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Writing story proposals

Hi everyone, can any experienced photojournalist shed light on writing story proposals to a magazines? Does anyone still do that and how many of these proposals actually turn into assignments nowadays? Thanks in advance for you time.

by Massimiliano Clausi at 2011-10-25 14:38:56 UTC | Bookmark | | Report spam→

I’d love to get information on this as well!

by Luka Kauzlaric | 26 Oct 2011 03:10 | Melbourne, Australia | | Report spam→
It depends on the market, but for what I have seen people nowadays tend to submit the material already shot, edited and captioned and hope to get selected from a pubblication.

Truth is that it pays very very very little, a colleague from UK ended up in Lybia during the revolts and ended up making a pound and some peanuts after a bank breaking experience.

I am more and more convinced that unfortunately, given the critical times we live in, stories will be told more and more by the privileged ones that can afford to go on their own and come back with a body of work to be sold.

Another matter to take into consideration is the situation, experienced by another acquaintance of mine, of editors that receive the proposal and rather shoot it themselves (we all multitask now) or give it to someone else, so be extremely careful to who you share your ideas with.

BTW … the real issue is that newspaper work does not pay as well as magazine work exception made for the holy few fellow photographers that keep working although on a wheelchair … when will a Mc Curry retire? or a Salgado?

by Daniel V. Kevorkian | 28 Oct 2011 13:10 | Firenze, Italy | | Report spam→
I hope I can communicate well, what I am hoping to say——While I see the points --the very well made points above—-I think its more a game of getting content no one else has and in that effort, when done well, a photographer eliminates his competition; there is a little more to it than that but more about that later.

If you think about it like a farmer’s market which we all have down the street and close to home, editors are going to pick their standard solid choices week after week because they know the product, the cost and how solid it is and as well if there is an issue or you need more, you can get it right away with the same good quality——week after week. I believe photo journalists, many times, loose sight of the fact that media is a business and the product has to be fresh with a different taste—-always. Yes, it’s corn in season and then apples, lettuce, carrots and beets, just like it’s elections, serial killers, G-summits, famine, car crashes and wars—-it all has its season but get to know your market just like a farmer and as much as a plumber, banker or shoe repair shop would.

If you think of what you see in the market and its too plain or overpriced—-you are going to take note and make it yourself at home. I don’t see it as bad or good but just what it is——-once more it’s that editors have thinning ranks and most likely at a greater rate than others in the media hierarchy. If you balance that with an even thinner monthly budget, the result seems likely. Everyone’s balance sheet, regardless on which side of the lens you are on, has to balance out on the cash sheets or you move on.

Talk to anyone working on their own, in whatever industry, and I would surmise, you will find they are combining several elements around their main gig to crack that nut at the end of each month—-but its all within a niche—-as the only English born, Spanish and Nawatel speaking former structural metal engineer student with Italian roots whose hobby has everything to do with south east Asian watercolor artists from the 1970’s there is —and can take photos—and doesn’t own a tv but never misses a football match of bundesliga—-right?

The internet has undoubtedly split open the traditional role of editor and content provider and it will never be the same and even could be said to be evolving week by week at a rate never seen before in any media trend from before—-but then, the web has a crazy voracious and never ending —and really ever increasing—demand for photos and content. The smart PJ will create his part in it with a tremendous amount of work and inventiveness—-an so its why I say there is no competition and what each photographer must do to stay in the game—-get your angle and develop it into whatever amount of combinations you can.

In regard to Libya—-stories came out about the ebb and surge of rebel versus government and the usual ap, afp, epa, and nyt were there and on it—-the tragic story of 2 venerated pjs who took their last photos there and the 4 shooters before that coming close to the same end but have lived to shoot another day—-but what about the dozens on dozens of other angles?

A little was done on how rebels were manufacturing their own weapons in garage shops but what else came out—-there was the young woman who executed several rebel prisoners and the stuff on the famous prisons no one came out of——the international works turned refugees trying to get out.

How many other things were going on….

What are they eating there—-something on the Rebel Roast and what it takes to get food—-like inmates the world over create special concoctions of toilet wine, what are their tricks? What about those trauma centers? How do the doctors get supplies, get paid and maintain electrical power for what little surgery equipment the have?

