Is The Platypus Just Cheap Labor ? : LUSENET : Dirck Halstead : One Thread

Scott Orr and Dick Krauss weighed in on the NPPA discussion list on the Platypus as Cheap Labor:

"I'm personally anti-platypus (the job, not the animal). The simple fact is that--while it may be inevitable--the invention of the platypus is essentially a way to get more work out of one person while still paying that employee one salary.

As a rule, one-man-bands in TV news (reporter/photographer) do not do as thorough a job as two individuals would on many stories. It's an extention of the "jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none" truism. The same applies to TV/still combos or pretty much any other situation in which one person does two jobs simultaneously.

It may be the future of the business, but that doesn't make it desireable. I'd rather see professionals who excel at their specific ability be allowed to practice that craft without being saddled with other responsibilities that are only marginally related.

We're doing a big disservice to ourselves by giving the practice a neat name so employers can use it with the implication that you'd be doing something really special and futuristic if you took their one-salary, multi-job position."

Scott Orr Chief Photographer WROC-TVScott,

" I have to agree with your "platypus" assessment. It's all well and good for photographers to gain some expertise in all phases of this job, but to be expected to do still as well as tv on the same assignment is worse that when we were expected to shoot color in one camera and black and white in another. You can't do that and cover the job well. "

Dick Krauss, NEWSDAY photographer

Scott and Dick both make a very basic point about the temptation to regard the Platpus as "cheap labor".

I agree that there will be many newspaper and televison executives that will regard multiskilling as a way to try to get more for less, and damn the quality.

It has been the chief flaw in this proposition since day one, and was something we were constantly addressing in those early classes at Video News International.

Unfortunatly, it is a genie that is out of the bottle, for better or for worse.

It's not the fault of the Platypus. Any more than the World Wide Web's rapidly increasing popularity is the fault of the dedicated people who have traditionally worked in print and television.

As Pedro Meyer recently said, "it is no longer possible to do business as usual".

When the 35mm camera was being introduced into newsrooms in the fifties, there was almost universal condemnation of the small film size, and the people who claimed that there was no way that you could match the quality of a 4x5 image were right then, and are still right today.

What the 4x5 purists failed to grasp is that the small camera would make possible a new kind of thinking in the mind of the person using the instrument, and we see the evolution of news photography to a thing called photo journalism.

A few days ago, I was asked about some of these issues, and I sent off the following reply.

It may shed some light on my thoughts in these areas.

It is very important that we have this debate, and understand that we are going to be responsible to some degree in how this all evolves..however, make no will happen.

(post on the problems inherrent with the Platypus)

As the Platypus predicted, there is now a lot of movement in the newspaper industry, that also owns television stations to create 24 hour news channels.

Partly, this is an effort to find a new market that will pay for the cost of conversion of existing stations to digital.

Almost immediately, the publishers of the newspapers find that adding a television news staff is going to cost BIG bucks. More than they are used to paying in their newspapers, especially when you start adding sat trucks, etc.

Horrified, they try to cut back on costs, by low-balling salaries on the TV operation. They hire newbies out of college at entry level scale, and generally pick up a news director who is about to retire from conventional TV.

All the news director knows is how it used to be. He or she immediately gets frustrated with the quality of television acquisition delivered by the new hires. In the meantime, the publisher hears about "the Platypus thing", and figures he will give some cheap high 8 cameras to the newspaper's staff photographers, and viola, the TV station will have all the video it needs.

What the publisher has not figured out is that to turn a professional news photographer into a professional television photo journalist takes a lot of work and training. It would be roughly akin to asking a seasoned pilot of a single engined Cessna to take up a helicopter on the theory that they both fly.

It also requires professional equipment (just like you use in your newspaper job), and a real desire to do the extra work...and it is work, believe me.

Unfortunately, most publishers are as ignorant of television news gathering as they are of newspaper photojournalism. All they know is what they see on the page or on the screen, and how much it costs.

That is why I think the next crucial step (along with starting to give Platypus workshops) is to talk to the publishers and editors about this matter.

The ASNE convention for example would be a good place to start.

Publishers and editors need to understand that they are on the threshold of an exciting new stage in that will cut costs overall, and allow them to spread their brands across the media spectrum.

They also need to understand clearly that the biggest threat they face in the years ahead is the battle between print and television for ownership of the world wide web.

In other words, they need to wake up and smell the coffee..

To this I would add that newspaper , magazine, and televison photo journalists also should be grabbing a cup.

