Client Q&A: Mashable’s Dustin Dranksoki
June 6, 2017
Stuart Palley photographed and wrote about the training of “smokejumpers,” who fight forest fires by parachuting into them.
Most photographers also write the stories that appear on Mashable. Often they are short, but Amy Lombard wrote “an opus” on Wawa, the convenience store chain.
The art director of the tech and digital culture website explains what kinds of photo stories he wants to publish, and how photographers should pitch them.
PDN: What kinds of photo stories is Mashable looking for?
Dustin Drankoski: Originally, Mashable was aiming to be a general news site. About a year ago, we narrowed our focus. Now it’s a lot of tech stories, a lot of entertainment stories, a lot of science stories, and it’s a lot of social good stories. We do business stories too, but business story photos are harder to come by.
PDN: Are you assigning photographers, or picking up stories that photographers have already completed?
DD: We don’t do a ton of assigning. Photographers usually approach us with [unpublished] work they’ve shot, or with stories they’ve shot for other publications, like Bloomberg or The Wall Street Journal, to ask if we’re interested in a different take on the story. Sometimes we are, and we’ll take a look at a wider edit.
PDN: What are recent examples of stories that you think were ideal for Mashable’s audience?
DD: One story that was dead on for us was about a couple that built a floating home way off the beaten path in Canada. Taehoon Kim found the story and pitched it, so we assigned him to go shoot it. Another story was about a town in Scotland that plays this game called Ba’. That story was by Sol Neelman, who is known for shooting weird sports.
We’re looking for stories that are off the beaten path, to the left or to the right of a story that everyone else is hitting. It can be a tech story about how drones are being used to stop poaching, or a story about how a village in Africa got a ton of solar panels, and what that means [for how they live]. We’re trying to broaden the scope of what people think stories about technology, entertainment, the environment, and other categories can be.
PDN: Do photographers have to write the stories, too?
DD: Ninety-five percent of the time we prefer photographers write the story. First-person experiential storytelling is really having a moment right now. The photographer has their own experience when they shoot a story, and I want to hear about that experience, and [share it] with the audience.
PDN: How long does the text have to be?
DD: It totally depends on the story. We have photographers who write 400 or 500 words, and that’s all the story needs. But Amy Lombard did a huge story for us about Wawa [a regional convenience store chain] and why it has such a cult following in the Northeast. That was an opus: 2,400 words, and we were afraid it was too long [but] it did gangbusters.
PDN: What other stories have done really well for you?
DD: Johnny Milano came to us with infrared pictures of the Trump inauguration. It was a weird dystopian look—an alternate look at the inauguration, rather than straight on, and it did really well. Another story that did really well for us was by a photographer [Alasdair Turner] stationed in Antarctica. Science stories do really well for us. And environmental stories are huge for our audience, so we do a ton of those.
PDN: Who is a typical Mashable reader?
DD: I think of our audience as people between 20 and 35. We look for niche stories, stories for people who are obsessed with a thing, like the Wawa story. We did a history of Mr. Softee [photographed by David Williams, in collaboration with writer Christina Troitino], which was amazingly popular in the Northeast. We’re pushing stories that are less classically photojournalism, and more offbeat.
PDN: How big is your photo department?
DD: We have three photo editors: Haley Hamblin is our feature photo editor [email@example.com], Lili Sams [firstname.lastname@example.org] is our day-to-day photo editor, and Alex Arbuckle focuses on archive imagery [for Mashable’s Retronaut column].
PDN: What do you want to see in pitches from photographers?
DD: We take pitches in any format. Some photographers send us fleshed-out web sites with interactive stories they’ve built out already, and some send us a link and two words, like: “check it.” The pitch depends on our working relationship with the photographer, and how much we think they understand what we’re going for.
PDN: Do you actively look for photographers? And if so, how?
DD: My favorite way is to do portfolio reviews with early career photographers. Last year I got to do the ICP graduate portfolio reviews. And I like working with Photoville or any event like that where tons of photo stories are coming in. I really enjoy working with early career photographers.
PDN: Who are some early career photographers whose work you’ve published recently?
DD: One was Dana deLaski, who did the world’s biggest pizza fan, which came out of a story she started working on while she was at ICP. I met another photographer—Mengwen Cao— who did an amazing multimedia piece for us about coming out to her parents. It’s so personal and so beautiful, and she was so brave to tell that story and let us publish it.
PDN: What do you pay?
DD: It varies. Our day rate is about $350, then after about three days we switch to a project rate [negotiated on a case-by-case basis]; $800 is kind of our sweet spot, and probably means a photographer found a story pretty close to where they are, or where they were going to go anyway, A lot of our stories run between $800 and $1,200. We base it on how much work we think it will be.
PDN: How does a photographer you’ve never worked with get your attention?
DD: Honestly, just email [email@example.com]. We’re meeting with new photographers regularly, and it usually starts with an email. We’re [publishing work by] new photographers fairly regularly. Photographers will come in, and we’ll find out what they’re working on, and talk about what we’re looking for.