fastest-growing sector of the economy," he explains. …