What happens to the rebels after they are wounded? Hospice in a town where they know no one—-will they get a pension somehow? The tragic story of a family minding its own business and how they manag—— and where a towns football star gets his legs blown off—-even through the fighting is there some ancient activity that continues through, like dominos or the hookah café? No one has food but tobacco there is a lot of and here is how we filter clean water for an evening smoke. Maybe a once famous soap star at the barricades—-or returning patriots coming home to fight——the sinister and wretched maiming of combatants with booby traps—-what do you look for and how do you disarm it? The crazy French nun that continues with the orphanage regardless of the danger.

Who is running the utilities—-what is their philosophy on doing it --where is their reward? What about the animals—-the dogs, cats, camels and even cows, goats etc…How have costs gone up for the standard goods needed daily. What about the age old revenge between families and townsmen that always seem to appear in times like this—-payback and power shifts within a village, town or neighborhood—What about the town completely untouched by any aspect of the conflict? What about some religious or cultural tradition now dismissed because of the danger——will it resume afterwards just the same or will a family or individual be forever put down because of it. How will they deal with the shame—-can they be saved? What about the father that goes to the corner for cigs/milk and never comes back?

What about the internationals showing up to rebuild—-contractors, smugglers and merchants—-is it a government working on a long lost forgotten project or a new hospital, nuke facil or sewer treatment plant——what about the oil fields? Who is taking care of them—-are they damaged, still selling oil, has production dimmed——do they need parts to continue drilling.

Seems to me like all these stories can be done while the bigs are on the front lines getting the fierry recoil shots taken at the side of 4×4 toyota hilux pickup as it sits next to a burned out store or home with tattered curtains floating out the glassless window openings—- or barely hunkered down behind a sand berm along a highway somewhere—-shooting some cannon or rocket rig and don’t forget the scattered shell casings on the ground surrounding the scene.

Really it won’t mean to much if you don’t have an editor somewhere that knows you can deliver and will get your stuff up but it seems that starts with getting angles on stories like hospice house painting girl scouts, a pumpkin eating dog, the blind baseball coach or that scrawny funky kid that can shoot on goal from the mid-field pretty much every time he tries. That editor tells an editor and he tells one and he tells two more and so on, and so on….

“…Oh, hey was wondering can you shoot video —edit it with original music and write some short copy, say a 150 words as and advance or teaser…. and then something, say 1200 words and if it goes, what’s your turn around on a follow up? --what about something with a fun tourist angle and then a business thing on the same guy?——and in french? Great, when can you get it to me? Any sooner, like tomorrow before deadline at 11:30?——okay, see you then, thanks….”

Its like Captain Jack Sparrow from the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie says,

“There are no rules, there’s what a man can do, and what he can’t…”


PS>>>>In reading this now—-I see I have not written one word about the writing a story proposal——You’re Fired, Bro, don’t ever call us again!

by David Bro | 28 Oct 2011 19:10 (ed. Oct 28 2011) | orange county, california, United States | | Report spam→
….“editors that receive the proposal and rather shoot it themselves (we all multitask now) or give it to someone else, so be extremely careful to who you share your ideas with”. Happened also to a friend of mine!
If you have a good idea, Massi go, do it (if you don’t have the budget right now wait better times without sharing it with anyone) and find the right media for it later on ;-)

by Albertina D'Urso | 28 Oct 2011 19:10 | New York, United States | | Report spam→

I’m going to pass on some advice that was given to me some years ago by my peers. Dont try to work for everyone! Try to develop relationships with editors of publications you want to work with, see the type of work they publish, see how your work fits the type of stories and style of the magazine. Then put together some strong work, tearsheets etc and maybe do the rounds visiting the editors, be it NYC, Milan, London etc, but make sure you have a really, really good body of work.

Another route, equally important is to look at the names of the feature writers in the magazines. Its my experience that writers have more influence of the content of magazines than photographers or even photo-editors, with the excpetion of Time and possibly Newsweek, which have (rare) photo feature driven content.

See who’s writing the features, establish a realtionship with them and see if they’ll pitch your idea – they’re usually very honest and have a good understanding of how your feature might or might not work in the magazine – but, as has been said in the above comments, theres a chance that the editor may commission the idea and then assign a photographer of their own choosing – thats usually because they have a relationship with a certain photographer or they know they’re work. Thats life.

