Column – Journalism is expensive

Bloomingtonian photographer Jeremy Hogan’s recently purchased used 2005 Toyota Prius was hit by a truck as he covered tornado damage over the weekend. There were no injuries, and Hogan was not in the car at the time. He making photographs nearby. (Photo by Jeremy Hogan/The Bloomingtonian)

By Jeremy Hogan

As someone who has spent my life behind the camera observing and photographing others, I really am uncomfortable with self-promotion. But this may be as good a time for some self-promotion as any, because journalism is expensive to do, and I need to say so. 

As many of you probably know, I worked for the local paper for almost 23 years, and was laid off in January after international hedge fund investors bought the paper. We don’t need to go into that all over again, except to say I’m on my own now after a 30-year career working for newspapers.  

I began working for the local newspaper in Porterville, California, when I was 15, when I literally rode a bike to a few grass fires and sold photos of them to the paper. But mostly, I got my job because journalism is expensive, and the paper didn’t want to pay for new cameras. The sports editor, who was taking his own photos at a wrestling match, had a broken camera, and that’s when I got my first photos published – because my camera was working. They paid $5 per photo, but only if it was published. Fortunately, they liked the photos so much that I began to get regular assignments. 

Journalism was never an easy way to make money. But I persisted, and resisted, even when it was suggested I should get a real job, and not go to college. I graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Journalism from San Jose State in 1997, after paying for college myself, while working part-time jobs, and just working really hard to be the best photojournalist possible.  

I won a lot of awards as a student, did five internships, and got at job at the local paper in August 1997, but not until after I was twice runner-up for the San Francisco Bay Area’s top student press photographer, and also the same for California Press Photographer Association student photographer of the year. The guy who beat me was my classmate John Lee, and he won the Hearst Competition, meaning he was the top college photographer in the whole United States; and he got a job right out of school at the Chicago Tribune, which was not easy to do at the time, and would be impossible now.  

Anyway, before coming here I also interned at a few of the best newspapers in the country for photography: the Modesto Bee, the Indianapolis News, the Kansas City Star (where Ernest Hemingway got his start – they still had his desk), the Palm Beach Post, and the Ann Arbor News.  

In April 1998, during my first year on the job in Bloomington, I very nearly won the Pulitzer for Spot News, for images of a river rescue training that turned into the real thing and left one conservation officer dead. And after that, I continued to win award after award for the local newspaper. I have boxes of awards. But I have to say, the day I watched a conservation officer lose his life is a day that still haunts me, and I would have gladly put the camera down to help save his life, but there was nothing I could do, unless I wanted to drown as well; so I did my job and documented it.                                                                 

Many years later, after my layoff from the paper, I would be driving down the road, and I would see the opportunity for photos. I realized I had no place to publish them for the public to see, and no place to inform the public about happenings in Bloomington. And in my grief, I hatched the idea to start The Bloomingtonian, and a good friend of mine helped me with the website, and here we are.  

This last weekend we had tornadoes, and instead of being sensible and heading to the basement, I grabbed my cameras and my rain gear, told my wife I love her, and headed out the door. It was not easy to get to the area because the police, rightfully so, had the roads closed down. 

I tried three ways to get to one area after finding a tree across the road. Then by accident I found a back way to the area of Cowden and Mount Tabor roads. I parked my car off on the edge of a dirt road, and I went to work. 

After a while, I found a man who looked like he had just seen a ghost. He was having a stiff drink of whiskey, and he began to tell me his story about surviving at the base of a torn-up tree. And then I met his girlfriend, who said she barely hung onto a door handle as the winds lifted her up and destroyed things all around her. She told me her worst fear is tornadoes. 

I photographed them and got video, which I share with news agencies such as Polaris Images, Getty Images, and the Associated Press ­– although I only get a percentage back from them if somebody licenses the work. After a while, it was getting dark and there were live power lines on the ground, and they were hard to see, so I thought I should leave the area and get home. 

As I talked to the State Police for a few minutes, a driver in a 4×4 truck tried to go around my car and ended up fishtailing the back of his truck into it. I had just bought that car, a Toyota Prius, with cash a few weeks ago, and planned to drive it around to continue doing my commercial photography and the work I share on this site. I told the officer I was keeping my anger on the inside, and he said he appreciated that. Then, after filing a report, I spent over an hour trying to get back to Bloomington, lost on back roads (many of them closed), with no GPS. I edited until 4 a.m., got a few hours of sleep, and then went back Sunday to make more photos. 

Anyway, as you can see from the damage to my car, journalism is expensive, and not only that, I got some water in one of my cameras, and I’m hoping it dries out. I just spent $650 repairing another camera, which had 277,000 frames on the shutter, and it now has a new shutter, main board and sensor – basically the camera was worn out from doing news photography. 

Someone asked me what I plan to do with The Bloomingtonian site, and honestly, what you see is what it will be for a while. I do the site on days when I’m not doing other work to pay the bills. The site hasn’t even made enough yet off Google ads to pay for the domain and hosting for the first year. Also, I should say, I offer my photography services to photograph weddings, family portraits, your business for your Instagram or social media accounts, etc., and I do a lot of national news now for the same news outlets where I share some of the work I do locally. I was in Iowa recently covering presidential politics, which is why I put that work on The Bloomingtonian sometimes. 

So, the site will be just me for now, and I’ll cover local news when I can, and keep Google ads on it until and if I have enough traffic to justify asking local businesses to pay for ads. I might also put a donate button on the site, but I need to get help with setting that up.   

Journalism is not easy, and it’s expensive, but I don’t plan to give up on it. Not yet. 

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