RIT Photojournalism Students Meet Top Professionals in New York City

The NYC photojournalism trip was born out of a desire to learn about some of the best working photographers, editors and producers in the journalism profession; to see their lives in action and listen to their advice. 19 RIT photojournalism students, (five graduating seniors and 14 juniors) made the trip down to the Big Apple with photojournalism chairman William Snyder. The trip was five days long, spanning the dates of April 12 – 16, and was offered as a one-credit course.


The week began with a tour of MSNBC studios at Rockefeller Plaza. The editors at msnbc.com rely on a significant amount of content from wire services, as well as employing freelance photographers on their own. Slideshow galleries, including their “Photo of the Day,” have become especially popular among online visitors. Multimedia pieces that use audio and video have also become popular. As technology improves, MSNBC is using more video content on their site, opening the door for photojournalists with video and audio experience. Phaedra Singelis, the Editorial Manager for mscbc.com, has said that writing skills are an important area for young professionals to improve upon. This is essential for any journalist writing captions, in addition to making or breaking internship applications. Another suggestion to improve writing was to take a screenwriting class, or something that would help one learn how to create a brief and effective narrative. Because of the online nature of msnbc.com’s content, it is geared towards grabbing a viewer’s attention quickly, and then moving through a narrative. The last suggestion came John Makely, sr. Multimedia editor and photojournalist: when building a body of work, it’s your ability to find content for a story, not your photographic style that get’s you noticed.

The Associated Press

The second stop of the day was the headquarters of the Associated Press. Santiago Lyon, the Director of Photography gave a tour of the expansive newsroom to the photojournalism class. The AP employs approximately 300 staff photographers around the world, and uses over 700 “stringers” – freelancers that regularly contribute to the AP image feed. This massive base of photographers uses local assignment desks to manage content. Much of the AP has decentralized like this, as it has opened smaller offices around the world. Lyon said that a good fit for the Associated Press was an “all-arounder,” a photographer who showed they could cover multiple aspects of reportage: feature news, sports, event coverage, spot news, and photo stories. On top of this general skill/experience set, it is suggested that these photographers develop a specialty to increase the chances of being used for an assignment. The average turnaround time from image download and upload to the feed is approximately five minutes, as the AP has focused on its technology, using satellite phones in the field to upload. In closing, Lyon said, “We’re looking for thinking photographers, the ones that deliver the moments.”

Peter Turnley

Photo by William Snyder | Freelance photographer Peter Turnley talks about his life and photography to a group of Rochester of Institute photojournalism students in his Harlem living room. Turnley has spent the better part of his career working for Newsweek and now contributes regularly to Harper's magazine. Nineteen juniors and seniors from RIT spent a week in New York City visiting several media outlets to learn about the "real world" of photojournalism and possible career options. In addition to visiting with Turnley, the students visited MSNBC, The Associated Press, VII, The New York Times, Mediastorm, Bloomberg, Getty, Magnum, Human Rights Watch and Sports Illustrated. They also were able to see the Henri Cartier-Bresson exhibit at the MoMA.

The first day was punctuated by trip to the home of photographer Peter Turnley. Turnley is the author of the book “Parisians,” and was a long-time photographer for Newsweek Magazine and later an editor/photographer for Harper’s Magazine. He told the class about his first experiences as a young photographer, picking up the hobby after a sports injury in the 1970’s. He said, “Sports was my only way of expressing myself, but with photography, I could share a response to something I’ve seen. I wanted to say things with my photographs.”

Peter Turnley had lots of advice for the class, and suggested that photography could take them in a wealth of different directions in life if they chose. Turnley did not get a degree in photography, but instead he sought to “learn as much about the world as possible, to create a dynamic inside of me, a dynamic about what I wanted to say with photographs.” Learning a foreign language, traveling, and studying under or meeting photographers whose work he admired he cites as important to his growth.

VII Photos

Photo by William Snyder | VII intern David Mills (center, white shirt) talks about his internship and photography to a group of Rochester of Institute photojournalism students during lunch in a Brooklyn deli.

