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SportsShooter.com: Member Message Board

Monetizing long-term projects
Mark Loundy, Photo Editor
San Jose | CA | USA | Posted: 8:45 PM on 07.29.08
->> If you haven't seen Scott Strazzante's "Common Ground" over at MediaStorm, check it out and then come back here.
http://mediastorm.org/0023.htm

Scott spent 14 years documenting a farming family and then the family that later took up residence on the former farmland after it was turned into a housing development. The resulting work is a brilliant 7:21 combination of still images, video and editorial sensitivity.

I'm guessing here (and I hope Scott weighs-in) that Scott did not remotely approach breaking even on this project. This means that, as wonderful as the end result is, it was produced solely as an expression of Scott's passion for the subject.

Is there a way for long-term journalistic projects to fit into a capitalist reality? Can in-depth journalism be a middle-class (or better) profession?

My hope is that Scott will step in and ask for some of what I'm smoking because he's made a fortune off of the work.

--Mark
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Scott Strazzante, Photographer
Chicago | IL | USA | Posted: 11:05 PM on 07.29.08
->> Mark, the whole project has been a labor of love. When I started it, I never for a second thought that it would be turn out like it has.
My sole motivation was to have a creative outlet when I had nothing interesting to work on at the job. Therefore, most of the piece was shot on my own time, which has had the wonderful side effect that I have always owned the project.
I have made chunks of money here and there, through publication in Mother Jones and National Geographic and through contest awards. However, I still probably have only been paid about a couple a bucks an hour throughout the whole process. But I have always been fine with that.
However, recently (with a big nudge from Brian Storm) I have started to realize that their might be financial rewards in the work. The rewards might come from the MediaStorm piece or a book or through print sales but I need to be proactive about it and not just sit back and let the work stand on its own like I have in the past.
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Mark Loundy, Photo Editor
San Jose | CA | USA | Posted: 1:27 AM on 07.30.08
->> Scott,

My concern is how, in the face of an imploding newspaper industry, we can preserve substantive journalism. Clearly there's no question that money can be made from exposing the personal lives of the famous.

But there are millions of stories like Common Ground that people will enjoy, but not that newspapers or television stations will pay for. It's difficult to imagine a newspaper paying a middle-class wage to a journalist to spend even 40 hours on a single story let alone a year or more.

But such stories are the heart of what we do as journalists. They help us ground ourselves spiritually as a society. They are worth fighting for. Yet that value does not translate into dollars and cents.

Journalism -- real journalism -- is in the process of being abandoned by popular, consumerist, culture.

If we are unwilling to pay for grown-up journalism, how can it survive?

--Mark
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Matthias Krause, Photographer
Brooklyn | NY | USA | Posted: 9:45 AM on 07.30.08
->> Mark,
I think you are asking a great question. In my opinion journalists might have to work much more like documentary film makers in future. They have to spend a lot of time and effort to secure grants and find financial support through financiers and donors and such before they can go ahead with their projects. Secondly you definitely have to "milk" the revenue stream in every way possible. I think we can learn a lot from agencies like VII and people like Brian Storm in that regard. There is one thing I wouldn´t bet my farm on though: That newspapers and magazines will provide funds for long term projects much longer (if they did it at all to begin with).
Cheers,
Matthias
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Octavian Cantilli, Student/Intern
Kissimmee | FL | United States | Posted: 3:05 PM on 08.03.08
->> Hi Mark,

I just found that there already has been a thread created about Scott Strazzante's "Common Ground" over at MediaStorm. Then I came across this thread.

In my relatively young existence as a photographer I worked on two projects at somewhat length. I worked on the first for eight months and the second for four months, and I don't have a feeling that either of them is complete. However, these two projects were the first that provided me with a since that my work meant something other than supporting myself, so now I say long term photo stories are my favorite.

In regards to your comments above, I think these long-term photo stories are what some photographers choose to do in order to please themselves. I kind of want to compare it to a hobby. People don't have hobbies for financial rewards. They do them because it makes them feel good, kind of like a recreational sport or volunteering at an organization they believe in. If these photographer's long term projects are great and other people find value in seeing their projects then great, but if not ow well, the pieces were not created for anyone other than the photographer.
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Phil Hawkins, Photographer
Fresno | ca | usa | Posted: 7:14 PM on 08.03.08
->> "Is there a way for long-term journalistic projects to fit into a capitalist reality?"

Are you kidding? Ever hear of Ken Burns? Michael (cough) Moore? John Zaritsky? Lincoln and Jon Else? These guys are making VERY good livings as documentary filmmakers. Yes, the trend is definitely toward profitable documentaries.

