In 2010, as newsrooms were cutting budgets and a shrinking number of media organizations were sending photographers to cover stories overseas, PDN reported on the opportunities that new, non-profit journalism organizations had been providing for photographers. In this 2010 interview, Nathalie Applewhite, the managing director of The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, which was founded in 2006, spoke to us about her organization’s support of photographer-writer teams.
Below is our full interview with Applewhite, in which she describes the role photography plays in the work The Pulitzer Center supports, how photojournalists can strengthen their applications for funding, and how the organization expects its grantees to help reach an audience well beyond readers of a single media outlet.
PDN: What function does the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting serve for journalists?
Nathalie Applewhite: We cover the hard costs associated with international reporting. We’re trying to fill the gap between what the media outlets can no longer afford on their own when they are willing to run a story.
PDN: In addition to a project proposal that fits the Pulitzer Center mission, what should journalists who are looking for funding have when they apply?
NA: We want them to have a strong interest [in publishing the story] from media outlets. The idea is that the media outlets should still pay the journalists for their work, and we’re committed to making sure the journalists, as much as possible, are getting revenue for that.
PDN: Do you assist with distributing the work as well, or is that left to the journalist?
NA: We need to see enough of a distribution plan in line for us to take something on. We don’t want a plan where it’s just completely in the abstract, but once we do commit to a project then we’re really invested in seeing the project get to as many people and in as many media outlets as possible, so we’ll work with the journalist to try to find additional venues for it.
PDN: On the Pulitzer Center site it says the organization is trying to focus on “multiplatform.” Why is that a focus?
NA: Our overarching mission is not just to support the work, it’s to raise awareness for the issues that the journalists are covering, and the best way to do that is to use as many different platforms as possible to generate interest.
To have short video on YouTube linked to a blog, which links to an article that has photographs—having many different pieces gives us the opportunity to spread that [story] across all these different outlets, so different audiences can ideally follow the full path through all of the mediums and explore that and really get as much as possible out of the reporting that we’ve supported in the first place.
PDN: You also encourage partnerships between journalists working in different medias. Why is that important?
NA: There’s been somewhat of a trend of print reporters being expected to become videographers, and everyone’s trying to be this one-man band, but I strongly believe that people have areas where they have their strongest skills and they should really focus on that. If we have to pay a little extra money to have the quality video along with the print, or the quality photographs along with the strong radio piece [we do that]. You can end up lessening the quality of everything overall if you try to do too much.
PDN: How important is photography to telling and distributing a story?
NA: We live in a visual culture and in order to grab people’s attention it really helps to have a strong image to draw people in. It’s definitely more universal, it translates across cultures and across languages, and it gives us a way to have greater reach overall.
PDN: As an organization that is supported through grants and funding from donors, does visual reporting also contribute to Pulitzer Center fundraising?
NA: Absolutely. We struggle sometimes with the photography-only projects, because those are harder to place in as many mainstream outlets. We’ve had excellent proposals from photojournalists that we haven’t been able to support, because we get such a volume of proposals in the first place, and they’re harder for us to place across as a wide range of outlets than some of the other pitches that we get. But what we have found is that all of our projects where we’ve had strong photographers, those materials become very precious to us in putting out our brochures and annual reports and things like that. There’s a second phase of value there.
PDN: Are you seeing proposals from photojournalists who want to produce both stills and video, and if they want to do both does that help their chances of receiving funding?
NA: Yes, absolutely.
PDN: How important are multimedia pieces to distributing a story and building momentum for a project?
NA: The format definitely helps. My background is in video production, so I know putting together a solid five-minute documentary can be a really involved process and it takes a lot of different skills to do that, but putting together a Sound Slides show…certainly not everybody can do the same quality show, but even print reporters who don’t have the experience can be able to put together something very strong where they’re combining their narrative with some of the images they’ve captured, which can be a really great introduction to the issues for the audience.
One of our requirements for most of our grantees is to produce an audio slideshow. It’s dependent on the specific project… We also ask them to produce a blog with photography. Grantees have to do Wikipedia entries [for their stories]. We want to make sure that they’re putting whatever they’ve found out in the mix.
PDN: Do you help grantees who don’t have multimedia skills with production?
NA: [Grantees] have done a lot with Time.com and just worked directly with the producer there. If they are producing just for our site and want to put together a Sound Slides show, we’ve worked with them on formatting and structure. We have a small staff managing a huge volume of projects, so we want people to do it on their own but [our staff] ends up mentoring people.
It is rewarding because you see people, who may be resistant to creating a multimedia piece, and they come back with these 15 strong images and they can do it and they have a strong story. With some good guidelines you can create something very strong that can draw people into the larger print piece or video production.
PDN: Do you support projects that are undertaken by photojournalists alone, or do they generally work with partners?
NA: We’ve had several projects where we have just worked directly with photojournalists. We may have helped them editing some of the writing they were doing, but they had enough confidence [to create a multiplatform story]. In general it’s more likely that they would be paired up with a writer or radio reporter.
PDN: What is the biggest mistake journalists make when applying for funding from the Pulitzer Center?
NA: The same mistake that anybody makes. Not taking time to look at the site and the work that the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting is supporting. I get a lot of questions that would take five minutes to answer if people looked at our site. It’s kind of insulting; if you want us to support the work and you’re a journalist I would think [you could do the research].
Sometimes people think of us just as a funder, but we’re really more than that. Yes we’re supporting the reporting, but we really take these projects on as campaigns, so we want to have a relationship with the journalist that we’re working with and see that they’re committed to seeing the story through.
It’s not just about the publication or about placing it in one big outlet, it’s about drawing attention to this issue over a long time. In some cases we’ve seen photojournalists and videographers who think [the project is] done when it’s published and so their job is done and just walk away. We’d like people to be more committed to continuing that process.
PDN: Is it difficult to place stories in a number of outlets if the work has also been published elsewhere?
NA: Outlets were really exclusive, and once they ran the picture they had ownership of it. Because of the crisis in the industry, media outlets are less willing to put those restrictions on it unless they’re really willing to pay for it, and that’s good news as far as spreading awareness of the kinds of crises that we’re trying to draw attention to because it means that people can take that story elsewhere.
PDN: What should journalists seeking funding take into account when they apply?
NA: See what else we’ve covered. We are only funding a maximum of 50 projects annually, and we’re trying to scale that down so we can give more attention to each one. [Applicants should] take geographic diversity into consideration.
People often misinterpret our organization title and think we’re looking for conflict coverage. We’re not looking for conflict coverage. We’re about looking at underlying causes, what leads up to the crises, what follows the headlines.
Generally the proposals are very much in tune, [applicants] seem to have done the research. The photographers are really struggling to get their stories out there because they’re not covering things that are making headlines, so they need support to cover that kind of in-depth story.
PDN: Are journalists who are working in partnership at an advantage in terms of their application for funding?
NA: It does tend to help on the distribution end of it and for us. If [a print reporter] comes to us and has a relationship with the Christian Science Monitor, and a photographer has a relationship with Time.com—whatever the outlets are—this to us is a stronger guarantee that it’s going to reach an audience. That’s just a really key component because we have such limited funds we need to make sure that the dollars we spend are going towards something that’s going to reach the public.