Breaking into Comics Journalism

SusieJourno-1 copyAs a child Susie Cagle loved to draw, scribbling little comic books and cartoons here and there. A talent for drawing ran in the family – her father was an editorial cartoonist. But to her, these illustrations were a hobby – she didn’t want to follow in her father’s professional footsteps. She decided that she wanted to be a reporter instead and enrolled at the Columbia Journalism School to help launch her career.

She graduated in 2006 and moved to the Bay Area in hopes of finding some freelance writing gigs. Eventually, she got hired at San Francisco’s Curbed blog a week before the stock market crash of 2008. Two and a half months later, she was laid off and her career ambitions came to a halt again. She decided enough was enough; she had debts to pay and was desperate to find a new way to earn some money. She’d never considered pursuing her drawing hobby professionally, but figured that some of her non-fiction comics might work in a journalistic setting. (more…)

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Drones & Journalism

You may have seen their footage from protests, sporting events and the Nepal earthquake. You may have watched them whizzing around public parks and beaches. But, thanks to stringent rules set up by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), drones are still a limited part of the modern journalist’s reporting arsenal. 

There always seems to be a new piece of gear, a new version of editing software or a new trend on the market for videojournalists. We decided to consult the experts, Columbia’s very own video professors, on the equipment that they can’t live without. Here’s some amalgamated wisdom on what they think is essential for anyone starting out in the videojournalism industry.

Protecting your external hard drives

If you’re dealing with photos, videos and audio on a regular basis, you probably know by now that you need to back up everything you’re working on. We’ve all heard horror stories of someone losing months of footage because their hard drive crashed. Prevent losing your magnum opus by taking good care of your external hard drives.

Video and Photo workshops under $1,000 in 2015

Last year, we published a list of great visual journalism workshops, and there are lots of lists like this out there. After looking through them, we’ve realized that the prices of these workshops are way too high for most of us journalists, especially for those who are freelancing or just starting out. So we narrowed it down; here’s a list of workshops under $1,000 (plus travel expenses) that we think are totally worth your hard-earned cash.

Granny Cart Productions

Lea Khayata and Elettra Fiumi met at Columbia Journalism School in 2011. They worked on their master’s project together and got along exceptionally well. When the school year ended and they started looking for jobs, they could not find anything that suited them. “Everything was very particular: only research, or only shooting, or only editing, things like that. And the way we had learned things was to do everything from beginning to end,” explained Lea. So with a little encouragement from their teacher, they decided to take the jump and create their own production company: Granny Cart Productions.

Listen to them explaining how they made it.

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Behind the Prizes: Hers to Lose

Brent McDonald was the lead videographer for the New York Times' 'Hers to Lose,' the second-prize long feature winner in the 2014 World Press Photo Multimedia awards. McDonald explains the challenges of filming a campaign that took a turn for the worse, and how he and his team got access in the first place.

“When you don’t have money and you don’t have experience, you need to have time.”

A lack of experience or formal media training didn’t stop Katriina O’Kane, an environmental scientist, from producing a sophisticated multimedia web doc. Profiles from the Arctic casts a spotlight on scientific research in the Canadian North. O’Kane answered a few questions about what it was like to do a big project with little financial support, why she thinks science reporting is important and what lessons she learned while producing the series.

Behind the Prizes: Hollow

The impact of the social documentary “Hollow” is undeniable. But when Elaine McMillion Sheldon set out to capture the essence of a small town community in America through film, she had no idea how the final product would look. She only knew that she wanted to highlight the lives of people who came from areas of the country where the population had been decreasing over the last few decades. McDowell County, West Virginia, very near to where Sheldon grew up, is one of those places. (more…)

Behind the Prizes: A Short History of the Highrise

A Short History of the Highrise is an interactive documentary that “explores the 2,500-year global history of vertical living and the issue of social equality in an increasingly urbanized world.” It was produced by the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) and the New York Times, and won First Prize at the 2014 World Press Photo Multimedia awards in the Interactive Documentary category. (more…)

Behind the Prizes: Silent Night

On March 11th, 2012, Staff Sergeant Robert Bales left his army base and allegedly killed 16 innocent civilians in the villages surrounding Kandahar, Afghanistan. While he was criminally tried in America, little has been heard from the villagers who witnessed the gruesome murders firsthand. Lela Ahmadzai, a German video and photojournalist who was born in Kabul, happened to be in Afghanistan when news of the massacre trickled out. She decided to go to Kandahar and record the firsthand accounts of those who saw their families massacred. In her multimedia piece, Silent Night, she uses photo, video and audio to showcase the stories of those directly affected by Bales’ actions. (more…)

BEHIND THE PRIZES – NSA FILES: DECODED

The second prize of the 2014 World Press Photo Multimedia Awards for interactive documentary went to The Guardian’s NSA Files: Decoded. To understand how the documentary took form, we spoke to Gabriel Dance, the lead interactive editor on the project. Dance is currently the managing editor for the Marshall Project, a non-profit investigative journalism startup focusing on crime and punishment in the U.S., previously he was the interactive editor for The Guardian in New York City, and before that he was at The New York Times. (more…)

Behind the Prizes: Swan Song

Swan Song

Rick Gershon and MediaStorm did not set out to make a feature length piece when they went to Houston. Gershon was there to shoot client work for Neighborhood Centers, but then he met the Greer family. Marilyn Greer, the 58-year-old matriarch of the family, had recently been diagnosed with dementia. Gershon recognized the opportunity to turn a shorter client piece into a longer story, Swan Song, which documents the struggle of two young daughters who have to make hard choices in the face of their mother’s debilitating disorder.  (more…)

Behind the Prizes: Staff Riding


“Staff Riding” is local slang for a dangerous sport: surfing the trains that wind through the city of Johannesburg, South Africa. Photojournalist Marco Casino took last year’s World Press Photo Award’s 1st Prize in Short Feature Multimedia with his film about the young men who ride the outsides of trains, and the toll it sometimes takes on them.

Shooting from the tops of trains and attempting to evade the police (staff riding is illegal), Casino shows the adrenaline-riddled highs and the tragic lows that staff riding brings to the townships in South Africa. Now, he hopes to turn the short into part of a long-term project about the metro train system in Johannesburg. (more…)

Everyday Instagram: “Changing perception and challenging stereotypes.”

Instagram launched in October 2010. Two years later, photographers Peter diCampo and Austin Merrill started posting, under the username @EverydayAfrica, scenes of African life happening alongside the wars, famines and other "news events" the two photographers were covering in Ghana and the Ivory Coast. As they put it on their website, “As journalists who are native to Africa, or have lived and worked on the continent for years at a time, we find the extreme not nearly as prevalent as the familiar, the everyday.”

The freelance market can be precarious, especially for those who are just starting out. Journalists complain about poor pay, unclear expectations and needy editors - a contract can help you avoid these problems. Columbia Visuals reporter Joanna Plucinska met with Bill Loundy, the Director of Talent Management at Content.ly, to discuss some of the things that every freelancer should keep in mind when drafting a contract.

Producing A Documentary: The Personal Piece

What if the character in your next piece isn’t a stranger at all? What if it’s a family member? Could you interrogate your parents and get them to reveal secrets they’ve buried since before you were born? Could you delve into the personal accounts of people you’ve known your whole life? How would you even approach it? This is exactly what documentary filmmaker, Lacey Schwartz, had to do in order to produce her documentary, Little White Lie. Recently, Columbia Visuals talked to Schwartz about the process of producing a documentary and turning the cameras on her own family.