Conversation-starter: Good point? Or outdated thinking?

(Credit: 5 Magazine)

From TOM MIHALEK: Hi Jim, Let me state from the beginning that what I’m writing to you about probably interests nobody, except the few photographers, like myself, who have been shooting for many years and are pissed off about the lack of respect we get for our craft anymore. This letter is more-or-less me blowing of a little steam.

I read the “search for jobs” sites of many different journalism websites like “Indeed” or “JournalismJobs” looking for photographer or photo editor positions and have come across a disturbing and wide-spread trend. Many, if not all of these open positions, ask for a photographer who is skilled at shooting stills and video. What, you may ask, is wrong with this? Well, how many job postings do you see – maybe for local TV news stations- that want the applicant for a videographer position to be adept at shooting still photography too? I can tell you: Zero.

There’s a reason; while both require a camera, each requires a different educational background and skill set to do it right.

Comparatively, it’s like looking to hire a highly-skilled carpenter to re-do your kitchen and requiring that he also be a roofer or an air conditioning specialist to get the job. Just because the guy you hired has great skill doing kitchen re-do’s with tools doesn’t mean he should be able to use those same skills, with the same or similar tools on a completely different task, like roofing.

Re-doing a kitchen and roofing a house – while they may require some of the same tools, like a hammer, are as different as shooting quality still photographs for publication and shooting video for broadcast (either web or TV), even though both require some of the same tools – a camera and a means to edit the raw take.

Telling a story with a photograph is about condensing the story into one or two meaningful images that convey the heart of the story to the reader. [I’m purposely omitting the photo essay here.] Telling a story with videography is about a continuity of images pieced together in a sequence that conveys the storyline. These two visual mediums are as different as are their names.

Yet this important fact completely escapes editors doing the hiring at papers big and small. To me, this shows the ignorance on the part of those posting the job as to what goes into each craft, the skills required to do each well and shows a lack of respect for the skills of an experienced photographer. For an example see this listing.

It’s easy to blame the bean-counters, the economy or the current trends as newspapers continue trying to keep relevant by adding more and more web content and of course the ‘get someone who can do it all – and cheaply too’ philosophy. And actually, I think it’s all of those facts put together plus a general lack of respect for the photojournalist.

It’s a pity, or a disgrace, to see such demands being made at a time when many salaries offered are barely enough to pay the bills.

Visit Mihalek’s website



  1. Actually not many newspapers really care how good the video is that they are putting on there sites, they just want content. When I worked at one of the major newspapers it was all about how many hits the site is getting and as they found out, photo galleries of still images actually got a lot more hits than did the videos, but they still had us shoot video that basically no one watched. I think they should have one or two videographers on staff to produce quality videos that someone may actually watch. To do both , one suffers. It’s all about if the newspaper cares about the quality of the content or just the quantity. There are a few newspapers who do a great job with video , but most are not worth watching.

  2. Kate said:

    Some of these comments are making me furious – protect your craft people! Fight for it and don’t let ignorant types force you to change. I’m not and never will be a ‘news’ photographer but I find it deplorable that anyone can defend a move towards ‘multi-skilling’ into photo/video. Its is, exactly as Jim says, like asking a Plumber to do the Roofing. Or asking an Illustrator to be able to become a master at computer animation. You cannot possible have the same skill level to apply to two completely different mediums with completely differing types of composition and execution. This is what is going to destroy our beloved photography and soon all the content will be user-generated as they have now done this at CNN. God Bless America for ruining it for the rest of the world once again.

