Pitching Conservation Photo Stories with Steven Bedard of bioGraphic Magazine
Why conservation photo stories are needed now more than ever, how bioGraphic is providing essential (and increasingly rare) reporting, and of course, tips for pitching your photo stories.
Steven Bedard is the Editor in Chief and co-founder of bioGraphic Magazine, a publication of the California Academy of Sciences.
Many conservation photographers are eager to see their work published in its (web) pages because bioGraphic prides itself on in-depth, visually rich, conservation-focused stories.
Steven joins us to talk about what it's like to work on these stories, what he looks for inside of stories (and pitches!), and the life of an editor.
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Episode 097: Pitching Conservation Photo Stories with Steven Bedard of bioGraphic Magazine
(Digitally transcribed, please forgive any typos)
Hey there and welcome to this episode of impact the conservation photography podcast. I am so thrilled to bring to you a special guest today for the show. Steven Bedard is the editor in chief and co-founder of biographic magazine. It's a publication out of California academy of sciences. And it's a publication that I know many conservation photographers who are getting going in this field are eager to see their work inside of because biographic publishes these beautiful in-depth visually rich stories.
[00:00:33] Jaymi: And Steven not only is editor in chief of this publication, but he's also sometimes my boss because I have the joy and honor of being a freelance photo editor for a biographic. And I've been able to work on some of these most beautiful stories that photographers and scientists around the world have worked on the work that they put into creating visuals.
[00:00:57] Jaymi: Truly celebrated in biographic. So [00:01:00] Steven Bedard is joining us today to talk about what it's like to work on these stories, what he looks for inside of stories, what it's like to be on that editing side of such a lovely publication as this. So without further ado, let's dive in.
[00:01:14] Jaymi: Hello, Steven. I am so glad that you said yes to being a guest on this podcast because we have the joy of working together, but this is the first time that I'm really interviewing you in an official way.
[00:01:27] Jaymi: And it's going to be really.
[00:01:28] Steven: Absolutely. I am thrilled to be here. I enjoy our conversations on multiple topics, but always happy to talk about biographic and why we do it. And it's a fun opportunity to step back and do that assessment of like, are we really doing what we set out to do?
[00:01:48] Steven: And, what can we do better?
[00:01:50] Jaymi: Awesome. Well, so you are editor in chief of biographic magazine, and before we really get into, you know, questions and [00:02:00] conversation and all that good stuff, who is Steven, just in the world,
[00:02:08] Steven: Steven is not out in the world very much these days, because I'm based in Montana and Helena, Montana. I grew up in Colorado. I grew up in the Rockies, so I'm familiar with winter, but I also spent about eight years in San Francisco. So, it reduced my tolerance for challenging winters.
[00:02:27] Steven: And this morning it was minus six. So it's chilly. And, so I, spent a lot of time indoors, but yeah, I mean, my, my passions are the outdoors and that's why I'm in Montana. I love the proximity to wild places where I am. And so I've landed in a good place and I'm fortunate enough to be able to do my job from
[00:02:51] Steven: pretty much anywhere. And so I can be here and be able to go on hikes on a daily basis. So I love that.
[00:02:58] Jaymi: That sounds wonderful with, of course, [00:03:00] George, your dog joining you.
[00:03:02] Steven: Yes. George, I have a two year old golden retriever who is just love of my life and he's my best buddy. And we spend, spend every day, all day together and we go on those likes together.
[00:03:15] Steven: He gets me out more than I would. get out normally probably, yes,
[00:03:20] Jaymi: I'm in the same boat with my dog Niner. Who's a healer border Collie mix. And I love being in the outdoors, but when it comes to winter weather, having to walk, the dog is why outside because I am a weather wimp for sure.
[00:03:35] Steven: Yeah, exactly.
[00:03:37] Steven: Before I had a dog and there was a long period of time where I. Wanted a dog, but it was in, in San Francisco and living in apartments and I didn't want to have a dog where I didn't have a yard. And I would see people out walking their dogs in the most horrendous weather and I would just think, oh, you poor or sucker.[00:04:00]
[00:04:00] Steven: And now I am one of those poor suckers where I would, I was tromping around in, I dunno, minus eight last night for an after-work dog walk. And that's what we do.
