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Advice from Gerald Deo

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Your camera doesn’t matter.

This is maybe the most ridiculous thing to say when you’re writing a blog post about how to pick the right camera, but it’s also arguably the most important and I wouldn’t want to be accused of burying a lede.

As imaging hardware gets better, more and more of it crosses the “good enough” threshold for the needs of web, print, and multimedia journalism. The third-place story in the Pictures of the Year International competition was shot on an iPhone, using a free app called Hipstamatic.

That said, here’s what to look for in a camera: it needs to fit your hands, your needs, and your budget.

If it’s too heavy, an awkward shape, or has terrible ergonomics, it’s no good for your hands; you’ll never use it. If you require a discreet camera, or a sturdy one, or one with unusual features to fit your workflow (3D? High-def video? Waterproofing?), make sure the gear you choose includes said features; if the camera doesn’t fit your needs, you’ll never take it with you. If it doesn’t fit your budget, you’ll never buy it, and you can’t take pictures with a camera you don’t have.

There’s no one camera that suits everybody.

(Or we’d all have it, and this sort of post would be more moot and less frequent,) so make use of your resources when it does come time to pick one.

Professional and user reviews can reveal a lot about a camera, and hands-on time is absolutely necessary, even with a dummy body tethered to a post; buying a camera without picking it up and holding it to your eye is one of the greater disservices you can do yourself when camera shopping. Consider your habits (good and bad), and where possible, account for the growing you’ll do as a photographer and get a camera with some level of manual control (if not a full-blown manual mode.)

Don’t relax, just yet.

You’ve got a camera, but that doesn’t mean you know how to use it.

This seems crazy, but bear with me: if you have your eye up to an eyepiece as you follow a scene and need to change a setting on top of the camera, what do you do? Breaking concentration could lose you a shot, and shooting with the wrong settings could let you get a shot, but not the one you needed.

Learn to make the changes you’ll need without having to reorient the camera or break your concentration on a subject — or get used to losing a lot of the shots you wanted (and, in all likelihood, the respect of your editors.)

Once you get the hang of using the camera without looking at it, tweak the settings until it feels right. After all, it’s nobody’s camera but yours, so adjust it until you’re comfortable. Just like the hardware needs to fit in your hands with minimal discomfort, changing settings lets software go from “this camera I bought” to “this camera of mine,” and again: if you’re not going to use the camera because you don’t like the way it works, then you’re not going to get the shots you need/want.

Don’t let your camera make all the decisions.

Now that you can work it without looking, and the settings are to your liking, let’s make things a little more challenging. It’s easy to knock the camera into full-auto mode, and let it make decisions about how the light and dark parts of a scene should balance out, and what tint there might be on the lights inside the photo, and what should be in or out of focus.

It’s hard to make those decisions, and also challenging to figure out what changes to make to settings in order to ensure that what you want to happen is actually what’s going to happen. But as you get more comfortable doing adjusting your settings, you’re taking more control of how your shots turn out. That’s not to say there isn’t a place for automatic modes, or those hybrid settings that allow you to control one variable while choosing the others algorithmically; just that you should be able to get by without them in order to get the most out of them.

It gets easier with time and perseverance.

So now what? You’ve got a camera and a little knowledge on how to use it, (which is more dangerous than none, proverbially,) and to increase that comfort and depth of knowledge, there are three things you can do.

Queue up as many feeds as you can stand from people whose output you enjoy

These people aren’t necessarily photographers but also writers, journalists, scientists, and whoever else tickles your fancy. Read books, RSS feeds, and Twitter output with equal voracity. Deepen your perspectives and learn to see the same scene in multiple ways, and then to apply seeing the scene into portraying the same scene in different ways. Being well-rounded also gives you a foundation to build a rapport with subjects and there’s no harm in that; it could lead to a show-stopper of a shot, or to even more.

More likely, though, especially as you’re starting out, is that you’ll botch a lot of shots. This will lead to an editing process akin to pulling diamonds from the earth.  Although the shots may not work for the assignment you’re on, figuring out where the gap between intention and execution lay can help you get the shots you actually want in the future.

Whether the feedback is good or bad, you want it to be specific.

Now that you’re taking photos (and hopefully the ones you want) the next step is to get feedback to make your photos better. One of the best practices I’ve picked up about feedback (on photos but also on pretty much everything) is to ask for specifics, whether the feedback is positive or negative. Specific feedback lets the recipient know exactly what they’re doing well or need to work on. And when you’re giving pointers to another photographer, be careful to focus on the effect, because you’re doing this to help them get better and burning bridges by insulting someone is going to be harmful to you both in the long run. Take the feedback you receive, and incorporate it into your self-knowledge and workflows, but don’t be ruled by it.

