by Matt Hevezi, SU Class of 2000
Let’s talk in language everybody understands … Cash … Moo-lah … Jingle.
What is a good photograph worth?
How about, let’s say, just for grins – and to get some blood pressure levels elevated – a measly $25. You know I am kidding, but if you serve as a military photojournalist, you know there are some folks out there who might argue that a good photo could be worth just $25.
Take that same photo – now follow me on this – and let’s say it is very well done.
I mean, technically, it has all the bells and whistles that make it sing: light, tac-sharp focus, exposure, color, moment, strong human content. It is a real winner.
Now let’s also say this $25 photo very strongly illustrates a theme or message that is important to senior Defense Department leadership.
Ahhhhhhhh. Can you feel me? Hang tight, it gets better.
By the way, the photograph we are talking about is not an easy photograph to make. It is one that takes an in-depth understanding of storyline development, planning, anticipation of a moment, angle, framing, lighting, exposure, etc.
The photographer is a graduate of the Military Photojournalism Program at Syracuse.
This photograph is captioned within minutes of being shot. The caption is awesome. It contains all the 5 W’s, plus a quote, plus a solid news hook that reveals a key issue and message that is very important to senior Defense Department leadership.
The photographer learned the art of writing professional captions while attending the Military Photojournalism Program at Syracuse.
Only two hours from the moment the shutter fell to make this high-quality, important photograph, the image is uploaded via FTP to the Joint Combat Camera Center (JCCC) at the Pentagon. The photographer understands the value of timely submission for import images.
The photographer developed a respect and understanding for sense of urgency while attending the Military Photojournalism Program at Syracuse.
In New York, four news wire night editors are beginning their graveyard tour of duty on the International photo desk; one at Associated Press, one at Reuters, one at Getty/AFP, and another at BBC.
Each of these editors surf JCCC’s website as a matter of habit each day because there are often significant photographs made available on the JCCC server that have solid news value, are shot by military photographers in situations where civilian photographers had no access, and are important to the agencies’ clients around the world.
All four editors immediately recognize the quality of the photograph and pick it up within six hours of hitting the JCCC website.
The photo runs A1 above the fold at 27 major metro newspapers in the United States alone. Internationally, it runs A1 on 135 fronts. News magazines run this photo too. News website play is huge.
All told, it is published in the media 1,374 times.
As the author, I could end this article here and now and feel very confident that the point has been made. But since Jim has practically unlimited space and motivation to drive home the point about DoD’s questionable decision to eliminate the Military Photojournalism Program at Syracuse University … I will continue.
If – and this is a very HUGE if – the DoD could pay for the amount of exposure this hypothetical photograph garnered on the front pages of these newspapers, news magazines, and news websites, it would have cost $3.8 million in equivalent advertising rates.
I say “if” because most major newspapers do not make their front-pages available to advertising clients. However, a superbly-produced news photograph that carries a clear, powerful message important to DoD is some of the best advertising available.
The above rationale must be articulated to the decision makers who carry the power to bring the Syracuse Military Photojournalism program back. I sincerely hope somebody within DoD serving in an influential leadership position can present this viewpoint.
From what I hear, the “official” explanation as to why the program was cancelled was funding shortages.
If it is indeed truly a matter of pure economics, the DoD leaders should not only immediately bring the program back, but they should double the class size! When you do the math, there is only one conclusion: Canceling MPJ is a mistake.
Author’s note: The scenario presented is not based on a specific photograph. But it is based on a valid and proven concept that timely DoD-produced news photographs have a very high monetary value to the DoD; that intangible returns in “marketing and communication” value absolutely cover the costs of advanced training of the military photographers who produce them. This is a matter of educating DoD leadership, not defense dollars.