  3. Well said Tom. And true.
    But you’ve gone easy on the bean counters and the dark side of capitalism’s share-holder profit taking.
    It’s one thing for us to speak out and complain. We’re practitioners. We’re professional. We complete an assignment as commissioned because we are being paid to do so. We do it well because we have pride in our craft. We have self-respect.
    And surely that is equally – if not more – important than simply demanding “respect” from an employer…?
    I mean, we must always earn respect mustn’t we…?
    The share-holders for whom the bean counters work rarely if ever demand to know why it is that an industry might need a tax-payer funded bailout – as has Kodak, the banks and several corporations that include the news mediums; or constant tax-payer subsidies to companies to keep operating, such as the automobile industry. Share-holders too often just acquiesce when CEOs of these flawed corporations give themselves multi-million dollar bonuses.
    And yet it is the same shareholders who complain amongst themselves about the “quality of contemporary media”.
    Kate suggests we should fight for our craft. I have been at the barricades, bloody knuckled, fighting for my media craft for too long to know where next to turn. While I’d never want to work within a non-capitalist society’s media, there are examples elsewhere that might help show the way.
    France, for example..?
    Or is it time now for a wider choice of co-operative, such as an expanded Magnum group that would be willing to take on the task of self-publishing beyond mere “Vanity Press”…?
    I for one would be a willing part of the foundation.
    – Theo. Bennett

  4. Dallas Photographer said:

    This lad seems a bit late to the party; I remember hearing this sort of complaint circa 2007. It’s over Tommy. The easy way is to be a lazy whiner. The more difficult route is to stay positive, be pragmatic and figure out how your going to stay relevant and nourish your creativity and bank account for the next 5, 10, 20 years. Good luck.

  5. To Dallas Photographer: Sir, I am not a “lad” and I resent that label as I do the insinutation of being a lazy whiner. I have 32 years under my belt as a newspaper & wire service photographer and I know what I speak of. You obviously are the quitter stating “it’s over.” I’ve fought more battles in this business than you’ve got hairs on your head. Take your wiffs about being positive and pragmatic and put’em where the sun don’t shine. Then go nourish your creativity if you’ve got another 5, 10, or 20 years.

  6. Dallas Photographer said:

    Well sir, I apologize, you are not a lad, though the only thing having 32 years in the business says to me is that your middle aged. I do believe you’re lazy by refusing to learn new skills as well as a whiner (see letter to JR). Your talk about blowing off steam, fighting battles, and your crude comment says to me your another angry, middle aged white guy who loves to talk about how great the past was but is not up to the task of moving forward. Regarding your comment that I’m a quitter; guilty as charged. I saw the writing on the wall a few years back and am billing corporate clients literally 10x the day rates I did doing news. Again, Good luck.

  7. Mike said:

    Maybe the brain trust like the Dallas Photographer can explain to me how exactly I am supposed to get the best moment in time to tell the story in both video and stills while on a news assignment. One medium is going to take the hit. Video is the medium thats going to get shorted if you were hired as a still shooter. No it did not work out in the long run to pull stills from video. Management is so lazy they now want us to just use the iphone to do video and not spend anytime on it. Upload it to brightcove raw. Just get a lot of it. Too bad nobody watches the crap. But dont let the facts get in the way. Its the future. Puke.

  8. The people who don’t get the problem here never will. It’s already been explained — one person cannot focus on shooting stills and video well at one event. The same might be said about writing and shooting video/stills, although someone can pick the right moment to stop writing and start taking pictures/shooting video.

    The arguments of “Just do it” or “If you can’t pull it off, then maybe you shouldn’t be here” are ignorant. Either discuss the issue or move on.

  9. Nancy said:

    Well the photographer meant “their” yet wrote “there” . . . so much for a photographer doing the work of a journalist. Journalist morphed into photojournalist and then multimedia journalist. Do you want the words OR the pictures? Who cares how many hits your site gets if the photos are crummy, and the writers (or “content writers”) can’t write a legible thought or sentence?

  10. Dallas Photographer said:

    Mike, Robert, et al; I’m trying to give you a dose of tough love. While I basically agree with your still/video thesis, you’re not looking at the forest through the trees. Readers have in large part abandoned newspapers, causing newspapers to abandon many of their journalists and standards. While it is a blow to what great journalism brings to society, it is as inevitable as the switch from candles to electricity and horses to cars was. What I’ve been saying is at a certain point, the nobility of these kind of arguments; being the last guy in the foxhole, holding off the enemy, fades off and the reality that you’re out in the marketplace with one skill; being a still photographer who has not changed with the times. Out of curiosity I searched for photojournalist jobs within 100 miles of New York City, Chicago and LA. I got zero hits.