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|| News Item: Posted 2009-12-18

Life After Newspapers: Seattle
Former Seattle Post-Intelligencer photographers are faced with the challenge of being laid off in the worst economy of their lifetimes.

By Andy Rogers

Photo by Rob Sumner / Red Box Pictures

Photo by Rob Sumner / Red Box Pictures

Seattle Space Needle, Sept 2, 2009.
As a photographer at the former Seattle Post-Intelligencer, I always looked forward to our annual holiday party. It was a chance to enjoy the company of my colleagues in a laid-back atmosphere. While those in the P-I newsroom were renowned for their tendency to break into booze-laden celebrations for all sorts of small victories, the holiday party was a unique event. Part of its charm lay in the congratulatory awarding of gold pins and other tokens to mark consecutive years of service to the paper.

I remember being touched to see colleagues receive awards for five, 15 and even 25 years of work at the paper. It was a testament to their valued experience. This would have been the first year I received one (for five years at the paper), and I fully expected to be collecting pins of my own for decades to come as I worked into retirement at the best job I'd ever had.

With the closure of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in March though, my goal of retiring as a newspaper photographer took a hit. My colleagues and I were faced with the challenge of being laid off in the worst economy of our lifetimes. We would all have to consider the question of how to get our careers back on track or whether to continue a career in photojournalism at all.

The concerns were many.

What is my current economic situation? Is my family depending on me to continue to bring home the bacon? What other marketable skills do I have? Do I even need to work any more, or is it just time to retire? Is photojournalism a viable career path? Can I move out of the area? Can I make more money in another area of photography?

Of course, the answers to these questions would lead our 16-person staff in any number of directions. These vignettes reflect the variety of choices they've made about their careers since the closure:

Mike Urban, Staff Photographer
Urban has been keeping consistently busy running three separate businesses. He continues to do freelance photography, shooting images for a book, producing multimedia pieces for Seattle restaurants, doing private school portraits and shooting for the paper on Vashon Island where he lives.

A feature by a local television magazine show has given a great boost to his business creating backyard metal and glass sculptures.

"Between the TV coverage and a gallery show in June, I have been swamped with commissions for sculptures and decorative metal work," Urban wrote in an email.

Also, the down economy has created a boom in business for the second-hand store he continues to run with his wife, with his profits up 100 to 140 percent from last year.

"I have a deep reserve of creative plans for the long term that should keep me working for myself and on my own terms well into the future," Urban said.

Paul Joseph Brown, Staff Photographer
When asked about working for himself, Brown said, "If I'd wanted to run a business, I would have left years ago when freelancing was bountiful and lucrative."

Despite his disdain for his current status, he continues to work as freelance photographer, with half of his time spent on his long-standing wedding photography business and half spent on corporate and non-profit work. He photographed 24 weddings this year. He plans to pursue more opportunities to do environmental photography and work for non-profits in the coming year.

"I've also been volunteering with a refugee agency, which is very difficult but very rewarding and connects me to my pre-photojournalism self," Brown said.

Photo by Mike Urban

Photo by Mike Urban

A small 2-foot dinosaur, a Compsognathus, that is part of a four-piece diorama created by former Seattle Post-Intelligencer photographer Mike Urban.
Meryl Schenker, Staff Photographer
Schenker says she surprised herself with how busy she was able to keep as a freelance photographer.

"I loved the variety in the newspaper world, and I am trying to keep variety in my own business, although I think people tend to go to specialists, so it's more of a challenge to be a generalist."

She's doing a lot of family photography, mostly on location, as well as weddings and corporate and documentary work. She's finding her groove as the owner of a small business.

"Whether it's shooting, editing, meeting with clients, marketing, networking, being my own IT person, or learning a new program, it's all photography all the time,” Schenker said.

Eustacio Humphrey, Assistant Photo Editor
Humphrey took the opportunity to visit family and friends in his native Panamá and New England. In Panamá, he began work on his dream project on the Kunas, an indigenous group that has sustained economic and environmental successes through the industrial era.

He is currently applying for grants with an anthropologist who is an expert on the Kunas to pursue the long-term project and publish a book about them. Concurrently, he has pursued photo editing jobs in the Seattle area, applying for positions at Microsoft's Bing and MSN Latino, but nothing has panned out. He spends a lot of time searching the job market online, rewriting my resume and working with the DBM career consultation service that is provided by Seattle P-I owner the Hearst Corporation.

Karen Ducey, Staff Photographer
"I haven't been this happy in a long time," said Ducey.

She sees the P-I closure as "the kick in the ass" she needed to pursue an alternative career course. She was frustrated by the direction she saw the paper and the Web site heading, and is now invigorated by her new life as a full-time student, studying Web design and multimedia. Her studies have been paid for in part by Washington state's worker retraining program.

"The school atmosphere is refreshing and diverse, a welcome relief from that of a dying newsroom," she said.