That was a lot, given that this was originally a short post about picking cameras, but there you have it.

Remember: don’t be afraid to make mistakes, just be sure to make interesting ones.”

About Gerald

Gerald Deo

  • Name: Gerald Deo  (a.k.a. “Man with Camera)
  • J-school: none.
  • Publications: the Ubyssey, Discorder, Exclaim!, Canadian Immigrant, ricepaper.
  • Platforms: @heeeraldo on twitter (and tumblr but that’s not for work.)
  • Website and sample work: giant-squid.ca
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Introduction by Fabiola Carletti

I’m going to break from the usual format to introduce this next blog post. So far, we’ve been talking about good journalism, and some of our noblest principles.

Public relations or communications personnel have a different set of priorities. Their job is to protect the public image of the person or organization that employs them. They are trained to stay on message, and often to communicate strategically with the public through the filter of a journalist.

As you can imagine, the relationship between the two camps is complex.  Journalists often use pejorative idioms like “going to the dark side” and “crossing the floor” when a reporter decides to become a “flack” or a “spin doctor.” But there is an entire spectrum between the most virtuous journalist and the most manipulative propagandist. (I highly recommend Ira Basen’s six-part podcast “Spin Cycles” for a fair and principled assessment of the landscape.)

As an aspiring journalist, someone has probably told you to get into PR if you want something more stable. To help you think through the differences, we’re going to hear from a bright and talented young woman who launched her career in communications after having been trained as a journalist.

Karen Ho graduated from journalism school. She did three internships in three mediums. She attended workshops and conferences and networked with fellow reporters … but, after a dry spell, she got a communications job.

Before her first day, Karen blogged about securing work with the Communications and Public Affairs department at U of T Scarborough. She admitted:

“… part of me is a bit conflicted. On the one hand, I did it. I found a job that lets me write for a living, pays a decent wage, has reasonable hours, fantastic benefits and is close to home in a time when many people are still struggling to find jobs.

But I’m not a reporter, editor or photographer. I don’t work in a newsroom. And no one would classify the work I’m about to do as journalism.”

I caught up with Karen now that she’s been in her position for several months. She has agreed to share some of her experiences on the other side.

Advice from Karen Ho

My job is fast-paced and frenetic, as it is in a newsroom. I’m also lucky have an editor with 10 years of journalism experience who looks over all my pieces and corrects them for style and pacing.

The public relations part of my job involves finding interesting stories on campus and sending them to the people I think would be interested. Instead of articles, I write press releases. I still pitch to journalists, editors and producers, but I don’t get a byline when that story is picked up. My success is measured differently that way.

I still use lots of journalism techniques like adhering to Canadian Press style and the Headline-Information-Background-Outlook format. Sometimes I also write stories for the university’s website and e-Newsletter. These are my favourite things to do, as I get to interview and write like a reporter.

My job does entail promoting the university, so there are things I’m limited from writing about or commenting on. To me, working for a university is different than government or corporate work because I’m promoting a place of higher learning and research. I think if I was in a PR job focused on getting the word out about a product like credit cards or soft drinks, it would feel a lot more like “going to the dark side”.

The most striking difference between journalism and communications work is that I have to show a lot of my articles and press releases to my subjects before they’re sent out or posted online, mostly to ensure I’ve accurately written about the scientific research.

We’re not taught in journalism school how to write press releases or deal with media scrutiny after a negative event. We’re taught how to scrutinize PR spin and be the media scrutiny instead.

Journalists I’ve spoken to, who switched to public relations later in their careers, did it because their newsrooms were shrinking and they got tired of the instability of life in journalism.

I think it’s also about figuring out what you really want in life right now.

For me, the idea of a 9-5 job with benefits, vacation time and an educational subsidy was really appealing compared to a lot of the job prospects at the time I graduated, despite having few commitments. Other journalists might have just started families and the idea of not knowing when they could be home for their small children is no longer something they can do guilt-free.

I do plan to get back into journalism in the future, be it through freelancing for various publications or doing communications work for a journalism organization or switching back full-time. I think it’ll get more difficult the longer I stay in communications work, but for now I have a pretty good long-term strategy and it seems to be working.

I stay involved in the journalism community by going to events, conferences and chatting with journalists on a regular basis, taking classes to develop journalism-related skills and keeping up to date with industry news. (Twitter has been instrumental in staying connected to the journalism industry while working in PR. It’s a big part of how I’ve built my network and stayed in touch with peers, mentors and potential employers.)

