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Modern publishing’s visual challenges - lessons from Bloomberg

As audience expectations for continuous visual engagement increase, so too does the demand for high-quality images to be used across all media platforms. Michael Shane, managing editor at Bloomberg Digital and Natasha Cholerton-Brown, global director of visual media content at Bloomberg, explain how these demands are changing the way publishers work. Piet van Niekerk reports.

The days when reporters, photographers, videographers, photo editors, designers and editors worked “in silos” and “in isolation” are long gone. In the modern publisher’s newsroom there will only be space for multi-talented individuals skilled in cross platform storytelling. In this newsroom, reporters and editors will fill several roles while the photographers and designers will have to acquire even more skills.

This warning comes from two of the most experienced visual managers at Bloomberg Media - Michael Shane, a managing digital editor and Natasha Cholerton-Brown, a director of visual media. According to the duo the hard facts are that publishers are making do with less photographers, photo editors and videographers despite an ever increasing demand for visual imaging.

Statistics released by the American Association of News Editors last year reveals that 4 per cent of photographers and/or videographers have lost their jobs since 2000 in the US. Between 2010 and 2012 alone 18 per cent of visual editorial staff have been made redundant compared to a six per cent cut in reporters and 0.2 per cent fall in editors.

These cuts, says Shane, does not mean that the demand for these specific skills are going away, it is merely proof that roles are evolving. “In fact, there is absolutely no reduction in the need for visual imagery”. Internet and social media platforms are so visually driven that the creation of imagery has become even more important than ever before. What is changing, however, is the way imaginary is created and the skill-set of the person responsible for creating it.

It means that the modern-day photographer/videographer needs to be multi-skilled and equipped to fill several roles along the workflow and lifecycle of storytelling. This is also true for reporters and editors, which fundamentally changes the working environment of the modern publisher’s newsroom.

Shane explains what this modern newsroom will look like. As a start, it will be filled with multi-talented teams who can think and work across publishing platforms. He describes it as “a cohesive newsroom” in which reporters and editors will have several roles and editors will know every step in the workflow. Everyone should be able to understand the processes involved in creating high quality visual content across all the publishing platforms.

Moreover every person involved in telling the story must  be part of the full life-cycle of the story, which in most cases will be longer than ever before as the story and images will need online updating and several possible follow ups to make it compatible with its social media ‘afterlife’ and syndication.

He says no longer can images be created with one magazine cover in mind.

The portrait image so suited to a magazine cover might work on mobile, but certainly creates problems for computers and tablets. The modern newsroom needs to create images for web, apps, social media and print with different shapes, orientation, focus and resolution, all fit for platform. While the entire team needs to think across platforms, they also need to consider the needs of the audience on each platform.

In many cases they also need to create animated graphics with interchange formats (GIFs) to add to social media. This puts high demand on the skills of photographers and designers, and according to Cholerton-Brown there are not many that can live up to these new demands. The photographers with a knowledge of technology and the demands of cross-platform storytelling will outperform even the best single-skilled photographer.

Publishers will also need to up their game. According to Cholerton-Brown, today’s publishers are lagging behind when it comes to successfully monetising visual media innovation. She references Snapchat, which is extremely successful, yet publishers are still trying to figure out how they can make any real money from it. 

“There’s a real lag between innovation and publishers’ ability to secure returns on it,” she says. Many publishers don’t know how much they have to invest in possible future innovation. “It’s a juggling act between looking after the needs of existing audiences and furthering future innovation by knowing where to put your dollars to find future returns.”

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