This past weekend, I was at the White House News Photographer's day-long multimedia program, and near the end of the day, on the panel discussion, several photographers were asking about getting the "important" stories told. Now, these were the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, young, eager, altruistic photographers. They believe that all they have to do is propose an amazing story, and if they do it right - if they talk to the right person, why, anyone would be a fool not to hearald the news from the tree-tops. The panel summarily crushed those thoughts.
The message essentially was, news is business. If your story doesn't sell more papers, more ads, more eyeballs on web pages, it's not going to get accepted by these outlets. Period. The "news is business" mentality isn't new, it's just more obvious these days. There are, essentially, three things you can do to get these vital stories out.
1) Save and underwrite the story yourself. The reason that the major outlets won't take you/your idea on, is because they have to commit resources (i.e. money/staff/time) to the project, and they're not willing to take that risk. Since you believe in it so strongly, save up, and then take time to go cover the story. One example is Washington DC photojournalist Jamie Rose, who did just that, with her piece "Abandoned: Kenyatta's Orphans". Rose spent two months away from the political grindstone to make this, and other stories. She continues to spread the word on this important subject herself - one example is her presentation at the Travel and Adventure Workshops in Maine, in the beginning of December. You can learn more about that presentation here. But, that's not the only time she's made a presentation about that material. Jamie worked with The Calvert Foundation on the piece as well. Here's a quote from their webpage:
At Calvert Foundation, it is critical that we illustrate the impact our investors’ dollars have in the US and around the world. The best way to do this is through photographs and stories. We have the benefit of working with highly talented partners and photographers that help us bring to life the great work we support in underserved communities.Following that, a bio of Rose is listed below those sentiments.
2) Produce the content and publish yourself. No longer are the main news outlets the gatekeepers, precluding you from telling your story. The web has democratized, and dare I say, deputized us all to tell the story. The viral nature of blogs and YouTube make it possible for people to get the news, unfiltered, or, better yet, filtered by issue/subject matter. It then becomes your responsibility to go out to other blogs, other discussion forums and listserv's to drive eyeballs and minds to read/watch your piece.
3) Use your more commericial work to underwrite your "stories that must be told" work. If you are generating $4k a month with a mix of corporate/editorial work, change that mix to increase your revenue to $6k a month by taking more corporate work, and then every 3 months taking two weeks and spending that extra $6k (3 months x +$2k) on your project. Or, change the ratio to be $1k extra a month, and then take one month off a year to go somewhere and use the $11k you saved to tell your story. This is a follow-on to the idea #1 above, but is a more agressive approach, and further, will allow you to travel to far more distant locations. #1 above might allow you to tell a story within a few hundred miles of your home (and believe me, there are many a story to be told that close to home), but this approach will allow you to travel several thousand miles from home.
I further submit that the news outlets have an obligation to the community. That, say they apply the ad-driven/eyeball-counting methodology to 8 out of ten stories that are driven by what the marketplace wants, with a revenue cushion that covers the costs of the remaining 2 out of 10 that are driven by a "what the public should see" approach, where the outlets are motivated by doing good rather than making profits. This model is evident for Bank of America in their loans division. I've done work before for them, and they have a seperate division, the Community Development Corporation, where they make loans and work to develop communities in areas that their more strict, profit-centric loaning division would not touch.
In the end, IF you want the story told bad enough, it will get told, come hell or high water. At what sacrifice? That's your call. You are, in this enlightened age, empowered with the tools and potential audience to make a difference. The only question is, how far will you go?
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