I can’t really say how much the cultures differ, except that I’ve found communications work to be very focused on a specific message coming across to the public and journalism work more focused on providing information and context on a specific event, trend or issue. Ultimately, both are designed to provide information to the public.

Great journalism is just more likely to reveal the stuff people are uncomfortable with.

About Karen

    Karen Ho

  • Name: Karen Ho
  • J-school: University of Toronto Scarborough and Centennial College ’10
  • Current/Past Employers: Bank of Montreal, Xtra!, University of Toronto Scarborough
  • Publications: The Varsity, Xtra!, Snowboard Canada Magazine, The Agenda with Steve Paikin
  • Platforms: print, online
  • Twitter: @karenkho
  • Web:  karenho.ca

Advice from Allison Cross

Be flexible. Most aspiring journalists have a vision of what their career will look like but because the industry is evolving so fast, that vision may have to change. Be open to exploring multiple formats, moving cities and taking on piecemeal work. Don’t be tied to getting a perfect, permanent 9-5 job, because it might not exist when you graduate. The best experiences I’ve had so far in my short career have been during short-term contracts or freelance opportunities.

About Allison

Allison Cross

  • Name: Allison Cross
  • J-school: UBC’s Graduate School of Journalism
  • Current Employer: Toronto Star
  • Past Employers: Postmedia News (formerly Canwest News Service), Journalists for Human Rights, Vancouver Sun, Nanaimo Daily News
  • Publications in which your work has appeared: Toronto Star, Globe and Mail, Vancouver Sun, The Tyee, Nanaimo Daily News, PBS Frontline/World, Brave New Traveler, Rocketboom.com
  • Platforms: Print, online, video, blogging, photo
  • Website:www.allisoncross.ca
  • Twitter: @AllisonCross
  • Tumblr:crossallison.tumblr.com
  • Link to recent sample: Push on to solve NY arson case that killed 7 Canadians

Advice from Nick Taylor-Vaisey

Never stop learning. Once you’ve learned how to tell stories, keep looking for different ways to tell those stories. Teach yourself or take a course, whatever works. But always look for different skills you can offer prospective employers. If you shoot photos or video, that’s great. If you know even the basics of data journalism (aka computer-assisted reporting), that’s even better.

And if your storytelling combines any or all of those tools in meaningful ways, you’ll shoot to the front of the pack. That’s a lot for a first-year prospective journalist to have in mind. But if you think you’ve fallen in love with the craft, then continuing education is your ticket to a future in the business.

And while you pick up those skills, never forget the importance of writing. I was given this advice before, and it’s worth passing on. Always be writing. Whether it’s blogging, reporting or something in between, always have a pen in hand (or hand on keyboard). There’s a good chance writing or editing will be front and centre in your career as a journalist, no matter how much the field changes or how many other skills you need to succeed.

About Nick

Nick Taylor-Vaisey

  • Name: Nick Taylor-Vaisey
  • J-school: n/a (Political Science at the University of Ottawa)
  • Current/Past employers: OpenFile (current), the Fulcrum
  • Publications in which his work has appeared: Ottawa Citizen, Globe and Mail, This Magazine, University Affairs, Maclean’s OnCampus
  • Platforms he works in: Print/Online
  • Website: NickTV.ca
  • Twitter: nonstopnicktv
  • Link to a good sample of your work: Where Ottawa kids go to learn (Open File) Qualifier: I think this is most representative of the kind of work I love to do. It’s more about the approach and technique than the storytelling, but it’s what I’m thinking a lot about these days.

Advice from Erin Millar

Seek out opportunities to get your work published. So many journalism students I met when I was an editor had learned all the skills and passed the right courses, but had no practical experience or published clippings. Don’t underestimate the value of a strong clipping from a student publication or small regional newspaper. The quality of your writing is much more important than where it was published, and editors take the student press seriously if they see a promising student journalist. So make sure you’re getting hands-on experience outside the classroom.

Learn how to work in different platforms, especially online. Journalists are increasingly expected to file their story in different formats. (Reporters for CBC need to file both online and radio stories, for instance.) It’s difficult to carve out a place for yourself as a specialist. If your favourite medium is print, fine, but also be proficient with a camera, willing to live blog and able to record for radio.