[00:04:12] Jaymi: Oh, yeah. Well, was the foundation of biographic. Did that happen when you were living in the San Francisco bay area? Still?
[00:04:21] Steven: It did. Yeah. So I had started my career at the same journalist and, and media producer in Boston where I, I went to grad school and the, the Boston university science journalism program.
[00:04:37] Steven: And made my way to San Francisco in 2013. And initially that was just for a change of scene, change of pace. And, and I loved what I, what I learned very quickly about the California academy of sciences a natural history museum, aquarium planetarium, and a research [00:05:00] institution. And so I wanted to work there and started working there and, and after a couple of years had the opportunity to start biographic with with some colleagues.
[00:05:11] Steven: And so I, I did get that opportunity there and it was really, I mean, I describe it as. A dream opportunity. I've often described it as the dream opportunity. That is, that is killing me or the dream job that is killing me because if it's very hard work, but it is such incredibly inspiring work. And so yeah, the, the opportunity came from the previous executive director at the academy to start an independent magazine about nature and conservation and sustainability.
[00:05:49] Steven: And so I've been doing that since 2016. So we are very, very close to our six [00:06:00] year anniversary of the launch of biographic and started working on it about a year prior to the.
[00:06:07] Jaymi: Wow. I mean, I remember when biographic came onto the scene very clearly, and it was such a kind of breakthrough publication for having this very immersive visual experience when looking at a story and having these dynamic parallax scrolling images with text overlays and all of this way of like experiencing a visual story.
[00:06:30] Jaymi: And the fact that it of course is centered on biodiversity, natural history conservation is a huge plus. How did you think about the design for the magazine when it comes to these very visual, immersive stories?
[00:06:45] Steven: Yeah, that was definitely Kind of in, parallel from the very beginning in the creation of, biographic and R in parallel in terms of our thinking about what we wanted to do and just, [00:07:00] and just step back, I think the initial impetus really was this fact that, or observation that we have that as the world's environmental challenges grow in astounding and troubling ways, we were also witnessing, or, you know, I, I had been witnessing since the beginning of my career in science, journalism, really bizarrely this decline in.
[00:07:31] Steven: in depth science coverage by newspapers and magazines so while this need was growing this need for people to understand what was happening in the world, there was less coverage. At the time that we started biographic we had some observation or statistic that since 1989, I think when, when this study was done, there were around 95.
[00:07:58] Steven: It was just [00:08:00] less than a slightly, less than a hundred newspapers in the country that had science sections. And, and by that time, by 2015 or so, there were just 19. So. Huge decline just simply in the amount of coverage, but also the depth. We were seeing much more superficial coverage much less field reporting.
[00:08:29] Steven: Just, essentially an under reporting and in lots of different ways, but also it seemed like anything that we saw was almost necessarily doom and gloom. It was everything that was everything that was wrong happening in the world. And not much about what, what could be done about it or what people were were doing to combat those threats.
[00:08:57] Steven: so the initial. Desire to do a [00:09:00] publication like this what's that, and, and the parallel that I was referring to is what you brought up a couple of minutes ago. Jamie was this, this idea of, telling these types of stories in an in-depth way, and also a highly visual and immersive kind of wedding.
[00:09:21] Steven: So, so at the same time, we were seeing this major decline in the, depth of science reporting, science and environment recording. We were also occasionally seeing these really profound and moving storytelling Approaches from the New York times. I mean the New York times really kind of originated , immersive storytelling.
[00:09:46] Steven: The one that everyone points to is a classic called snowfall about an avalanche that occurred, I believe, in, in the Colorado Rockies. And, and it was that sort of [00:10:00] deeply immersive parallax scrolling, beautiful images, incredible storytelling, video animation you know, brief video, character portraits.