Reality is cheap to produce and in the right hands, very profitable.

As an aside, and I'm not throwing rocks at you Mark, but when was the word "monetize" redefined? I am seeing more and more gross incorrect usage of the word, and I don't get it. Long term projects cannot be turned into currency. At least not since the last time I checked. I think you meant to say "Can long-term projects be profitable"; or "Making money with long term projects". With all due respect. You're not the only one doing it and I don't see how these things get started.
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Mark Loundy, Photo Editor
San Jose | CA | USA | Posted: 10:45 PM on 08.03.08
->> Phil,

I wasn't referring to superstars like Ken Burns. Those folks will always survive. I was referring to ordinary storytelling at the local level.

The core question is, "Can journalistic storytelling survive as a profession accessible to the average person?" By that I mean to draw a distinction between accessible professions and professions like "movie star" or "astronaut," which are accessible only to the very elite minority.

I appreciate the correction about "monetize." That's what I get for exposing myself to too much corporatese.

--Mark
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Jonathan Castner, Photographer, Assistant
Longmont | CO | USA | Posted: 2:18 PM on 08.04.08
->> Considering that the budget for a "low budget" documentary film tends to hover around the $500,000 mark let's not even bring up that kind of stuff. Also I feel that as a profession, journalistic storytelling has never really been the grasp of the average person. Most PJ/VJ's come from middle to upper middle class families who foot the bill for school, gear, un/paid internships, personal projects for building the folio for a job that tends to pay less than $40K per year. When a PJ/VJ does get that paying job someone has invested many tens of thousands of dollars to get that person ready for their amazing but low paying job.

I know many talented staffers at good papers who have told me that they would love to go freelance but can't afford all the gear that they need to have to do the job. I mean, just to have your basic 2 bodies, wide zoom, long zoom and sports lens with a few small flashes you need about $20,000 to be equipped to get work. Oh and let's not forget all the computer stuff you need!

So on top of that you are going to spend weeks or months on a story that has limited resale because once it's published by a good mag who has the money to pay you something non-insulting for it they tend to have moratoriums on you publishing it somewhere else for 1-6 months.

Thus most of the story telling is done by people who either are so high up the food chain as freelance they can get compensated for their efforts or they are staff and their expenses are covered by their employer. Everyone else tends to do stories at a loss so that they can get them published and move them hopefully up said food chain.

With budgets and staffs being slashed as fast as the interest/funding in non-infotainment stories it's harder and harder to make any money telling stories. If I'm wrong here please enlighten us all and relieve my worried mind.
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David Harpe, Photographer
Louisville | KY | USA | Posted: 4:11 PM on 08.04.08
->> Unfortunately, long-timeframe journalism/photojournalism is no longer profitable at the local level. National folks might be able to pull it off, but I think local publications will not be able to afford to have a reporter and photographer working for months on a single project that will generate one or two stories and a gallery.

It's unfortunate, but definitely the reality of the current day.
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Matthias Krause, Photographer
Brooklyn | NY | USA | Posted: 6:52 PM on 08.04.08
->> "Considering that the budget for a "low budget" documentary film tends to hover around the $500,000 mark let's not even bring up that kind of stuff."
I´m not sure where you get your figures from but I am sure that they are wrong. If you want, I can send you the budget of a one hour documentary about the tsunami done for PBS. It was made for $100,000. But that wasn´t my point anyway. My point was that I think PJ need to look into different ways of financing projects. Grants being one of them NGO and non-profits being another.

"Also I feel that as a profession, journalistic storytelling has never really been the grasp of the average person."
I don´t get what you mean with that either. I know tons of people who are very "average" as far as their family background goes. Yet they are telling great stories because they are talented and - maybe even more so - dedicated. Saying, "only the big dogs with tons of money can do this" is an excuse for not getting off you butt and start doing something meaningful.
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Jonathan Castner, Photographer, Assistant
Longmont | CO | USA | Posted: 10:57 PM on 08.04.08
->> Mattias, I attended a workshop a few months ago on creating documentary films and the lead instructor has produced 6 award winning documentaries. My numbers are according to her. She said that if you are lucky to have a half million when you start filming as the guy who did "Supersize Me" had then you are in great shape. She said that she tries to get about $100-150,000 before she starts filming and then come up with another $100k+ for editing, scoring and the rest to finish it.

Regardless of how you get your financing you still need it. You can't just walk out the door for a few hours and get a big project done. The money has to come from somewhere.

"Average" income tends to mean "middle class". Know any working PJ/VJ/documentary shooters from poor families who did everything on their own? I know that they are out there but they are very very few in comparison to ones who financed the building of their career with dad's checkbook.

