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|| News Item: Posted 2001-07-27

Brooks Institute Gets Game with a 21st Century Photojournalism Program
By Jim McNay

" We want a world class (photojournalism) program." - Brooks Institute of Photography director of education.

If "You have a green light swing away on the next pitch," is music to a batter's ears, then "world class program" strikes a similar chord with someone like me. Having spent nearly the last decade and a half attempting to take green rookies and turn them into well-grounded professional photojournalists, the opportunity to build a photojournalism program from the ground up ("Build your own team!") is just too inviting.

Here's a chance to not only swing for the fences and stretch singles into doubles, but (figuratively) to bring home some championships too.

So what's different about photojournalism at Brooks?

First, it's not just about inventing a new name for the program, although we're doing that too. It's called "visual journalism" to stress the visual emphasis of what we do without losing the impact of journalism, which is all about storytelling. That constant focus on telling stories with pictures will be a major emphasis in the photojournalism-like courses in the curriculum here.

Similarly the aim is not just to duplicate photojournalism programs in traditional journalism schools. Instead we're creating a program that prepares visual journalists to communicate inthe electronic environment of our very digital world, a world that will only become more electronic in the days ahead. We want students prepared to use tools and storytelling techniques appropriate to the story they want to tell.

This means there may be times when still photographs are the way to tell the story. Another story might require still photographs and audio clips. On some occasions a written story or collection of journal entries might be part of this presentation. And in some cases it might be appropriate to have digital video in the presentation. There may be times when the entire story is best told through digital video.

Photo by Kevin Sullivan

Photo by Kevin Sullivan
The delivery system here could also vary. The students graduating from this program will do still photographs for a newspaper or magazine. They might also write a story for either of these traditional outlets. On the other hand perhaps the story is best put on the Web with still pictures and perhaps some writing and audio. Or if the project is done on digital video, perhaps that opens possibilities on the Web or the emerging 200-channel cable environment.

In short our aim with this visual journalism program is to prepare storytellers to work in the environment where the story is best told.

We plan to have courses that teach still photography and storytelling in much the same way as it has been taught before. However, students will also learn the elements of the computer, including programs such as Photoshop, Illustrator, Pagemaker and the like. They will understand how to create a website and a CD-ROM. They will take classes in video and learn about motion, sound and editing. We will push them to take a course in screenwriting since so many still photographers today say this writing discipline helps them focus on the elements of telling a story.

While we do not expect these students to be experts at all these techniques when they finish a bachelor's degree, we do expect they will have two important distinctions. First, they will have a sense of which of these skills are their strongest. Second, these students will know which of these elements they enjoy working with most.

With this background on any given project students might shoot, write, photo edit, gather audio, shoot and edit video, or perhaps most important, be the producer or executive producer of the overall project.

And some of that great visual training available through newspaper internships will be part of the mix. These internships might be in the photography department or with the on-line operation of the paper, depending on the student's interest. But in our degree program we will offer students the opportunity to do two internships, for credit toward their degree, as part of this bachelor's program.

Also included here will be the opportunity to do two of the well-known Brooks Institute documentary class trips to other countries. These classes in documentary photography will be folded into the visual journalism program. Already in my time here, we have had a class in Central Mexico at the end of last year. When you read this, another class will be on-site in Cuba. Our plan is to do one such class every year.

Is this the answer to photojournalism education? It's certainly the best answer we can devise looking to the future. And like any team, when the drills and spring training are over, we'll have to put the team on the field to see how they shape up.

In the "Field of Dreams" the famous phrase we all remember is, "If you build it they will come." That's what we're all about at Brooks Institute.

And when the next crop of rookies step on campus and ask, "Is this heaven?" we'll tell them, "No, and it's not Iowa either. It's Santa Barbara, it's better."

(Jim McNay is the program director of the new visual journalism program at Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara, CA. The visual journalism program adds an AA and BA degrees to the existing BA and masters degrees in still photography and motion picture photography. He can be reached at or 805-897-8620. The Brooks Institute website is

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