Throughout my career I heard this phrase uttered by photographers when discussing reporters: “You exist to hold my tripod.” It was followed by a laugh and shaking of the head. There is a lot behind this phrase that many reporters and news managers don’t stop to think about. It’s especially true now, with more stations turning to one man band and backpack journalists. Without photojournalists, there would be no TV news. The video, together with sound, is what separates us from other news mediums. Yet many take for granted the photojournalist that is putting a lot of physical effort and artistic ability into his/her work. In many shops photojournalists do not get much recognition from management. It all goes to the reporters and anchors.
Being the reporter thought of as only good enough to hold the tripod is frustrating. But a good journalist can consider many perspectives, right? Whether you like it or not, you are going to be assigned to work with photojournalists who have this attitude from time to time. They exist in every shop. Murphy’s Law dictates you will be assigned to this angry photojournalist whenever you have a great story that you hope will be good enough to keep for your resume.
So in the interest of peace and understanding, let’s look a little more at why some photojournalists feel this way. In truth, there are many reporters that think photogs are their servants. They refuse to help carry gear. They boss the photojournalist around and tell them to get specific shots, rather than gently asking. And they often do this in front of someone being interviewed. This treatment is humiliating. Think about the time when a ND calls you in and asks how you could ever have written something so dumb? You know how it feels. We’ve all been there. Showing respect is crucial. Also, because there is a lack of training in newsrooms, often a seasoned photojournalist gets stuck working with newbie reporters. All of us are clueless when we first take news jobs. We are a pain in the butt and a potential liability as we get our TV legs. Add in a know it all, “I can conquer the world” attitude and a seasoned photojournalist legitimately wants to not only hand you a tripod to carry, but shove it where the sun doesn’t shine!
So enough psychology of why, let’s talk survival skills. The tried and true way to develop a positive working relationship with these seemingly impossible photographers is to show them some respect. Yes, you will often want specific shots taken in the field. So, let the photog know what you are thinking and ask them to help you out, rather than tell them to get a shot. Then ask for input and tell them you would love a few more shots or more natural sound to go with the shots you need if the photojournalist sees a good opportunity. Ask the photojournalist’s opinion, often. This person is a huge asset for you, even when it can be a bitter pill. These articles spell out why and what to do if the photog is really hazing you. (see Photog is a reporter’s best friend and Thank you sir, how to handle newsroom hazing)
Do whatever you can to get the photojournalist involved in the story. Again, at end of each interview ask if the photojournalist has any questions for the subject. Some of the best perspective on a story can come from the true observer. (There is no truer “observer” than a photog watching the story play out through the lens of a camera!) When you shoot your standup talk to the photographer about what you are thinking of doing and ask for help making it work visually.
Most of all, don’t give up. Keep showing respect even if you think you are only getting insults in return. Remember the psychology of why. These photographers often care, passionately, about the video and sound they are gathering. They want their hard work appreciated by someone, but they have been burned, often. Be patient, compliment when appropriate, and show respect. With time that photographer will turn into an asset and you will be glad to hold the tripod for him/her!