[00:10:12] Steven: And, and so we saw those types of things on occasion, but we rarely if ever saw those applied to environmental issues. And so. I mean a bit naive, really. I think we thought, well, let's, let's do that. Let's do that about the environment about conservation and about just nature in general.
[00:10:38] Steven: That type of immersive, highly visual form of storytelling. And so that was really the birth of biographic is to try to, I mean, I was always of the mind from the beginning Matt magazine journalism was always my favorite thing to read. I I didn't actually [00:11:00] read a whole lot of news myself other than to just keep myself informed.
[00:11:04] Steven: the reason I became a science journalist was because of magazine feature stories and the way that they're told and how deeply. Reported they are how thoughtful they are. That it's, that it's a bigger picture than just the news. And so we've never sought to do news on biographic the feature stories that we do or the type that I, that I just described at least, you know, I hope that's what we're doing is, is that kind of deep reporting and very thoughtful approach to storytelling.
[00:11:40] Steven: And I've thought from the beginning and I've, and I, this has been thankfully reinforced by my experience that just always felt that a story should be as long as it needs to be. If you're worried about links, you should think about the [00:12:00] scope of the story to begin with and rein that in and then tell that story.
[00:12:06] Steven: Well, but this sort of artificial, you know, these artificial word limits, which fortunately you don't have in online journalism, you can tell a story as long as it needs to be in a, and I don't want to get carried away with that, but yeah, with film and with, feature stories, I want the story to be as long as it, as it needs to be, to tell it well.
[00:12:26] Steven: And then I just want to do that, or we want to do that in the most engaging way possible. And so that. Beautiful imagery kind of first and foremost, often it, incorporates atmospheric video that helps like get essentially a moving image of, you know, that that might otherwise be a still that helps to, I think, transport readers to that place a little bit more fully.
[00:12:56] Steven: And to, in some cases, wherever [00:13:00] possible to include a short film that tells some part of the story that is more visual and, and harder to do in text. So that, sorry, that was a, that was a long answer to your very simple question, but I think it all kind of culminated into the same, you know, all of those ideas that we wanted to do better in terms of environment.
[00:13:24] Steven: Purporting and the storytelling around those types of issues. It culminated in sort of, I think, still what we're doing today.
[00:13:33] Jaymi: And one of the things you said that stands out to me too, is that science reporting almost out of necessity was always doom and gloom, but biographic really focuses on as much as possible trying to be solutions oriented or to highlight solutions.
[00:13:49] Jaymi: Was that also part of the mission from the very beginning?
[00:13:52] Steven: It was I keep talking about all these parallels when I move, I'm imagining like this, you know, multiple super [00:14:00] highways of, of parallels, but and it has been a lot to kind of juggle all of that, but yes. I think, to some extent that dovetails a little bit with what I was describing of just.
[00:14:15] Steven: Determining the scope of a story before you ever move forward with it so that you can tell that story as, as well as possible at the same time, you know, that we're reviewing pitches or assigning stories. We are trying to be very mindful of giving people some hope because it was a gloomy time when we started the magazine or before we started the magazine.
[00:14:44] Steven: And, and to some extent, there have been some, some. No great advances in there. And there are so many great stories that I've learned about over the course of this magazine and, and from other publications. But these are rough times. [00:15:00] We're facing multiple environmental threats and we're not acting quickly enough and in my estimation but we certainly don't want people to lose hope and that, that was a big part of it.
[00:15:14] Steven: from the very beginning because there is, there was some recognition too, that as you have less coverage and it's all dark and gloomy people just disengage and feel like All hope is lost and why bother. And that was something that we really wanted to influence in, a small way, in whatever way we could.
[00:15:42] Steven: And so no matter how important the issue, we're not the sort of publication that will assign a story that is here's a place where something disastrous is happening and, you know, and the reporter wants people to know [00:16:00] about it at once once to report it. it's not that I don't think that those stories are important.
[00:16:05] Steven: I think they absolutely are. It's just not the sort of publication that, that we are. And so Our solutions stories, range widely from, you know, I would say something that is, that highlights an issue, but also details. It may be a solution that's been in place for a couple of years and we're sort of reporting back on how that is going.