Tuesday was another busy day, one that took the class to Brooklyn, to tour the VII Gallery and visit the studio of MediaStorm. Alina Grossman was the guide for the VII gallery, and as Manager of US Sales & Assignments, Grossman was very much familiar with the working lives of many of the 29 notable VII photographers: James Nacthwey, Stephanie Sinclair, Gary Knight, et all. She was proud to announce the recent launch of VII the Magazine, an online content house for the work that VII photographers were doing for the country’s top print publications. She described the transformation of the VII agency, from representing primarily war photographers to taking hard looks at all aspects of worldwide life. To reach the point of being considered by VII, Grossman had plenty of suggestions – staying relevant in people’s minds, networking at different events, and building a body of work that showed you knew how to pitch and execute a photo-story.


The MediaStorm office is a small studio space a few blocks away from the VII gallery; impressive considering that it is from this office that some of the best, most award-winning multimedia pieces have been produced with such a small production team. Brian Storm introduced the class to             Eric Maierson, the multimedia producer for the team. Storm and Mairerson reinforced this message: they were about storytelling. What he takes pride in is the ability of his MediaStorm team to take stories created by top working photographers (Danny Wilcox Frazer, Jessica Dimmock, Luis Sinco) and bring it all together, drawing in viewers who might not have ordinarily picked up a well-produced book. The addition of audio and video, combined with the skills of intimacy and immediacy of the photographers, creates a unique product that MediaStorm has been recognized for as a new creative embodiment of storytelling.

The RIT students were then introduced to the rest of the production team at MediaStorm, including intern Megan Lange, a graduate of nearby Syracuse University, where she obtained a B.A. in Photojournalism and Psychology. Her advice to her contemporaries was to work closely with professors and experienced professionals, who helped guide her career path in photojournalism.

Bloomberg News

Bloomberg News was the starting destination for Wednesday, located in the impressive Bloomberg high-rise on Lexington Ave. RIT graduates were in high supply, as photographer alumnus Daniel Acker showed the students through the newsroom and interview studios. The Bloomberg Photography department, directed by Natasha Cholerton-Brown, is part of the extensive economic news services employed by Bloomberg. Because of their dominance in the expanding niche market of business news, the Bloomberg News team continues to grow. With 4 to 5 thousand subscribers around the world: newsrooms, brokerage firms, banks and individual investors, the work Bloomberg photo team produces is seen by millions.

Getty Images

Photo by William Snyder | Getty photographer Mario Tama (right) talks about the body of work he has made over the last year in New Orleans documenting Hurricane Katrina and the city's slow and painful recovery to a group of Rochester of Institute photojournalism students. Tama is an RIT alum who graduated in 1993.

Getty Images was the last wire service to be toured, and the hosts: Director of photography Pancho Bernasconi, photographer Mario Tama, as well as Andreas Gebhard, picture desk manger, and senior picture desk editor Michael Bocchieri. These experienced editors talked about the importance of knowing your audience before showing your work, understanding what each publication or agency is interested in, who they have worked with in the past. The photographer Mario Tama, an RIT graduate, joined the conversation. Tama showed the class his growing story on the people of New Orleans, and gave insight into a busy, but concerned life. His short-term assignments and long-term work have provided for him a balance that has kept him busy, yet attuned to his gut instincts, which makes him a good photographer.

New York Times

Photo by William Snyder | New York Times photographer Todd Heisler (left) talks about his "typical day" of assignments to a group of RIT photojournalism students.

Thursday morning began with a stop at the New York Times. RIT students had the pleasure of sitting in on a photo editor’s meeting, which coordinated the images appearing in the print and online editions. Next, the Multimedia director of the New York Times, Andrew DeVigal, spoke about how he formed his staff, and how his team was now frequently being counted on to deliver the next generation of interactive content for the iPad. Photographer Todd Heisler was also on hand, and spoke about his efforts to craft the 1 in 8 million series as a unified work. In the process of photographing for the popular story series about New Yorkers, he first listened to a rough audio edit of the stories featured in the multimedia series to build ideas about how he would photograph.