As for "getting off my butt" for the last few years I've committed myself to at least one long term project a year - some on my own dime. How are your documentary projects going?
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David Harpe, Photographer
Louisville | KY | USA | Posted: 9:49 AM on 08.05.08
->> I've been thinking a lot about this since the thread was posted.

What I started to realize is that long form journalism is not dying, in fact it's growing. The form is changing. The method of acquisition is different. The distribution medium is shifting to blogging - a force many feel is the root of evil these days. What made me start thinking about this is something that's been happening at a local level with a corruption story over the past month or so.

Without getting into too many details - a former department head at a local university is being investigated by the federal government for possible problems with a grant. The story has gone public, and it appears that it might be deeper than just an issue with one grant.

Local media has covered the story - but only in bits and pieces and generally only when the university says something about it. A local blogger, however, has been doing a lot of research on it. Every day he has an update. He's been filing freedom of information requests, interviewing former employees, tracking stories in other cities where the person in question has worked. In other words, he's been doing investigative reporting. The only difference is he's reporting his progress as he does it, rather than aggregating it all into a front page story.

Now there are tons of ways this method of doing things could go wrong, but end of the day it IS long-form investigative reporting. It's just being doled out in bite-sized pieces rather than one big blast.

When you think about how the media started doing stories using the all-at-once method, commercial motivation was the main reason. They keep stories under wraps so competitors don't know what they're doing. A TV station or a newspaper doesn't want their competition to know what they "HAVE" until they can roll it out with maximum commercial benefit. They want to be able to use the "E" word during ratings sweeps.

Bloggers have no such motivation. In fact, they are the antithesis of this approach. They ENCOURAGE collaboration, cooperation and contribution. One could easily argue that their method of investigation is - in the long run - SAFER. It is a process of continuous peer review. Unlike the star reporter at the Times who has to be right all within the walls of his/her organization, a blogger is splayed open to the world 24 x 7. The logic continually challenged, corrections made where appropriate.

More and more you're seeing bloggers who are in fact supported by salaries - either by way of ad revenue or direct compensation from an employer. So there is money there if you do the gig correctly.

Blogging also has a bit of a perception problem because the term "blogging" refers to everything from kids whining about their parents to folks doing real journalism. It's very similar to "photographer" being way too broad a term. Fortunately we do have the term "photojournalist" as a selector. Blogging needs a similar selector - blogjournalist maybe? Something to distinguish the little two-paragraph reports of trivia that are common in blogs from the longer, more progressive stories that are essentially big stories being developed as you watch.

The point is that maybe we're really not seeing a death of long form journalism, just a shifting to a new method of doing it. One more open and progressive than singularly executed. Rather than singing a dirge of death for long form journalism, maybe it's time to simply look at this as a shifting of method...and quite possibly for the better.
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Phil Hawkins, Photographer
Fresno | ca | usa | Posted: 6:58 PM on 08.05.08
->> Jonathan,

I don't doubt what you say about the low-end budgets, but I use Adobe Premier Pro and I bet I could do an hour documentary for, oh, say, the cost of raw tape and gas. I just do not see where 1/2 million can be spent. Now, marketing and distribution might go for that, but to get it in the can can be done for next to nothing. Assuming you don't have to drive all over the country like the guy on SuperSize Me did, submitting to film festivals is cheap... these budgets... I don't understand!

Mark, again, I wasn't criticizing you; thanks for taking it the way you did. I once saw a comedy short in which the participants were playing "buzzword bingo" at a company meeting. It's a world gone mad.
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Mark Loundy, Photo Editor
San Jose | CA | USA | Posted: 7:18 PM on 08.05.08
->> Phil,

There is a LOT more to producing a professional-level documentary than you might think. Watch the credits on a Discovery Channel program. All of those people got paid.

--Mark
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Phil Hawkins, Photographer
Fresno | ca | usa | Posted: 2:16 AM on 08.06.08
->> Yeah, I know, my brother is in the business, he's won two Emmys and I do understand. It's an issue of quality and thoroughness in production. But if someone knows their subject matter and knows their way around, it can be done. But I agree, the Big Guys all have research staffs, editors, bookkeepers, lawyers, etc and that does make for a higher quality product, no question. I'm just saying it can be done if someone with the time, patience and knowledge of and access to the subject matter has his or her ducks in a row.
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David Harpe, Photographer
Louisville | KY | USA | Posted: 9:49 AM on 08.06.08
->> Fast, good, cheap - you get to pick two.
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Thread Title: Monetizing long-term projects
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