[00:16:31] Steven: And you know, sometimes, well, and sometimes the answer is well, it's complicated and it's harder than, than anybody thought. And those are interesting stories, but sometimes it's it's a proposed solution that according to experts looks like, you know, it might have a significant impact. And sometimes the, the hope that we're uncovering [00:17:00] in a story is really about.
[00:17:02] Steven: Inspiring people doing amazing things, kind of against all odds. That is enough for a biographic story. It's just, it's we, we need, we need something, we need something like that to give people so that they can latch onto it and, and feel like, oh, okay, well, you know, all is not lost.
[00:17:24] Jaymi: Yeah, absolutely.
[00:17:25] Jaymi: And I know that visuals play a huge part in that too, is the breadth of the visuals that go into biographic stories because it's not one or two images, granted, yes, there are one image stories that are called spotlights where it's the image, plus a caption kind of detailing something.
[00:17:42] Jaymi: But for the most part, the photo essays and the feature length stories are quite in-depth, there's a lot of imagery that goes into it. What was it like maybe at the beginning, but also now to dig into those images and really start to figure out how do I want [00:18:00] to visually illustrate in-depth complicated stories, but to do so in a way that still feels like there are glimmers of hope that there's inspiration there, that there's celebration of the people on the ground.
[00:18:11] Jaymi: What's it like kind of digging into that.
[00:18:13] Steven: That's probably the most fun aspect of, the job. To be honest, I think it's part of that is just that it's a departure for me as, writer and editor it's an, it engages a different part of my brain. And you know, some of the, some of the review sessions that I've had with my colleagues where we're, we're reviewing a batch of pre-select from a photographer and making our selections From that group. I mean, it's just, it's so enjoyable. And when you and I have have done that together, it's just been yeah, it's such a rewarding experience. And, and again, I think it is just sort of engaging in a different part of my brain and it feels like [00:19:00] it feels like fun and instead of like work and I, I would say you know, the back to sort of the, our origin story, if I haven't beaten that to death enough already, but I had mentioned, you know, the, the lack of sort of in-depth reporting.
[00:19:18] Steven: It certainly wasn't the case that there, there were no publications that were doing in depth reporting and storytelling about environment, environmental issues. What we felt was, that for the few that were they, weren't doing it in this kind of highly visual and immersive sort of way. I think part of that is they didn't, they were doing a lot of reporting of stories remotely, or even if they weren't doing it remotely, they just, they didn't have a photography budget or not much of one.
[00:19:55] Steven: And so you would often find these deeply reported, like really [00:20:00] beautifully written stories that that were illustrated by stock imagery, which you know, is it's fine, but we wanted to do something better and wanted to, I think, I think a writer can do a tremendous amount in terms of. Transporting a reader to a place and a time and help the reader you know, understand the motivations of the people involved.
[00:20:28] Steven: I mean, anybody who reads novels recognizes that. And so we wanted to take that sort of approach with our stories and then unlike a novel, you have this added benefit of being able to take them further and deeper with the visuals, with photography and, and with video. I have to admit, I think I kind of stumbled into the world of conservation photography without even knowing what it was. [00:21:00] And, thank God. It, it is a discipline that exists and an approach that it exists because it's made the way biographic tells stories possible.
[00:21:12] Steven: And that is, as I'm sure, you know, you and other, guests have articulated so well you know, it's, it's more than just the the hero image of the charismatic species. it is. Definitely similar to wildlife photography or, you know, directly connected to wildlife photography and people who do conservation photography also do great wildlife photography, but we rely so heavily on photographers to do both and can help us.
[00:21:46] Steven: illustrate the process of science and conservation and it's, so incredibly valuable to get. I mean, we still need the hero image and, and I [00:22:00] think you and I have probably had some of these conversations where we feel like we have this the most incredibly beautiful layout, and kind of photographs for every aspect of the reporting.
