This is a guest post by Gerik Parmele. He is the director of photography at the Columbia Daily Tribune. Prior to moving to Missouri in 2005 to work at the Tribune he worked as a staff photographer at the Grand Island Independent, in Nebraska, for eight years.
The economy is tough, especially in photojournalism. As a photo editor in charge of a staff at a small newspaper it can be pretty stressful dealing with things like budgets and workloads.
But recently one situation came up that really drove home the point of what it's like for photojournalists, especially those vying for newspaper jobs, in this new economic climate. It's what happened when one of my staff gave his two week notice to move on to another newspaper.
The last time I hired a photographer here at the Columbia Tribune was in 2007. I had the luxury of mounting an extensive search for the right candidate. I posted on job boards and list-serves. I used my network of friends and colleagues to find candidates who would be a good fit. I gave it weeks.
Once I found a candidate that I felt was perfect for the job we were even willing and able to wait several weeks for her to finish a previous obligation before joining our staff. Those were the days.
Then things took a slight turn. Our budgets got pinched and our staff was reduced by one photographer, the one we waited weeks to hire a 19 months earlier. Our workload was increased with new initiatives to produce more web content. You've heard it all before I'm sure.
So for the last year we've been doing more with less, but getting by. Well, that is until I got the two week notice.
With the reality of having to replace a photographer in two weeks while already short staffed I thought back to the days of 2007 when I had the luxury of methodically sorting through more than 70 portfolios of photographers wanting to work here.
Not this time.
I knew I needed to act quickly and decisively. I wanted to get someone on board as soon as I could. I was scared our open position would be frozen. I knew our sanity would not last long with 50 percent less staff than we had 2 years ago while covering the same amount of assignments.
Thankfully there was someone right here in Columbia who is a great photographer, who I was familiar with, who was interested in working here and who was available. We offered him the job days after we knew we'd need a replacement.
So what's the take away for you if you are a photojournalist looking for work in this weak economy? Here's a short list of my opinions and things I learned the hard way.
1. As a photojournalist looking for work you need to have a very clear idea of where (city, state, region) you want to work and for who (newspaper, specific photo editor or agency) you want to work for.
2. Do your research about these places and be very familiar with them.
3. Make sure they know you want to work for them and why.
4. Be in touch frequently, but not to frequently. A postcard now and again is good. Phone calls every other day, bad. One of the things I've found that photojournalists were not good at was staying in touch with potential job prospects, even when I asked them “Please, stay in touch.”
5. Take a chance and move to the location you desire to work. It's easier to network and become known than if you lived 1000 miles away.
6. Be excellent in what you do. Remember a couple of paragraphs higher I wrote I received more than 70 portfolios for one entry level job opening? The competition is pretty tough.
Jobs don't open very often on the photo staff of our paper. I would guess that is the same for most around the country. But when they do, are you the first person that photo editor will think of when they need to hire someone right away?
You may also want to read this article from the National Press Photographers Association about Getting Started in Photojournalism.