Snapshot of the Future. (Photojournalism)

By Wenner, Kathryn S. | American Journalism Review, July-August 2002 | Go to article overview

Snapshot of the Future. (Photojournalism)


Wenner, Kathryn S., American Journalism Review


Platypus. The name is weird, but it gets the point across, at least to those who know zoological history. It's the Australian aquatic mammal with a bill and webbed feet like a duck, whose discovery 200 years ago confounded scientists attempting to classify it. In the lexicon of Dirck Halstead, well-known photojournalist, former senior White House photographer for Time magazine and founder of the Digital Journalist online magazine, a platypus is a new breed of visual storyteller, one with expertise in still photography but no longer confined to the printed page.

Halstead's Platypus workshops teach newspaper and magazine photographers how to add digital video, sound and narration to documentary projects. Since Halstead started the workshops in 1999, he says Platypus graduates have sold 11 stories to ABC's "Nightline," proof not just that they're evolving but that the marketplace is ready for them.

"What we want to do is create a new standard for photojournalism, in that we want [photographers] to take responsibility for their projects in the widest possible sense," Halstead says. "That includes responsibility for not only going out and photographing a story, but looking at how that story can be developed in its fullest aspect and ultimately displayed. What this means is we turn photojournalists into producers."

For photojournalists, particularly freelancers, the benefits to these skills are both economic and artistic. Shrinking space in magazines and newspapers and diminished news budgets mean fewer places to publish and less money for photo features. At the same time, online technology now allows a hybrid form of storytelling--using stills, video, audio and text--not bound by the restrictions of space and time that limit print and broadcast.

And lightweight digital video cameras allow a single photojournalist unobtrusive access not possible using a traditional news crew, says "Nightline" Executive Producer Tom Bettag. Bettag estimates the late-night program has run about 50 such stories in the last few years, including a series on North Korea in early June. "There's an intimacy to this [kind of storytelling] that is much more like the intimacy of radio...the intimacy of NPR," Bettag says. "The way NPR does a story and the way TV networks do a story are so different. The difference is wading in with four people and a ton of equipment versus one person with a microphone. It changes the environment."

Most younger photojournalists, those just coming out of school, have already learned video storytelling. It's the older generations, those who learned developing in darkrooms, who are Halstead's clients. At Platypus workshops, held at various sites, the average age is 40. …

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