Ducey's current income comes from stock sales of personal work, occasional freelance jobs and profits from a wedding business she shares with two partners. Her passion for documentary photography remains, though, and she is currently working on a story about the King County Animal Shelter that will run on, a news site run by a number of former P-I staffers.

Photo by Paul Joseph Brown

Photo by Paul Joseph Brown

A wedding party copes with Pacific Northwest weather.
Mike Kane, Staff Photographer
Kane is still working in photography 100 percent of the time. While he's spending about half his time doing photojournalism or documentary photography, it makes up only about 20 percent of his income, with the remainder coming from the wedding and commercial. He is currently preparing to cover the Winter Olympics in Vancouver B.C. for Zuma Press and doing grant research and preparation for a project with, a web publication formed by ex-P-I staffers that champions investigative journalism.

"I'm more optimistic now than I was initially about being able to pay the bills and still pursue the kind of work that got me into all this to begin with," he says.

John Dickson, Photo Editor
Formerly the head of the entire P-I photo department, Dickson is now transitioning toward a career in sustainable business.

"My undergraduate degree was in Environmental Education, and after a wonderful 30-year detour in journalism, I’m headed back to the natural world," he said.

Dickson is currently back at school and also working for a startup called Energime Renewable Energy Systems, a provider of clean energy technologies.

Grant M. Haller, Staff Photographer
Haller, a P-I veteran, left the paper with a long "To Do" list, but a battle with pneumonia combined with depression about the P-I's closure left him a bit "lost." He's shot a few things here and there, but was surprised to realize that he no longer wants to shoot daily assignments like the ones he took for 50 years in the newspaper business.

"Yes, I loved the work but no, I no longer want to do the work. I’m tired of people telling me where to go," he said.

Despite his setbacks, his awe and love for his 2-year-old grandson, who lives with him, has been a bright spot. Haller says he's now ready to make images for himself. He's progressing on creating multiple books and Web sites as well as Personal Historian projects that incorporate writing, photography, videography and audio programs.

"My business card reads: Grant M. Haller... It doesn’t say photojournalist, or personal historian, or writer, or UFO researcher, it's just Grant M. Haller. I’ve decided that I’m interested in too many areas to live under a single label," he said.

Duane Hamamura, Imaging Specialist
While continuing to look for a full-time imaging job, Hamamura has been working on thoroughbred horse racing photography, contributing regularly to a regional monthly thoroughbred magazine, as he has for years. The magazine is on shaky ground though, he says, and may end up being the third publication, including the King County Journal and P-I, that has ceased publication while he was working for it.

Joshua Trujillo, Staff Photographer
When the newspaper ended and the P-I was continued as an online-only news source, Trujillo was the lone visual journalist to be kept aboard by the Hearst Corp.

"It was a horrible experience to see my talented coworkers, peers and mentors have their newspaper careers come to a forced end. Survivor's guilt was a phrase whose meaning suddenly became painfully clear,” he said.

Since that time, Trujillo’s career as a journalist has changed dramatically. He arranges all his own assignments, shoots a significant amount of the staff-generated video and photo galleries for the site, hires interns and freelancers, codes html on the Web site, blogs and tweets constantly, and reports and breaks news stories.

"Often, I will report on-scene and supply the color and quotes for stories written by a reporter working the phones in the newsroom. It is hectic and some days chaotic, but rewarding to know that I led the charge behind the end result," Trujillo said about his increased workload. "Some days I wonder what I could have done if I worked this hard when I had a significant support structure and a large newspaper behind me."

Photo by Andy Rogers / Red Box Pictures

Photo by Andy Rogers / Red Box Pictures

Adrian carries his new wife Silvia over the threshhold of their suite at the Hyatt Regency in Bellevue, WA. on Oct. 3, 2009.
While he’s thankful every day to still be working as a photojournalist, Trujillo really misses the enthusiasm and energy of working with his former colleagues.

Andy Rogers, Scott Eklund and Dan DeLong, Staff Photographers
Rob Sumner, Photo Assignment Editor

I co-founded Red Box Pictures, a photography studio, with three of my colleagues upon the closure of the paper. We started the business because we believed that we could capitalize on our versatility to provide a range of services, from editorial and commercial work to wedding coverage and personal portraiture.

So far, the plan has been successful.

We like the idea of working together rather than competing for work and enjoy sharing in the camaraderie we had as newspaper staffers. Knowing that three other people are depending on me to help put food in their kids’ mouths is the ultimate motivator, and there's also a great energy created by having four creative people working toward a common purpose. Working together also allows us to share equipment, gives us a bigger marketing budget and allows us to take on larger-scale projects that require multiple photographers.

Our partnership also gives us a nice work/life balance, including the flexibility to stay home with a sick kid or take a vacation and the security of knowing someone will cover for you in an emergency. So far, about half our income is coming from weddings and the rest is coming from commercial and editorial work. We have a terrific studio space across the street from the old, neon P-I globe, and it's been nice to get regular visits from our former colleagues from the paper.

(Andy Rogers, co-founder of Red Box Pictures, is formerly a staff photographer for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.)

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