Photojournalist Thorne Anderson Says Media’s Future is Full of Opportunity
By Stephen Masker
Q: If a student were meeting you for the first time, what would you say?
A: I come to UNT fresh out of the field. I’ve been working as an international photojournalist for the past 10 years, and as a freelancer. I know a lot of students are concerned about the job market, and I think we can see the job market is shifting to more freelance-based as opposed to a staff position base. I come fresh out of a world where that was my total concern.
Q: Why did you leave going from being a successful field journalist to teach at a university?
A: There are only two jobs that I ever loved. One was being a photojournalist; the other was being a teacher. This is not the first university where I’ve taught. The problem was I started my teaching career too soon. I started pretty much right out of graduate school, I loved the job, but I was hungry for more experience. So, I left teaching 10 years ago so that I could work full time as a photographer. Now, I’ve had that experience and I want to bring that back into teaching, it was always my intention to return to teaching.
Q: Do you think you’ll be going back into the field any time soon?
A: My plan is to be a teacher, that’s what I’m here for. Who knows what happens ten years from now, maybe I get the bug and need to go back. But I think now I’m looking for a balance in my life where I’m teaching primarily but still taking time to work out in the field during summers, but I’m looking for a balance.
Q: Which organizations might help student photojournalists entering the field?
A: I was working sort of on a different path than most people working exclusively overseas. NPPA is a great organization, but it wasn’t directly applicable to where I was at the time. Its strength is for photographers who are working here in the United States, so if you plan on working here in the US then NPPA is a fantastic organization to work with. My affiliations tend to be far more informal, my associations have been with other photographers who do the same kind of work I do and we’ve organized ourselves through friendships and online community groups. Lightstalkers.org is an online community made up of a lot of photographers who worked the way I was working, and so that was a great resource for me.
Q: How did you network with other journalists while you were in the field?
A: Before Lightstalkers, we kept up with each other by telephone and by e-mail and we’d bump into each other in the field. But with Lightstalkers, suddenly all of these people who were doing similar kinds of work, who were spread out all around the globe, had one kind of clearing house where we could do things like share information about good drivers in Gaza, or good translators in Kabul, or great places to eat in Jerusalem, or where to get a flack jacket in Baghdad. All those kinds of things that we needed to do on a continual basis that online community made it possible for us to do all of a sudden. It made a big difference.
Q: What are some of the largest challenges right now that journalist students face?
A: The biggest challenge facing us is that we don’t know what the business model for journalism is going to be, which is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s not only that the great things of journalism is dying and falling apart, it’s also new opportunities that are opening up. The challenge is to train yourself to be flexible so that you’re ready to adapt to those new business opportunities. One of things that I’m advocating is to broaden your skill set so that you’re not just skilled as a still photographer, but you’re also skilled as a writer and as a multimedia producer, because I think that’s going to open up more and more opportunities for you. You really need to train yourself to be flexible and I think it’s important for students not to loose sight of the core.
Q: You’re not just competing against other photojournalists and organizations, you’re competing against everyone who has a camera, so what now?
A: I can’t believe that the profession of journalism is going away. We still are going to need trusted voices, but how you establish yourself as a trusted voice and also how you sustain yourself as a trusted voice, that’s what we’re trying to figure out. You need to be flexible. You need to understand how blogs work and perhaps produce your own blog as a way of establishing your credibility as a trusted voice, and we’re dealing with that here at UNT - introducing it a core part of the curriculum through the computer applications for journalists course, which I’m teaching. We need to figure out how the business model is going to work, and we’re addressing that through some of the courses Neil Foote is teaching, and we also need to be open to development and new technologies and multimedia which we’re trying to address through the multimedia storytelling class. We don’t have all this figured out, but I think we at UNT have all the pieces set in place so that students can be prepared to figure it out for themselves when they leave here.
Q: Is a journalism major a good choice right now with the way things are going?
A: I say you have to do what you love to do. People told me to change my major when I studied photojournalism as a graduate student, and I will tell them this: If you want to be rich, yeah, change your major. I don’t do this because I want to make a lot of money. If that’s your concern, sure. If you want to have a very, very stable life, where, you go to work and you come home at the same time everyday, then maybe you should change your major because photojournalism is not a field that lends itself to a great deal of stability. You have to move, you have to follow stories - if the story is happening in the middle of the night, you have to go out in the middle of the night, if it’s happening in the morning, you have to go out in the morning, if it travels to another city then you have to travel to another city. It’s not a profession that traditionally makes a lot of money, but if it’s what you love and if it’s what you want to do, then it’s perfect for you. I will say one other thing about photojournalism, it’s not that being a photojournalism major only prepares you for being a photojournalist, it’s about more than that. It’s about being a critical thinker, being a good journalist of any stripe, a good observer and a good communicator. Just because you major in photojournalism doesn’t mean you have to get a job at a newspaper as a photographer or it was a waste of time, there are lots of other things that this might lead you into.