A Tale of Two Stories: An Interview with Alan Hagman

  • PHOTO JOURNAL: LA TIMES PAGES

  • PHOTO JOURNAL: LIZ O. BAYLEN - DYING FOR RELIEF

By Jim Colton

Jim Colton: The LA Times' photo staff is teeming with talent...Barbara Davidson, Carolyn Cole, Rick Loomis, etc. What is the breakdown of the photo department including photographers and photo editors? 

Alan Hagman: Our visual staff is comprised of 32 visual journalists, with three devoted full-time to video. The majority of our staff is also trained to shoot and edit video and audio. We have 16 photo editors for print and online, including senior management. Each photo editor is responsible for a specific section or department, Metro, National/Foreign, Business, Sports, Calendar/Entertainment and Features. We also have two people devoted primarily to multimedia production. (See expandable section at the bottom of this page for a link to Framework, the LA Times online multimedia section.)

JC: How do you keep track of all the assignments? Can you walk our readers through an average day at the office? And how do you keep all of the staff motivated? 

AH: Our morning assignment editor begins the day around 6:00 am, checks the local and national wires and communicates with our two early morning news photographers who have usually responded to a breaking news event from home. As new photo requests are submitted they are assigned to the 12 to 15 photographers scheduled to work each day -- fewer on weekends. Additionally we usually have 3 to 4 people working on longer-term projects or video projects. 

We keep track of assignments in a system called SCC/MediaServer, part of our digital asset management system. We assign throughout the day and work closely with the photographers editing their assignments for print and online usage. Photographers are often asked to quickly send a few images from the field for online use, then return to the office to do a full edit. Once assignments have been edited with the photographer, photo editors work with page designers and editors selecting images for our various section covers and inside pages. Photo galleries are assembled and delivered to the copy desk for editing and posting (online). After daily assigning and editing is done, photo editors work with reporters and word editors planning coverage for future stories.

To keep photographers motivated, we give them ample time to work on self-generated story ideas and assigned projects. We strive to give them visually interesting stories and provide them with the opportunity to travel nationally and internationally. We also rotate our work schedule every two months to give people a wide variety of assignments-breaking news, sports, business, entertainment, fashion…etc. 

JC: The special report "Dying for Relief" (see links below) looked like a huge undertaking. How long did it take to produce and did photographer Liz O. Baylen do all of the video, audio, multimedia as well as the stills? Is this a function that all staff photographers at the Times are expected to know or learn? How much of an emphasis is placed on the web site for photo galleries and multimedia?

AH: “Dying for Relief” was a complicated project with many moving parts.  Managing this story took a lot of patience and expertise. Liz worked closely with her editor, Mary Vignoles, two reporters, and several word editors. This was day-to-day dogged visual reporting at its finest. The days of just shooting stills for a project are in the past. Decisions of what to shoot are married with what is the best medium for telling each story. Video? Still images and video? Still images and audio? 

Liz is an excellent journalist who is meticulous and a perfectionist. Telling the story visually was a big challenge. Without specifics at the beginning, the planning was more about concepts, what is needed to tell the complete story: teen funeral, coroner’s office, rehab, drug users, medical board, drug court--the list went on.  Deciding on what is needed to tell the story was the easy part. Finding and getting subjects to agree to tell their story was the big challenge. 

It was decided that all interviews would be video, stills for the portraits and the triptych. Mary and Liz came up with idea to shoot stylized portraits of these families.    

Keeping with their original ideas of what stories they wanted to tell, many times Liz or Mary would get a contact from the reporters and Liz would head out on her own to try and find a subject.  In the case of John Jackson, a former stuntman who broke his back in a job accident, Liz met him while photographing Dr. Diaz, who was part of the story. The Clyburn’s, whose son died of an overdose, was the first family Liz met.  It was Liz who introduced the Clyburn’s to the reporters. Edward Shut, addicted to prescription drugs, was found though a contact the reporter had, but he never made the cut for the story.  Liz and Mary added; Aaron Rubin, who overdosed and lived, he added an element of living as a cripple.  Rubin was not in the story but was a compelling addition to the online project. 

With the videos there were lots of discussions.  Liz took the lead on editing and worked with Mary on the final production.

As the stories got to the editing stages everything changed.  More than half of the subjects Liz photographed were written out of the stories. Because we encourage photographers to step outside of the written word, and add another dimension to the story in the form of video or audio slideshow, we were able to publish these pieces, which complimented the stories.  

Generally speaking, photographers do the majority of video production on longer-term projects, while working with the photo editor assigned to the story. The majority of our staff has been through video and audio training and are producing short term and longer-term video projects on a fairly regular basis.  

JC: Lastly, how would a photographer interested in working for the LA Times go about getting their work in front of you. 

Openings at the Times are few and far between, but we’re always looking for talented photographers. An introductory email, with a short bio and references, along with a link to your website is the best way to get your work in front of our photo editors.   

Editor's note: Since the time of the interview, Liz O. Baylen's work on "Dying for Relief," was awarded a second place prize at World Press Photo Awards announced this week.

Do you have a story you think is a good candidate for Photo Journal? Email your suggestion to: jimcolton@aol.com

Part Two: Interview with Robert Gauthier

View More Photo Journals