Things are changing mighty quick out there. I’m not sure if you would call it a revolution, because what we are doing is, in many ways what we did after LIFE magazine folded back in 1972.
When LIFE died (that first time) critics and naysayers proclaimed it the “death” of photojournalism. Indeed, many photographers did leave the business, but guys like David Burnett, and David Hume Kennerly (the last two photographers put under contract for LIFE) not only continued to work, but pioneered many of the practices that we are finding ourselves returning to now.
Burnett says he was bummed for six months after LIFE folded, but soon realized that he could do the same things he was doing for LIFE through the french photo agency Gamma.
“Photojournalism was doing fine. It was just LIFE Magazine that was having problems.” Burnett said today.
“They had become way to top-heavy. They had to print 8 million magazines each week and that’s what did them in.” he added. “If they only had to print a third or half of that they might have lasted a little longer.”
See any parallels?
“It’s not the same as working for NEWSWEEK or the NEW YORK TIMES, its very humbling.” he said. “We reached about 25,000 viewers a day, but those 25,000 WANTED to be reached.”
That’s the key, reaching viewers that want to be reached. Four million people might see a story I do for TIME today. Forty million might see a piece in PEOPLE, but what percentage of those readers are really interested in my photographs?
Alan was about three hours outside of New Orleans when I talked to him today. Just like the agency guys in the seventies, he’s not waiting for an assignment. He’s already there. This story is important to him. He’s invested a lot of time over the last three years since Katrina to document the situation. If he had waited for an assignment, none of his work would exist today.
The financial backing that use to come from magazines and newspapers is pretty much gone. It disappeared fast. Even six months ago it was still possible to get a little backing for something like a hurricane heading for New Orleans, or a political convention. I was originally planning to be in Denver last week, but was unable to get my lodging expenses covered. I was surprised. The money is simply not there now.
The costs of printing and distributing millions of magazines are suffocating many publications today. Thirty-five years ago LIFE was killed by this burden, but not photojournalism.
I think it’s possible to replace the financial backing that came from print with revenues generated by blogs.
As Burnett told me today, “Nobody really knows how this is going to work out (the internet/blog revenue stream). We’re just stumbling our way through it. The trick is to be as smart as the average 18 year old.”