The TV crew murders - observations

   Late August’s on-air murders of two WDBJ-TV journalists has a lot of lessons for all journalists.  Besides mental illness, the two were victims of a pattern of copycat incidents of dares and self-dares that their killer - a fired colleague at the TV station - surely was aware of, taken to its logical ultimate extent.
   “FHRITP” taunts of on-air women TV reporters had been a growing pattern for a year or two - an obscene taunt hoping to provoke a reaction that would get those young males dared, or daring themselves, into some variety of on-air coverage during a live shot (a common TV news practice of airing live on-scene news productions nowadays).  Surely, the murderer - a TV journalist himself, if one fired by two stations - was well aware of such incidents; it’s hardly much to say he just took them to the ultimate possible extent.
   The murders rocked Twitter at the time - if largely because, while journalism in the U.S. had become riskier in recent years with high risk of on-the-job robbery in some “bad” locales and police no longer respecting working journalists according to longtime norms (as documented by the National Press Photographers Association) - it was probably the first time any TV journalist had been murdered on-air, let alone by a former colleague.
   Thanks to Twitter and other social media, a portrait of the murder quickly emerged - that he was mentally disturbed, fired by two TV stations for “anger management” problems and quick to allege racial discrimination without cause.
   However, police work provides lessons.  In police squad rooms, there commonly is a poster listing 10 (or 12) mistakes killing experienced police officers.  And two stand out as applicable to the WDBJ murders.
   One is “tombstone courage.”  The poster asks officers to consider calling for backup on risky situations.  TV stations doing stories in Oakland, California - where robberies of on-the-job TV crews have become common - are avoiding that by sending out armed guards with the TV crews.
   Another is prejudging calls.  Just because your story is in a good area - as the one where the two WDBJ journalists were killed in - hardly means you can’t end up in someone else’s mess.  Ask yourself if the story of armed volunteers out front of the Burlington, N.C. military recruiting office (below) couldn’t have had journalists covering it caught in someone else’s firefight had anyone trying to replicate the attack on recruiters in Chattanooga driven up - even though it was in a “good” neighborhood.
   In other words, get your story done and leave fast if it looks risky - and news organizations with problem ex-employees may need to send out guards with current workers.
   Be careful out there.

Heavily-armed volunteers guard Burlington, N.C.’s military-recruitment office, July 22, 2015.
This was in a “good” neighborhood - but risk to journalists covering this was obvious.

Your other “scanners”

   Sure, you have a VHF/UHF scanner in the kitchen - turned up high - and it got you the first news photo you sold.  But what are your other “scanners” to maximize your output of news photo packages?
   One, simply, is a CB radio in your car - a trucker-grade one, fed into a trucker-grade antenna.  You’ll hear fast about major wrecks on major roads that way.  It will also get you information on what restaurants and gas stations are open during power outages after major storms - and more photos of the scene at them.
   If you’re a ham-radio operator, a 2-meter/440 MHz radio will also get you plenty of information for covering the aftermath of major storms, too - or even where a wrecked small plane may be.  It - on the main local 2-meter or 440 MHz channels - will also get you that information on the few places still selling gasoline when a power outage means most all cannot.
   The other is Twitter.  Follow your area’s other journalists - and you’ll get clued in on developing stories.  Put the Twitter app on your smartphone to use it mobile.
   Twitter got me information on how volunteers were suddenly guarding the local military-recruitment office after an attack on a recruitment center in Chattanooga - and I went, shot the package, and uploaded it.  One photo (below) from that package has grabbed people like no prior photo of mine.

Volunteers guard military recruitment office, Burlington, N.C., July 22, 2015
after attack on recruiters in Chattanooga.

Industry trend - “outsource” it all, Part III

   It’s hardly only photojournalism, or even only journalism, that’s shifting from using staff employees to using freelancers or subcontracted temp agencies - or even freelancers hired as freelancers by temp agencies - instead of employees now.
   One or more of the top 10 banks in the U.S. now needs lots of people to review lots of documents - presumably on loans or foreclosures; it just won’t hire them.  Instead, such “document review” work is advertised on Craigslist in Charlotte - North Carolina’s banking center.
   Response to such Craigslist ads fast finds they are run by temp agencies for paralegals - often out-of-state ones.  It’s easy to identify the giant bank involved - as it’s abbreviated in the temp agency’s response email.  While that bank is in plenty of problems from its mortgage and foreclosure practices and will need such work for quite some time, it’s not hiring the paralegals - and law-school grads who haven’t yet passed the bar exam and even lawyers; it obviously doesn’t want them as its own employees - with all the nonwage costs that would bring, such as unemployment insurance, workers-comp insurance, Obamacare, and paperwork.
    Oh - and it’s hardly just photojournalists and other journalists now finding it hard to find full employment in this “recovery”; the temp agency’s response emails say lawyers will be paid as paralegals at $12 per hour.

