Why did you go into journalism?
For lots of us, it probably had something to do with the chance to tell stories that matter, uncover unreported tragedies, make a difference to society – and make some money too.
It doesn’t take long at any news desk for this fantasy to be beaten out of most of us; and as for the money part, well it would be funny if it weren’t so tragic.
But what if you could make money and travel the world reporting social and humanitarian issues? What about a chance to scratch that Pulitzer itch?
Well, meet the journalists who are actually making that happen: the photojournalists, print reporters and multimedia producers who’ve found a new market in NGOs and other businesses – and are producing run-away content for it.
The NGO market is a perfect example of what entrepreneurial journalism evangelists mean when they talk about ‘thinking laterally’ and ‘finding new business models’. For a start it’s a large sector, with a huge variety of possible customers – from massive charities like the RNIB, Oxfam and Medecins Sans Frontiers, to the smallest non-profits looking for multimedia storytelling. It’s a sector with access to amazing stories, stories which benefit both the journalist (hello awesome portfolio!) and the charity itself.
And this market has emerged at the time when non-profits are desperately looking for new ways to connect to possible sponsors and fundraisers, not to mention getting their cause open to a wider public.
So, who are the big players? Businesses are already established in the UK and Europe, but it won’t surprise you to learn the US is where it’s really taken off.
Founded in New York by Multimedia Producer Brian Storm, MediaStorm is actually 15 years old, created as part of a university project in 1996. It was brought back to life in 2005, “with a focus on creating cinematic narratives for distribution across a variety of platforms.”
And its cinematic approach is certainly what makes it stand out from the crowd. MediaStorm’s team of photojournalists, audio editors and visual producers are known for producing slick multimedia projects for newspapers and non-profit organisations, and packing a punch.
And for their efforts, they have no fewer than three Emmys on their shelves and even more nominations; reckon you could win an Emmy in your job in the mainstream media?
MediaStorm’s success owes in part to a business model which doesn’t rely solely on journalistic or third sector commissions. As well as selling DVDs, and even T-Shirts on their website, they own a slice of the lucrative ‘multimedia training workshop‘ pie.
Following closely behind are smaller but equally impressive outfits, including Story4 and Weyo.
The latter, formed by Christoper Tyree and Stephen M Katz, has a twelve-strong team, the majority of which work on projects for domestic American charities.
Their pitch is based on an ability to convey stories “through compelling visual and narrative journalism” and they work under the agreeable slogan: “for people to act, they must truly believe”.
A secret to Weyo’s business model is Katz and Tyree’s bootstrapping approach to starting the company. Tyree told PDN Online last year that they invested $15,000 in the business, mostly on equipment.
Bombay Flying Club
Running away with the award for best name for a multimedia company is Danish/Canadian collective, Bombay Flying Club.
They describe themselves as an ‘audio visual production house’ with a speciality not just in photojournalism and multimedia but in flash design and post production. A mixed bag of clients includes the New York Times, Globe and Mail newspapers and small charities, including Dan Church Aid.
In the last year, the small team of three core photojournalists have produced stories in Ethiopia, India and Afghanistan, and on a business level they likely benefit from being an international collective with potential clients in Europe and North America.
Their business model is bolstered by sponsorship from Canon, and they’re often seen training others around the world, including a Photojournalism Workshop in Istanbul in June.
Flying the British flag is the small but ambitious outfit Duckrabbit. Founded by former BBC radio producer Ben Chesterton and photojournalist David White, their clients include charity Medicins Sans Frontiers.
Chesterton and White also sell their experience and knowledge in the form of training workshops for photographers and even for the non-profits themselves.
Passionate about both the third sector and letting those involved tell their own stories, Duckrabbit’s work has taken them to Sri Lanka, Kenya and most recently Bangladesh to report on Climate Change. A recent high-profile commission for Medecins Sans Frontiers gained much praise.
The growing numbers of laid-off journalists (and those thinking more as entrepreneurs) indicates that this is a sector which is only going to grow. With charities’ tight budgets, its money making potential is limited to a certain extent – but right now it’s paying more than papers, and it allows the right journalists to pursue both a financially and creatively rewarding new career path.
Inspired? LiveBooks produced a practical guide to entering this arena in summer 2009 – click here for more.
(Disclaimer: I am an occasional blogger for Duckrabbit)