Assistant managing editor for photography, Michele McNally, was on hand for a generous amount of time, clarifying for many of the students how the New York Times works with its many freelancers. The expectations of understanding the story, and shooting to the NYT’s professional standards and ethics, all contributed to the first assignment. For McNally, there is no such thing as low-effort assignment: the photographers she assign are expected to produce the most interesting storytelling image no matter how mundane or straightforward the assignment may seem.

Editor of the New York Time’s “Lens” blog, senior staff photographer James Estrin, sat down with the photojournalism students and asked nonchalantly, “What do you want to do with this? Do you have an idea about the next five years?” The conversation that was elicited aired the anxieties many young people have entering an industry that is changing every day. His warmth and desire to understand young people’s interests really added to the total idea of what it means to work the NYT photo department, which at the end of the day, cares about the photographic image, and most importantly, the photographer. Estrin said, “If you can think of something else you can do besides photo, quit photo and go do that instead, because you need to be in a job where you can put all of your heart into it. Photography isn’t a job, and if you’re just looking for a job, go somewhere else.”

Magnum Photos

Magnum Photographs was next, and the tour hosted by the iPad-wielding Jonathan Roquemore was a revealing look inside the organization that sells and advocates for the images of some of the most talented photographers in the world. Magnum was also increasingly emphasizing the growth of its multimedia department, packaging and licensing the dynamic photographs of various Magnum artists. The Magnum agency works tirelessly to not only market photographs to magazines, museums, and publishers, but manages assignments and offers resources for the photographer.

Human Rights Watch

Human Rights Watch was an interesting stop, as the social-justice oriented group of journalists increasingly uses photography as way to inspire action and solicit donations to continue their work. Emma Daly and Anna Lopriore explained their efforts to report on war crimes, ethnic cleansing and labor abuses comprehensively, in order to put pressure on local and global authorities to ameliorate the situations. The work of photographers (e.x. Marcus Bleasdale and Susan Meiselas) has been paramount to the success of these reports, serving as both evidence and a note for sympathy. A photo story humanizes larger, often hard to comprehend human tragedies. These important visuals are moving in the direction of multimedia as well, opening the door for photographers who may not be as “famous” as VII and Magnum photographers, but who have multimedia experience, as well as considerable access to their subjects. The subject of access is important to Human Rights Watch, as they employ journalists who are able to dig deep in foreign or high-pressure situations to find a story. Photographers who can keep digging for the story, amid chaos and uncertainty are the kind who would be able to work for the Human Rights Watch.

Sports Illustrated

Sports Illustrated was the final destination on Friday. James Colton, Photography Editor and Steve Fine, Director of Photography gave their perspective on producing and gathering images for the most comprehensive sports publication in the nation. They said they look for photographers in a similar vein to the AP: good all-arounders who can make interesting portraits, but have an area (in this case, sport) of specialty that will encourage editors to trust them with an assignment. Photography becomes a sport in itself for this team, as they put every ounce of effort to ensure that the best images are used to tell a story, in a different way than words do. From coordinating mass events like the Olympics, or sending photographers to cover high school football can be part of the hectic life of a Sports Illustrated staffer or freelancer.

The conclusion to the week’s events was a meet-up at the 11th Street Bar for RIT graduates and other professional photographers and editors. The event was generously hosted by professor William Snyder, and allowed students to show and discuss work with some of their admired photography professionals working today. Plans are in the works for a trip to Washington D.C. next fall, as well as a second New York City trip for next year’s class of photojournalism students.


4 thoughts on “RIT Photojournalism Students Meet Top Professionals in New York City

  1. Pingback: The Photo Brigade – Rochester » NYC Photojournalism trip – by RIT PJ

  2. Pingback: once again. « where everything doesn't exist.

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