Industry trend - “outsource” it all, Part II

   The Washington Post’s “outsourcing” photo work on at least one top in-hometown story recently (see Part I) was the canary in the coal mine - showing that even deep-pocketed dailies like one owned by billionaire Jeff Bezos now want to use stringers on assignment wherever possible, rather than hire employees with all the non-wage costs that are high and now soaring: unemployment insurance, workers comp, Obamacare, paperwork, equipment, etc.
   But nothing shows this trend more than the decision by dailies owned by the man who symbolizes “rich” - Warren Buffett - to do the same thing.  Very recently, Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway has bought up a slew of mid-size dailies - in the South and possibly beyond.  And very recently, at least one of them has downsized a bunch of reporters and a photojournalist, a substantial percentage of newsroom people - making the same decision, even as that daily did quite well at getting back its longtime good display ads and added back content - backed, of course, by being much better capitalized by Buffett than its longtime owner.  That paper had a small - but substantial - photo department.
   Among others downsized at that paper: its longtime director of photography. His being downsized was a significant percentage of the longtime photo department there.  Discussion with him found that the paper is going to “outsource” out much local photo work to stringers in the future - while, up until now, almost all at the paper was shot by staff shooters.  
   Again, bottom line is that nobody now wants to hire employees - with all the non-wage costs of a full-time, middle-class employee - not even someone as rich as Warren Buffett.  Other than bailed-out industries, nobody wants to be a chump for the government.

Industry trend - “outsource” it all, Part I

   The handwriting was on the wall in the media industry, at least publications, a year ago, when the Washington Post “outsourced” a photo assignment on a top story to stringer(s) - in D.C. itself.  It’s now clear that the industry wants to “outsource” any possible work - and not to hire staff employees unless needed, even to the point of cutting existing staff and having stringers do the work they previously did.
   For a long time, USA Today ran US Presswire - really only an agency for managing stringers on sports stories in-house.  US Presswire’s story has been long reported in News Photographer and elsewhere; in no sense was it either a wire service or a photo agency - as US Presswire photos seemingly never ran outside of USA Today.  USA Today’s owners since expanded that concept by turning USA Today and other Gannett properties into a “mini-AP” in which content from any one might run in any other.  
   Now, the Washington Post itself is repeating that pattern - with the “Washington Post Talent Network” to manage its stringers and (likely) also sell their services to other clients.  The Talent Network just was started by the Washington Post.
   Sports Illustrated - in the past year - downsized all its staff photographers, openly saying it will hire out its considerable photo work to stringers.
   It’s clear that the costs of calling somebody an “employee” - even to shoot stories in your own city - has reached the point that nobody wants employees: unemployment compensation, workers comp, paperwork, Obamacare, equipment, whatever.  Not even deepest-pocket-funded top dailies like the Washington Post.

Covering a campaign? What else to shoot?

   Are you covering one - or more - of the campaigns now gearing up for next year’s elections?  Sure, you’ll shoot photos of any candidate who does a campaign appearance - or even stops - in your area.  But what else to shoot that a newspaper or magazine may be interested in?
   One thing - of course - is the crowds coming out to hear the candidate, as has already been seen by overhead photos of the crowd at Hillary Clinton’s official launch of her presidential campaign.  But another is all the “stuff” - as in buttons, signs, banners, whatever; photos of that “stuff” do run - if shot tight.
   When covering the 2012 Mitt Romney campaign - and the short-lived Newt Gingrich campaign - I shot the signs, buttons, etc. as well as Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney’s son when they did appearances here.  For the Romney campaign, I was particularly struck by the desktops of campaign items that this county’s Republican Party organization had in GOP headquarters - and shot various photos of it - the buttons, bumper stickers, etc.
   Below is probably the best of that group - a photo of a glass bowl full of Romney buttons for sale.

Romney buttons for sale, county GOP headquarters, Burlington, N.C.
Oct. 22, 2012.

Not quite an “L” lens - but pretty good

   You can’t afford Canon’s 24-70 f/2.8 “L” USM - or you had to sell yours to pay some big bill.  So what’s much better than any kit lens - yet is affordable?
   Canon’s 28-105 f/3.5-4.5 USM is both quite affordable - now running about $150 with lens hood and UV filter on eBay and at deep-discount photo outlets - and damn good.  It’s a lens Canon made that’s way above their kit lenses in performance and build quality - yet much more affordable than even a used Canon 24-105 f/4 “L” IS USM; for instance, this lens has a metal mount - just like their “L” lenses.  Focusing is by ultrasonic motor - just like their 24-70 f/2.8 “L” USM - and fast and quiet.
   Downsides?  It’s not as fast as their 24-70 f/2.8 “L” USM, of course.  And - unlike their 24-70 f/2.8 “L” USM - it’s not weatherproof, either. 
   It is far lighter and far more compact than their 24-70 f/2.8 “L” USM.
   It’s an ideal walkaround lens - if you don’t need a weatherproof one.
   This lens was discontinued - but is widely available now on eBay and in the used-gear department of deep-discount photo places such as Adorama.
   It did great shooting through window glass for a package I shot on the nail-salon industry - which now is the subject of a regulatory crackdown after a New York Times series on its extensive violations of wage-and-hour laws, workplace-safety rules, and immigration laws.

