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Photojournalists: Good journalism is way to cope with cuts

Maleeha Syed, University of Texas at Austin

Expert photo editors, some reeling from deep cuts in staffing, said learning to work smarter was key to getting the work done in the age of continuous right-sizing during a panel discussion Wednesday at the News Leaders 2018 conference in Austin.

Jeremy Harmon, director of photography at The Salt Lake City Tribune, and Pat Traylor, senior editor for photography and multimedia at The Denver Post, discussed the common pitfalls and possible solutions.

Harmon, whose newsroom lost 40 percent of its staff last spring, said giving remaining staff meaningful journalism projects helps everyone to refocus.

“No one's gonna do it for us,” he said. “No one's gonna hand us awesome things to work on. It’s easy to say we don’t have time, now we do and no one has time to tell us not to do it.”

Traylor said his newsroom is down by about a third from just six years ago, including losing the entire video department in the spring.

With downsizing comes stress and it can be felt throughout the entire newsroom, they said. Writers may feel as though they’re busy therefore the photographers are swamped, as well. The lack of communication makes the writers drown in work and makes the photographers work load plummet.

The Tribune and The Denver Post have both equipped their photographers with new tools to keep them proactive during the times when the workload is slim. They’re developing photo story ideas themselves using upcoming events that could possibly be covered to fill the void. This allows photographers to feature hunt and allow them to create their own stories.

“There’s opportunity in the chaos, either you do it or it’s not gonna get better.” Traylor said. “There’s no more excuse to say we can’t do these things.” Photojournalists are still journalists.

Harmon said his photojournalism staff just published an innovative report Sunday.

“Perspectives: Life on the Streets” is a photo documentary using work from 10 disposable cameras that were used a local homeless shelter. Eight cameras were returned and the photography department compiled a photo report of the stories. Harmon said the project has been a great for morale.

Tools like photo calendars, documents compiled with different visual storytelling opportunities and communication between writers and photographers can be crucial during rough times. Harmon said “Departmental tribalism is toxic to the entire team.”

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