Pulitzer Prize photojournalists guide students through industry changes
Award-winning photojournalists Judy DeHaas (l), Kenn Bisio, Barry Gutierrez and Dennis Schroeder.
Judy DeHaas was in southern Sudan with the Lost Boys, pulling a worm out of one of the children's legs, when she heard it on a BBC report via shortwave radio. Barry Gutierrez was on vacation, walking up the steps to his 89-year-old grandmother's house in California when he found out. Dennis Schroeder was "in the mountains covering nasty weather."
These images are framed in the minds of three photojournalists recalling where they were when they learned they had won a Pulitzer Prize. Today, all three are sharing their award-winning careers with more than 200 students in the photojournalism program at Metropolitan State College of Denver.
Having three Pulitzer Prize winners teaching in one program “is rare," says Associate Professor Kenn Bisio, himself an award-winning international photojournalist with more than 30 years of experience. "They are stellar. Having them is like having big fat frosting on a big fat chocolate cake. It's wonderful."
DeHaas, Gutierrez and Schroeder stand at the helm of the classroom at a time when the journalism industry is going through a shift that leaves potential photojournalists wondering where and if they are going to find a job.
According to these award winners, convergence journalism is the key to being successful in this next wave of journalism. This type of journalism requires a litany of skills, including: writing, Web design, blogging and viral promotion as well as collecting sound, shooting video, then editing photos, sound and video on Final Cut Pro.
"The online trend is real and you must possess the skills demanded by the online environment or you are dead in the water," says two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Schroeder. He was part of the Rocky Mountain News staff that covered the Columbine High School massacre and the Hayman fire, both in Colorado.
To prepare for success, you need to "be persistent and have an open mind about what you want to do and where you want to go," says DeHaas, who won her Pulitzer in 1994 while working for the Dallas Morning News. She was the first to photograph a female genital mutilation during international reporting about violent human rights abuses against women.
She adds that students should "enter the College Photographer of the Year and the Hearst competitions to get their portfolios up to speed and to be very aggressive about getting internships at newspapers or magazines."
To be successful, “you need to be more than a photojournalist,” says Gutierrez, who won his Pulitzer in 2003 as a member of the Rocky Mountain News staff covering the Hayman fires. "Take Quick Book and small business accounting.”
He says a lot of the opportunities come as freelance jobs, so they need to operate like a small business.
A great work ethic doesn't hurt either. "We will go the extra mile for these students, but we don't take any excuses. We'll ride them like rented mules to get their portfolios together," says Bisio, who is proud when he sees a graduate’s name and work in local and national publications. “I'll put my students up against anybody.”
To help them build their portfolios, Bisio says the program’s Social Documentary course has taken students outside of the classroom to many places around the country to tell stories using convergence journalism. In the spring they will be going to the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans as well as the Oregon Coast.