-- dirck halstead (, October 09, 1997


ndeed I would agree with the general assessment that the application of the platypus model is a way of diminishing the quality by increasing the responsabilities. If news organizations apply this archetype across the board to their staff it would be foolhardy and generally diminish the quality of the work. But I think you are missing the point. It is not an either/or proposition. In fact it is not the de facto application of the model to commercial news gathering systems that is the purpose of platypus. As we go into the next century people will be more specific in the applications of their jobs in large news organizations.There will be in fact more specialists and less generalists.There will still be sound and camera men as well as digital video and sound editors. In fact the post production arena will be the biggest area of growth due to the specializations of skills. Any TV news organizations that goes out and replaces it staff with one man bands will find the quality of their production dimished. Indeed news organizations will seek and find specialists in After Effects or Premiere or AVID. They will also seek to find the best camera and sound men in the business. The commercial news operations will indeed become more specialized. However the resources of a large news operation is not available to everyone especially freelance journalists. IF there are individuals who want to create a new way of looking at broadcast journalism that is closer to the multi media Interactive archetype (which will proliferate on the web) it will surely be important to explore the platypus model. I am confident that individuals or small groups of individuals will have the ability to create areas on the web where high quality production can be achieved with a minumum of manpower. It is this area that the platypus model will proliferate. I,like Mitch Kapor, envision a time in the near future where we will have millions of channels or video multi media sources of the web. It is precisely this alternative broadcast arena where platypus will proliferate. I hope I see video and multi media resources on East Timor or the disappearance of the world's brightest phosphorescent bay on the web. It is clearly the alternative information available through specialized stories which could never make it to broadcast ( because of their lack of general appeal). These sources ( which will enrichen our choices) are the arenas which I see platypus having the greatest effect. When in a previous time has one person had the capabilities of developing a high quality multi media environment complete with audio and video and stills to reach anyone with the click of a mouse? We are fast approaching the time when one man bands can have their say and the enterprising photo journalist can create his or her own publication/ tv channel on any given subject. Platypus is a method to free journalists from the editing floor or the publisher's office. I see it as a very important tool for journalists who want to create alternative resources for people who want more than the top of the news (which if we flip through the channels today are all extremely similar). Platypus is a method for dedicated people to produce high caliber niche content not subject to commercial market forces. Journalists can publish/broadcast what they consider important not what the sponsor's image or product placement requires. If we can create a method for webcasting rich and varied content it will enrich all of our lives. I personally will be glad to sacrifice a little in terms of production values for alternative, interesting content that is not public consumer driven. Maybe we will be able to see the great photo essays and documentaries that never make it to television or print. Perhaps we might even be able to raise the conciousness of the viewer. I certainly hope so.


-- Jay Colton (, October 09, 1997.

----------------------------------------------- Subject: The Platypus..Just Cheap Labor ? WELL...!! Date: Wed, 8 Oct 97 12:06:09 -0600 x-sender: From: postino To: "Dirck Halstead" Mime-Version: 1.0

on 10/8/97 2:19 AM Dirck Halstead wrote:

>In other words, they need to wake up and smell the coffee.. > >To this I would add that newspaper , magazine, and televison photo >journalists also should be grabbing a cup.

I could not agree more with what Dirck suggests. Let us look at the issues a bit more in detail, and see what the complaints are about.

They are essentialy about facing change. About not doing things in the way the have always been done. About rediscovering new forms of going about ones' work. Yes it's about displacement, both of people and habits. Yes it's about revisiting what the objectives are, to begin with.

This notion of "cheap labor"...well, it sounds a bit too dramatic for my taste. Not that one should rule out this caveat entirely, as I am sure that such thinking could be on more than one persons mind. But there are always people who abuse and misuse resources and talent. That should not distract us from the fundamental changes of mind-set that ought to be taking place.

Gathering news is the objective, is it not? if we agree to this, there is nothing written that it has to be done in one way or another. The accusations that individual work is tantamount to lowering of quality, and of "master of none" are yet to be borne out.... it could be that this might happen, BUT, it does not have to be. Think of the still photographers, when has any one questioned their ability to deliver because they work by themselves without a crew?

It's what we expect from the person doing certain type of work which has to be designed with that sort of reality in mind. What about the wet plate photographers who had to carry all their gear on a mule, a modern age photographer would look rather foolish if he or she back packed a mule with all that gear in order to take a picture....even though they could use a 35 mm camera hanging from their neck. ( Yes I sometimes could have used a mule to carry my equipment, but it was not indispensable....I just got a bent backbone over time ).