About Erin

Erin Millar

  • Name: Erin Millar
  • J-school: none (I went to the other j-school, and have a degree in jazz music)
  • Current: I’m a self-employed freelancer, working regularly for Reader’s Digest, The Globe and Mail and The Walrus. My publisher is Thomas Allen & Son. I’m represented by the literary agency Canadian Writers Group.
  • Past: Canadian University Press, Maclean’s Magazine
  • Publications in which your work has appeared: The above plus BC Business Magazine, The Georgia Straight, The Tyee, Memewar Magazine, University Affairs Magazine, CBC Radio and others. My first book is called “The Canadian Campus Companion”
  • Platforms you work in: print, online, books, photography
  • Website: erinmillar.ca
  • Twitter: @erinmillar
  • Sample work: Dustin’s Town
  • Advice from Devon Wong

    I got into journalism before I even realized there was an academic field that encouraged voyeurism! I was always a very curious person that would shamelessly approach strangers with questions. I think it’s important to have that natural interest inherent in the profession, because I think there’s a growing trend of people going into the field thinking it’s all about presentation or the glamour of holding a microphone. Journalism is about facilitating a conversation between your audience and your subject. You have to bridge that gap of accessibility.

    As someone who’s still in the process of ‘getting into journalism’, I would suggest honing your craft by taking up as many opportunities as you can possibly get your hands on.There are a million publications out there with various beats just looking for contributors with a genuine interest in the subject matter. Write about dogs! Write about knitting! Review a spa! Learn to differentiate your voice.

    With the prevalence of the Internet now, it’s a benefit to be able to access a larger audience and post content with ease… but remember there’s also a saturation of junk out there. People have plenty more options of blogs to read and sites to visit. With that said, by at least having a pool of content that’s been published on different webzines, you build your credibility as a web journalist. And don’t just rely on your credentials, people want to see your body of work. Ultimately your education is one line on your resume; expect to build the rest of your portfolio through your work experience.

    Also a word of advice: Everyone has to work for free at the beginning. As with most creative industry jobs, you have to expect to pay your dues. The start may be laborious, but remember the payoff: You get to do something you love! (or at least should love!) That’s step one. But if you plan to make this your career, be realistic about when to draw the line and start valuing yourself. No one will pay you if you don’t expect to be. Remember, it’s nice to be liked, but better to be paid 🙂

    About Devon

    Devon Wong

    • Name: Devon Wong
    • J-school: None. UBC Sociology graduate, BA in 2010
    • Current/Past employers: David Suzuki Foundation, Make Believe Media, Samsung, Chum Radio, Vancouver Community Television
    • Publications in which her work has appeared: Schema Magazine, The Open Mouth, MSN Canada homepage, http://www.davidsuzuki.org, Shaw TV
    • Platforms she works in: online video, print, broadcast, social media
    • Website: www.devonwong.com
    • Twitter: @writefullydevon
    • Sample work: The last piece I did for Schema was a video interview before the holidays with Filmmaker Jeff Chiba Stearns

    Advice from Amanda Ash

    The advice I give anyone thinking about pursuing journalism is this: Building yourself up as a journalist is a bit like driving across Saskatchewan. It can be tedious and sometimes you’ll want to run yourself into a ditch to spare yourself the pain.

    You have to be willing to write/work for anyone and everyone you can, often without pay, and enjoy yourself while you’re at it. If you truly want to pursue journalism, be relentless. Pitch stories every day. Network with as many people as you can in the industry, because they’ll be the ones to give you invaluable opportunities.

    You’ll start at the bottom (university newspapers are the best ground zero) but eventually you’ll build a name and niche for yourself. You’ll eventually work your way up to great and fulfilling opportunities!

    About Amanda

    Amanda Ash

    • Name: Amanda Ash
    • J-school: UBC Master of Journalism program
    • Current employers: Us Magazine, Vancouver Sun, Exclaim Magazine, The Block Magazine, sometimes CBC Radio 3.
    • Past employers: NBC Sports, CBC Radio 3, Victoria Times Colonist, Edmonton Journal, NIGHTLIFE Magazine, SEE Magazine, the Gateway.
    • Publications in which your work has appeared: All of the above!
    • Platforms you work in: Mostly print, but I like to add audio and video when I’m working with online stories.
    • Twitter: @AmandaAsh
    • Websites: theindiefiles.com and amandaash.net
    • Work Samples: I have so many favourites! Here are a few.
    1. Justin Bieber superfans are legion – and they’re here (Vancouver Sun) “This one was fun, mainly because it forced me to put aside my bias and view things from a fan’s perspective!”
    2. Touring get Joan’s jets roaring (Postmedia News)
    3. Hannah Goergas: Tipping Point (Exclaim!)

    Advice from Chloé Fedio

    I was actually a TA for first-year journalism students at Carleton last year. One of the things I tried to drill into them was the importance of consuming as much journalism as possible.

