Two questions I get asked all the time:
1. How do you get your assignments?
All of our assignment workflow is done online. The website, user name and password to get on that system is… (right.)
Every morning I’ll check a website that tells me what my assignments are for the day. The assignments generally come from our reporters, and the photo editors will assign a photographer to every assignment that merits our attention.
The online system is a big improvement from the days when the assignments were typed up on triplicate sheets (white, pink, and yellow copies) and stuck on clips with the photographers’ names. Back in those days we also had a rubber stamp of a cow that would be stamped on “sacred cow” assignments. Sacred cows were anything that the editor back then had a thing for, like stories involving trains, historic military re-enactments, etc.
2. Do you only shoot one thing, like sports?
Basically, no. There are 11 photographers at the Tribune and we all shoot whatever the photo editors put our names on. It’s different every day.
A good newspaper photographer has to be a generalist. You have to be able to get usable photographs from any type of assignment under any set of conditions. If you are interested in becoming a newspaper photographer, start carrying a camera everywhere and photographing all sorts of situations. That is the most valuable thing you can do to improve your skills.
Our photo editors are responsible for assigning photographers to the steady stream of incoming assignments. While I’m sure a number of factors go into who shoots what, the biggest consideration is schedule. For example, the people who work late shifts are going to cover most of the night sports and concerts simply because that’s when they work. The people who work the early shifts will be doing more of the education and business stories.
Beyond the time consideration, other factors occasionally come into play. A photographer might know a lot about a certain subject, or have a cultural background that adds to their expertise on a given story. That said, I can’t think of more than a handful of assignments that we couldn’t all do reasonably well.
Ten years ago, being a computer geek was a big advantage. Now, we are all equipped with digital equipment that allows us to send in our photographs from just about anywhere in the world.