Photographers have always had problems adapting to changes in technology. I remember when the first light meters got everyone unbent, or after that automatic exposure cameras.... ( accusations flying around that someone who dared use such contraptions was actually not a "real" photographer, as one would loose control...etc) after that it was automatic focusing that got the tribe all roused up. So our history of dealing with changes is probably not a very illustrious one. Only thing that these past technological changes pale in comparison with what is going on in the digital age. Today EVERY single aspect related to photography is being brought into question. It's not only how we make the images, but what with, for whom, the very nature of the photograph or video are being brought into question. These are times, when the only constant is that it ain't going to be anything like it used to be.

So in addition to the cup of coffee and smelling the beans as Dirck suggests, I would consider bringing a seat belt, the ride is going to be rough. BUT .....exciting!! and only the most open minded and willing to change are going to come out of this in better shape. If any one is going to defend the bastions of tradition, I wish them well (we probably need some martyrs in there anyway) but don't say that you were not told what to expect.

Best regards Pedro Meyer _______________________________________________________________________________

-- pedro meyer (, October 09, 1997.

At Kent State University, we have convinced the administration that a platypus will help our visual shooters - in print, on air and online - see the possibilities in multi-media work as only a platypus can do. We think our students need the smell of the "new wave" coffee BEFORE they commit to just one form of photography, be it print, online or video. The problem? We have gotten dozens of outstanding applicants...but so far we haven't culled them to some of the ones that could convince us they could be platypi. This position would be 9 months, tenurable with appropriate creative or academic work during the year, paying about $40s (don't forget june,july and august are billable months!). The person would have to be prepared or agree to training to be able to teach a basic print photo, a basic videography and online classes - all aiming at collaboration and convergence. If you know someone who could hit the goal of having graduates on the front of the visual edge, have them contact LuEtt Hanson, search committee chair, at or call 330-672-2468. Or, if you just want to chat with a platypus advocate, call me a

-- barbara hipsman (, November 28, 1999.

I'm afraid I missed the original debate, however I think I understand the principal.

Photographer as both stills and moving cameraman/woman, responsible for gathering content,presumably digital, for the emerging broadband world of convergence.

Well, speaking from Sydney (where Australians are renowned for wearing many hats and giving it a go, it's already happening, at least in the moving world of news gathering.

I know both the ABC here and another low budget channel,SBS, have begun to gather content digitally using one man in the field. This one man operative shoots, edits, narrates, and handles the electronic transmission of the footage via laptop and satellite to waiting newsrooms here in Oz.

The recent political crisis in Fiji was handled by a journo with a Laptop. Not your ordinary door stopping grey box, but one of those funky little lavender numbers from Sony, (it has a camera mounted above the keyboard set inside the lid). Well, John Howard's (Australian Prime Minister) visit to Fiji was covered by the said, Platypus (how suitable). He shot Howard's piece to camera with his computer, and cut the footage that day sending it back via the Internet from the Fiji Tv station's ISDN line. I think they actually beat the commercial Networks using this method.

The ABC has a man in New Guinea working for extended periods with just a digital camera (video)and no crew. He also produces the whole show alone.The cheaper cost of funding one man allows him to stay on site for several weeks, whereas a crew typically is in and out within a week.

Now this is video, TV news gathering, and as Photographers we can stroke our Leicas and mumble something about how, '...that's Television News, a different Kettle of Fish. They wouldn't know the decisive moment if it bit them on the nose.'

But let's face it, for good reasons or bad the demand is for content. If it's got colour and movement, and looks like a gorilla in the mist we'll take it, if it's a lovely shot of a child cycling through a monsoon in saturated 50 asa, then we'll take that too.

Same guy shoots both, let's have him. And why not, I know I would.

It makes perfect sense. I used to think Photojournalist meant writer/photographer, I understand it means storyteller. But I really believe that if we want to tell stories and be paid to do so, then we have to run with the ball.

I stopped shooting stills five years ago, emigrated to Australia and jumped in the sea to shoot fish on video. I recently picked up a still camera again and began to take pictures.

I found this site and I follow the discussions, and I am honestly amazed at how slow Photographers are to adapt.

The business world has changed so much during the last decade, from my standpoint Photojournalism seems to be on the decline.

Public Relations and Corporate Communications is where the need is, at least here in Sydney. Photojournalism will become a lifestyle. Can we really be expected to build a financial future for our families when photographs are distributed so easily in the electronic medium, when a supply of localised digital photographers have the game covered. Why pay to send a photographer overseas when I can use the local to shoot the story and he/she can email the jpegs?

I know I know, 'quality...', you'll say. But with so many new photographers, and cheaper hardware (computers and cameras etc) surely the value of the cherished image is diminished, and unless we can 'add value' to our service, shoot video and pick up a pen, then we will be beaten to the story not always by the better equipped junior, but instead by the one man news crew who's laptop shoots stills.

-- Chris Battey (, February 20, 2001.

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