    Don’t limit yourself to the Globe and Mail because that’s the paper you eventually want to work for. Listen to the Current (CBC), Dispatches (CBC) and This American Life (NPR). Watch the news (daily newscasts for CTV, Global and CBC are available online). Read magazines and newspapers alike. It will help you develop style and an area of interest.

    It’s also important not to get tunnel vision and to focus solely on journalism. Take other courses that interest you in university — not just the easy credits that fit in around your journalism courses. Academic study will help you later as a journalist — when you’re interviewing an expert, when you’re trying to read through a legal document, when you’re trying to understand cultural tensions, the list goes on. I say this having done a B.A. before studying journalism. I was very involved in the campus press at this time and cannot emphasize enough how much that experience shaped my present as journalist.

    About Chloé

    Chloé Fedio

    • Name: Chloé Fedio
    • J-school: Carleton University, MJ class of 2010
    • Current/Past employers: Toronto Star, reporter, September 2010 to Present – Montreal Gazette, reporter, June to August 2010 – City Radio (in Kigali, Rwanda), interned as a current events radio host, July and August 2009 – CBC Newsworld (back when it was called that), Chase Producer, April and May 2009 – Global Edmonton, news assistant, May 2007 to August 2008 – The Gateway, editor, September 2005 to April 2007
    • Publications in which her work has appeared: Toronto Star, Ottawa Citizen, Montreal Gazette, Edmonton Journal, Metro Edmonton, Vue Weekly (alt weekly in Edmonton)
    • Platforms she works in: have worked in TV and print mainly (at the Star, that often includes taking pictures). Also have experience in radio and did a multimedia master’s research project.
    • Twitter: @cfedio
    • Website: http://chloefedio.com
    • Sample work: Police investigate alleged hate crime in gay village (Toronto Star)
    • Food for the future (major multimedia project for Carleton U)

    Advice from Jesse McLean

    Whatever stream of journalism you want to practice, dive in now. Don’t wait until you’ve graduated. After my third year at Ryerson, I messaged and cold-called daily newspapers across the country until I found one that would take me on as a summer reporter. Without that experience, I doubt I would have ever been hired at the Star.

    About Jesse

    Jesse McLean

    • J-school: Ryerson (undergrad)
    • Current/past-employer: Started with Ryerson’s student newspaper, then This Magazine (summer of second year at RyeHigh); the Sarnia Observer (summer of third year); the Ottawa Citizen (six weeks during fourth year); Toronto Star (started in the box in Aug. 08 and worked throughout my final year at school. I’ve worked my way up through the contract intern system ever since)
    • Publications: See above. I’ve never been terribly good at freelancing.
    • Platforms he works in: Words, mostly, though I’ve taken photos, video, tweeted live events, etc.
    • Twitter: @jesse_mclean
    • Sample work: Amputee wonders how he can rebuild his life

    Advice from Stuart Thompson

    Volunteer at your student newspaper. Hands down the best advice in the business. There are journalism programs you can pay thousands of dollars for, but nothing beats the hands-on experience you get — for FREE — at a campus paper. I spent two years studying journalism at the college level, which is hands on. But I learned infinitely more in an active newsroom environment where it was journalism-by-fire and trial-by-error.

    Get on Twitter. First, you can network with other journalists and actually find jobs. Second, you can find sources for the stories you should be writing daily. And finally, it’s a necessary skill for journalists these days. I just got back from the mayor’s “State of the City” address and I was live-tweeting the entire thing. This is the same practice done by city reporters at newspapers around the world.

    The essential truth is you have to get involved or you’re not going to succeed in journalism. Formal education is fine, but it’s not enough, and often pales in comparison to the tangible experience and portfolio-building you can achieve at campus papers. The only reason I have a summer job lined up at the Globe & Mail is my work at the Gazette — my degree and journalism education was only the key that unlocked the Gazette’s door. Yet I still see countless journalism masters students spending four years of undergrad claiming to be passionate about journalism and never getting involved or even trying journalism before paying more money for even more education. It’s beguiling.

    About Stuart

    Stuart Thompson

    Name: Stuart Thompson
    J-school: The Gazette (just kidding… I did two years at Sheridan for print journalism and four years at Western in media studies)
    Current/Past employers: – Editor-in-Chief, The Gazette (2010/11)
    – News & Web Editor, The Gazette (2009/10)
    – IT Consultant, the University of Western Ontario (2009/10)
    Publications in which his work has appeared:
    The Gazette, The Beat (London arts magazine), The Alumni Gazette (Western’s alumni magazine)
    Platforms he works in:  Print, video and some audio in print, online and social media
    Twitter: @stuartatgazette
    Website: http://www.stuartathompson.com
    Sample work: The New Western (The Gazette)

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