Theres no shortcuts, winning a handful of comps/awards will help, but these relationships take time. Getting a mentor can also help, they usually have realtionships with the poeple you want to work with and may be able to help with pitching your story ideas. You have some good work, and being proactive is commendable! Surround yourself with good people and keep at it. As Albertina says, shoot the story yourself if you can afford to, work on it, re-visit it if you have to. Be patient.

by Jason Tanner | 29 Oct 2011 16:10 | London, United Kingdom | | Report spam→
I have been thinking about this topic all weekend—-and what I say is not directed at Massai, the OP in this case, but a general observation across many posts and comments in general from the web and on assignment—-I really believe the impetus of getting work and getting published is in the hands of the photographer/reporter as he/she comes in contact with a story—-consolidating what I posted above—-get your story, package it in a relevant and compelling way and editors will pick it up, especially if they know you already—-wash and repeat and air dry when necessary—-GET published first with the inane public sewer controversy and go from there——it’s very few that will first publish off the current world conflict story and move up from there in some crazy cinderella publishing career …

YOU have to do the work, be smart, produce and deliver on time—-and with up to the minute content that is most relevant to the subject at hand—-a simple but supremely bitched up proposition, but then no one is bending your arm to do this job because we all know, on average any barista in the slowest most smokey dark and dank cellar of a coffee store will most likely make more across his lifetime in what most photographers will make in two of theirs.

Grab the story by the pelotas and get it done —get your next one and move on—eventually you will be able to add a little meat to your pasta sauce dinner every other third day——and the wine, hopefully will be paid for by those that wished they had your job and are content to listen to your off the record stories of what is really behind the daily news.


by David Bro | 31 Oct 2011 19:10 | orange county, california, United States | | Report spam→
some good advice here.


not necessarily from getting published but about pursuing your own ideas and developing them, trusting yourself and your ideas.

by Jason Tanner | 01 Nov 2011 10:11 | London, United Kingdom | | Report spam→
First of all, thanks everyone for contributing to this thread. The main reason I started it is I’m finding increasingly hard to fund my stories, and even though I’ve had assignments in the past, they never came from a proposal I had submitted to a picture desk. It always happened because the editor knew my work and trusted me. So, yes, building strong relationships and trust is a must to get your work published. I was curious to hear from other people out there if it’s the same for the most of us photojournalists, and according to your comments, the answer seams to be affermative.

But in the last few months even those few magazines I’ve used to work for are lacking funds (and will) to produce or even buy ready-made stories. Because of that, at the moment I’m changing my approach to the whole business and even to the whole process of choosing and planning the stories I’d like to tell. I’m looking for money elsewhere: foundations, crowdfunding websites and NGOs are the only alternative so far. It takes a lot of time, legs work and developing a new attitude towards public relations and project planning. Jason is right, you have to trust your insinct and go for it, believe in what you do and make others believe in it too. Which is the hardest part of the job.

by Massimiliano Clausi | 03 Nov 2011 10:11 | Genoa, Italy | | Report spam→
Good Luck on everything Massi, I hope you communicate your progress here so we can all see the results—-with your last post, I can see the underlining stress and concern you have that I missed in the original post you made, so I especially think and hope for you, the best success.

ciao, bro

by David Bro | 03 Nov 2011 18:11 | orange county, california, United States | | Report spam→
Good luck Massi!
Also, like someone else said I found it very useful to collaborate with freelance writers. Don’t know if they have more power than us in making stories accepted by magazines (i guess it depend from case to case) but I found out that the chances to sell a story if there is someone who wrote the text with you, or wish to do it are so much highter. I think we have somehow to create a network with freelance writers cause they are exately in ower situation… magazines don’t buy pictures if there is no text ready as soon as they don’t buy written stories if there aren’t good and new pictures of the subject…

by Albertina D'Urso | 03 Nov 2011 19:11 (ed. Nov 3 2011) | New York, United States | | Report spam→

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Massimiliano Clausi, Photojournalist Massimiliano Clausi
Genoa , Italy
Luka Kauzlaric, Photographer Luka Kauzlaric
Melbourne , Australia ( MEL )
Daniel V. Kevorkian, Photographer Daniel V. Kevorkian
(telling stories)
Firenze , Italy
David Bro, freelance editorial David Bro
freelance editorial
Orange County , United States ( LAX )
Albertina D'Urso, Documentary Photographer Albertina D'Urso
Documentary Photographer
Milano , Italy
Jason Tanner, Photographer Jason Tanner
San Jose , Costa Rica


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