The business of documentary, photojournalism and assignment photography has been in a deep depression for a long time now.
New technologies, obsolete business models, and a major decline in media advertising revenues have disrupted "business" across all forms of media — from news publishers to advertising agencies, from photojournalists, to videographers, producers, and documentary makers. To say these industries have been completely turned on their heads — with no clear directions for economic survival — is not an exaggeration.
Budgets have been cut or completely eliminated at many media outlets. As a result, many long-time permanent staff photographers have been fired worldwide, and forced to go freelance. Travel budgets have disappeared. But the need for news and other visual content is never-ending, and perhaps even more urgent in our always-on era of the internet and streaming feeds.
So, editors and creative directors are forced to rely on local photographers — who are already on the ground where and when they need them — to deliver the goods, quickly. But how do you find the best photographers, anywhere in the world, at the moment you need them?
A promising new start-up may be the answer to a lot of these problems.
Blink (blink.la) is a new, real-time location platform connecting media companies (and other people who buy photography services) with a global network of vetted freelance media professionals — photographers, video producers and other storytellers. Blink was founded by two senior photo editors at The Wall Street Journal and a serial entrepreneur who saw the need for innovative networking tools in the media space.
Since launching earlier this year, the Blink network has attracted over 170 industry leading media companies, 70 agencies, and 4000+ photographers and videographers in more than 120 countries. And its network is growing daily.
The Blink platform includes real-time updates, GPS location tracking, and
instant messaging via computers and smartphones.
At its core is a robust search capability.
LensCulture Editor Jim Casper spoke with two of the founders to learn more about this new venture. Here's an edited version of the conversation:
How do you describe a typical Blink interaction?
"Whether you're shooting a lifestyle story in Mendocino, California or a breaking news event in Kabul, Afghanistan — Blink connects the dots between companies who need content and the creatives who can deliver high quality work," says Blink CEO Matt Craig (who had spent five years working as Page One Photo Editor at "The Wall Street Journal").
"This isn't just a tool for editors on the hunt — Blink is a two way street. We empower our members by giving them access to all the buying companies on the network. Search Blink for News and Photo Editors, Art Directors and Producers and connect in seconds," Craig says. "This is one step networking that is making everyone's lives a little easier — even down to online invoicing and payments."
Can you talk about the photographers using Blink right now? (We show just a few of the many thousand in the slideshow with this article.)
"There are many, many different examples" says Julien Jourdes, Co-founder & COO (who previously served as World News Photo Editor at "The Wall Street Journal" and Newsweek, as well as Editorial Director of Magnum Photos Paris). "For instance, Guillem Valle is a World Press photo winner and part of the young Spanish collective called ME-MO. They were just featured in Lens Blog a few days ago."
"Michael Christopher Brown is Magnun photographer. The classic example of someone who you never know where he is. One week he is in the Congo, then Rwanda, then in New York, then back out to Africa and suddenly back in Paris. Blink is perfect for him and for his clients, so that the two can always stay in touch about upcoming assignments and the constantly changing world."
Matt: "As you can see in the slideshow presented here in LensCulture, Blink includes a diverse
range of people: talented fine art shooters, commercial work, photojournalists,
documentary storytellers and so on — a group of people who are representative
of the new wave of photographers, videographers, storytellers, content makers.
They are shooting for a range of clients — from J. Crew to a media publishers
to NGOs — and using many different mediums."
What about the increasing demand for video rather than still photography?
Matt: "Our community (photographers) produces the best visuals and know how to work intimately. But I think photographers need to hone their skills a lot faster towards working in multimedia, in video. The photo community needs to get into workshops and learn how to do video. The pay-point for video is so much higher than photos. If I produce a 3-minute video, I can get $9,000. Where a day rate may be $1,000 for a photographer. But video is not easy to make. It’s a lot harder to do than high-quality photography. So from the clients’ side, finding high-quality video producers is paramount. On Blink, we hope to build a network so you can hire a DP, a sound guy, and lighting in 5 minutes. That’s the goal. "
What will be your measure of success with Blink?
Matt: "As far as commercial success, we want Blink to be an economic engine so that people can get more work, network faster, and connect efficiently. And I think the market is even greater than just covering news events. I think everyone needs content. Everyone wants high-quality photo and video. Blink allows any company to connect with a photographer or a videographer or whatever. A buyer doesn't have to go through agency structures; it allows individual professional relationships."
Julien: "From an editorial point of view, as the world is going faster, and you need to assign and publish faster and faster, everyone lacks the time to vet and approve photographers. And this is what Blink is as well. Blink is a reliable platform that vets professionals for you. It’s a place where you could assign work very fast, knowing that the work will be of the highest quality. So, the best photographers and media companies want to be on this platform, to have a good vetting system that represents the best of the best."
He continues: "A vision for the future is that the world is becoming faster and faster — the next step is instant feeds. It’s already happening now, when websites use live Instagram feeds so that the photographer updates the website instantaneously. That could start to work for video and photojournalism, for everything. Blink can be the tool for instantaneous commissions: the photographer on the ground in Ukraine, the videographer already at the concert, the storyteller who’s living in the village in the Outback. People want to find the best creative who is vetted and professional — and they want great, reliable results, fast. That's what Blink enables."
It's the best new business model we've seen so far.
— Jim Casper
To learn more, read some success stories, and request an invitation to join, visit the website: blink.la