As the photo director at HuffPost, Christy Havranek oversees a team of photo editors and photographers to create visual content for the popular news and opinion website. Founded in 2005 as The Huffington Post, HuffPost now has newsrooms and editions in 16 countries around the world; Havranek is based in New York City.
At HuffPost, Havranek and her team assign photographers to cover topics from breaking news to long-form stories nationally and internationally. Havranek has nearly two decades of experience in the photo industry and has served as a juror for numerous prestigious international competitions—including our Street Photography Awards 2018.
Curious to learn more about the team behind HuffPost’s visuals, LensCulture editor Coralie Kraft reached out to Havranek for a chat.
Cover photo © Alex Liverani. Christy Havranek’s Juror’s Pick, LensCulture Street Photography Awards 2018
LensCulture: What do you like about working for a publication that is purely digital? How do you see the role of the photographer (and photo editor) changing as more publications start to reduce their printed format?
Christy Havranek: The role of photo professionals in media (editors, photography directors, photographers) is more important than ever, as we’re witnessing the local and national erosion of journalism outlets. The ubiquity of cell phone photography has, in part, contributed to the elimination of photo roles at traditional newspapers, and given rise to digital-only media platforms with no photo teams at all.
This sends a troublesome message, because visual journalism is a craft, a set of honed skills, just like copywriting, reporting, illustration, editing, videography, etc. Yes, it is 2018, and everything is fast and digital and we all must be flexible and super nimble. I get that, and I respect it. But let’s put it this way: I am definitely not qualified to line-edit copy for a major story! Visual journalists are important.
The focus for me isn’t so much about working for a purely digital outlet than it is about working in a newsroom with leadership that values photography and its role in journalism. Whether it’s in digital or print, photo teams are necessary. I feel lucky to lead this particular team.
LC: How does HuffPost’s photography team work? Do you have staff photographers? What is the photographic “landscape” like at the publication, and what do you like about it? (Also—any challenges unique to the setup?)
CH: There are four of us on the Photo team at HuffPost: myself and three photo editors. They’re all talented photographers. We don’t have “staff photographers” in the traditional sense, but they all go out in the field and cover stories and also do in-house studio shoots. The team does everything from pitching original photo-driven stories, packaging photo essays, breaking news, collaborating with enterprise reporters on long-term projects & assigning photographers, creating original photo illustrations, working on Instagram, etc. We work with everyone in the newsroom: front page, design, product, social, tech, audience, legal…everyone.
Our (newish) editor-in-chief, Lydia Polgreen, has helped usher HuffPost into a new storytelling era, with an emphasis on original reporting and longform enterprise journalism. With that comes the understanding and message that photography and visuals are a vital part of HuffPost’s mission. One challenge is that I wish I had a bigger team that spanned more time zones.
LC: Can you share a few stories that you’re particularly proud of?
CH: Sure. I worked on a stories about Bhutanese refugees settling in Akron, Ohio; drug users who are forming unions in order to protect their rights and safety; the hospital crisis that is damaging rural communities; and a triathlete who is recovering from West Nile Virus.
LC: You’ve been in this industry for almost 2 decades—how have things changed with the advent of the digital 24 hour news cycle, Instagram, etc? How has it changed your day-to-day, and what do you see coming next?
CH: Although I’ve worked in photo nearly 20 years, it’s hard to track in a linear way what has changed in my day-to-day, as I’ve been in a bunch of different industries: TV, book publishing, a photo agency, editorial, fashion, news. I’ve sort of zig-zagged around but have always worked in photo. My first job was at a photo agency, and around 2000/2001, as everyone started to shoot digital, some clients were so used to receiving chromes that they didn’t want to receive digital files immediately; they wanted to wait hours for physical copies of…those very digital files sent via bike messenger.
Instagram has become indispensable. I’m not sure if something else will come along and replace it anytime soon. I tell photographers at portfolio reviews and workshops that they’ve got to have a presence on Instagram, especially if they’re not regularly updating their website with recent work (and, let’s face it, many photographers aren’t). It’s so important for the folks who may want to hire you to know what you’re up to.
As far as what’s coming next, if the last 18 years have been any indication – with media, tech and even the law ever-evolving – it only makes sense that photographers and folks in the industry will need to remain adaptive.
We’re also at the point where it’s impossible - and inexcusable - to ignore the massive disparities in terms of pay, gender and representation behind the lens. The way I see it, everyone who has a modicum of power has a responsibility to amplify voices from communities that have been long silenced and not offered opportunities for paid photo work. It’s 2018 – we have incredible resources like Women Photograph, Natives Photograph and Diversify Photo at our fingertips. It’s not hard to diversify the photographers you hire. You just have hire with intention.
LC: What do you wish more photographers knew about working with a publication like HuffPost?
CH: We’re really open to pitches, especially essays. We do a lot of original reporting and assigning. Finally, we can and do pay photographers both for editorial assignments and to license work.
LC: Do you have any advice for photographers who are hoping to catch the eyes of HuffPost’s photo editing team? What steps should photographers take to promote their work and convince you that they would be a smart choice for a commission?
CH: For any photographer – whether they’re looking to pitch to HuffPost or elsewhere – it’s important to understand the audience, voice and tone of the publication they’re pitching to. If you’re a photographer and your paid work is primarily commercial or advertising, and that’s what your email newsletter or mailings show – that’s great! But we most likely may not be able to hire you for an editorial assignment based on that. If you have personal work that leans editorial, thematic, documentary – that is what I’d want to see. Knowing the audience is key.
—Christy Havranek, interviewed by Coralie Kraft