Shot through window glass with 28-105 f/3.5-4.5 USM.

Covering today’s economic depression

   The 1930s depression made for iconic news photos - most famously perhaps the bread line or soup line under a billboard boasting that the U.S. had the world’s highest living standard - but today’s economic misery is largely hidden by social programs making it “invisible,” notably food stamps now being on debit cards just like everyone uses.  Food pantries instead of bread lines also get today’s continuing depression off the street - and out of view of lenses.
   But some aspects of today’s continuing depression can be shot - if today’s photojournalist keeps his eyes open and thinks, as in thinks like a woman; for instance, that even supermarket food prices now can’t avoid dropping on basic foods.
   Most of all, though, the unconcealable reality of today’s depression is that so many jobs now pay nil - reflecting a current U.S. in which almost half of workers are paid $15 hourly or less, as reported last month by Fortune.   And the careful shooter can find plenty to cover in that - if she keeps her eyes open.
   The inability of today’s U.S. to create middle-class jobs in anywhere near sufficient numbers is reflected, of course, in the ability of nil-wage employers to be able to find adults desperate enough to work for poverty wages - and that’s today’s shooter’s opportunity.  When I find such potential story photos, I shoot a package and upload it to a news-photo agency - as of this one of the large numbers of “new jobs” now that are at tipped-wage restaurants and fast-food joints here that I shot this week.

Restaurant jobs now are much of the total job market - but pay little.
Shot May 17, 2015 in Burlington, N.C.

The big profitmakers - the famous back before they got famous

   “And maybe one of the bands would make it big someday, and they you’d have the exclusive photographs of them “in the beginning,” back when no one had ever heard of them, and it could be your cash cow.”
      -News Photographer, April 2015 issue, p. 6

   And so the National Press Photographers Association says it: the photos with the real high payoff aren’t of, say, the Beatles after the Beatles were the most famous group in the world - and every shooter shooting them - but of the Beatles back when they were nobodies.  In its editorial this month, NPPA’s magazine says that those who became its staff shot countless “nobody” music acts that would let them shoot their photos - hoping that one would make it to superstardom.  I realized this long before that NPPA editorial - and planned accordingly.
   Sadly for the editorial’s writer, it didn’t work out; though he shot John Cougar Mellencamp, before he was famous - back in the film era - he lost the negatives!
   The general theme of the editorial, though, is correct: if you want to have the “before they were famous” exclusive photos - or, better yet, the photo that made a superstar world-famous, you shoot second-tier people in their field.  It doesn’t matter whether that field is entertainment, sports, or politics.
   And if you don’t think the author of that editorial’s sad mistake can happen to you, place your photos of possible coming superstars with a photo agency.  And back it up offsite.
    I specialize in politics. - and shot years ago, and own rights to, photos of two people touted for top political careers.  One so far has shunned urgings he go for politics.  The other is going for it with gusto; my photo was what made that one world famous.

I only wish this photo made Newt Gingrich world famous.
Here, he campaigns for president, Greensboro, N.C., April 14, 2012.

The best $10-20 investment for photojournalists

   What’s the best inexpensive investment a photojournalist can make - and that’s near-essential for some photos?  No doubt it’s Sto-Fen’s Omni-Bounce flash diffuser - which runs about $10 at deep-discount outlets such as Adorama and about $20 elsewhere.
   The Omni-Bounce is easiest described as a Tupperware-like cap that fits a specific flash unit.  It’s apparently made of the same plastic as Tupperware and one-piece - making it rugged and foolproof.  Unlike some other diffusers, it is compact and doesn’t protrude much at all from your flash.
   While the instructions feature it used for bounce flash, it also works well for direct flash; that’s why you often see it on Capitol Hill - where some congressman might gripe if a flash hit him in the eyes.
    But - used for bounce flash - it can solve a lot of difficult lighting problems very simply.  It’s easy to always keep it in your bag - and takes only a couple seconds to put on your flash.  I used it when the New York Daily News called me on very short notice for a package of the parents of New York Giants rookie star David Wilson at their Virginia home - and it produced very good results with no complex lighting.  One of those photos ran the next day.

Shelia Wilson, mother of New York Giants star David Wilson, shot with Omni-Bounce.
Shot on assignment for New York Daily News.