[00:22:10] Steven: And we're really just taking the reader along through that process and showing them the nitty gritty aspects of doing that work. And it's like, oh, shoot. Like what, what do we put at the top of the story? So, and sometimes we have to, we have to hunt for those, or sometimes we have to pull something up for that that was placed lower down in the story, and then use that as the hero in the homepage image.
[00:22:37] Steven: Because I, I do feel like it's always important to have a face still on our home page and at the top of the story. but yeah, that, ability that conservation photographers have the ability and the willingness to just spend the time. And to capture the different aspects of [00:23:00] the work that they're portraying and who's doing it.
[00:23:05] Steven: And, and like I said, the grit and sweat and challenge and involved in all of that is, is the sort of thing that we, that we want to capture. And so, we, we have a budget for photography and, and that's really important to us. And we have the length of stories that allows us to include as many images that you're talking about.
[00:23:33] Steven: I mean, it's, it's always in a, in a feature or a photo essay at least 10, and sometimes more than 20 images that help us to, to tell that story of as completely as well.
[00:23:49] Jaymi: There's definitely been stories that I've had the joy of working on for doing layout where a photographer has worked on the story for a [00:24:00] year to be able to get all of the images.
[00:24:02] Jaymi: And I think that that is one of the beautiful things that, makes me happy that publications like biographic exist is because you see the value in taking a long time to complete a story that it's not something and out of necessity, there are assignments where it's like you have five days or you have a week in the field and we need the images.
[00:24:24] Jaymi: That's the amount of time do your best photographer to capture this. But I think also to be able to have stories where the photographer has worked for years to get images in order to tell it fully is really critical because. Conservation stories are complicated and in depth. And especially when you're looking at like, how is the solution working now, or the answer is, well, you know, it's complicated there as well.
[00:24:49] Jaymi: It takes a lot of imagery to be able to really fully visualize a story like that. And, you know, for instance, you gave me a story to do layout on that was when [00:25:00] turtles fly with Lauren Owens Lambert about sea turtle rescue. And I think she worked on that for two years, I believe was, was the amount of time that she had been working on the story.
[00:25:10] Jaymi: And that was a really tough story to decide imagery for because she had captured so many different. Angles and things that were happening and all of this content. And, and so really paring that down to just the however many images we used. I think I was like maybe 18 or 20 images were still really, really hard because you want to be able to visually show the complexity of these issues.
[00:25:40] Jaymi: So photo layout is very fun, very tough, especially when it's an in-depth story, but biographic never shies away from those. What have been some of the stories that you've put out in the world that it just came down to being this incredible Herculean effort to, to pick only [00:26:00] 18 images or so to show because they were such rich, well photographed stories that this photographer had brought back just a wealth of imagery to choose from.
[00:26:10] Steven: Oh, there's so many. And I think I've lost track to some extent of stories where we've had just this embarrassment of riches in terms of the photographs, because there are so many of those. And I think you you've touched on a really important point that so many of our stories actually begin with a set of images.
[00:26:35] Steven: They begin with a photo story that is pitched to us by a photographer. and then, I don't want to, I don't want to be crass about it, but it almost feels like, like biographic has this opportunity to just, swoop in and, kind of quickly tell this story that. That a photographer, like you said, likely has been working on for years.
[00:26:58] Steven: And, you know, and [00:27:00] I, I know the photographers, at least I think that photographers don't don't view it that way. I think we treat you know, our contributors well but, but it really is just this amazing advantage that we have that there. I mean, just, I just feel so fortunate that there are people out there in the world who are willing to put so much time and effort and skill into capturing every aspect of you know, a really complex conservation story.
[00:27:33] Steven: and as you know, because you've, you've worked on a couple of these either as photo editor or, or even writer We, typically begin with the photographer as a primary source or as, as an initial source for the, the reporting of the, of the story. So the, the reporter tries to learn everything they can from that photographer about the experiences that they they have [00:28:00] had.
[00:28:00] Steven: And it's a different sort of reporting and maybe a different sort of formula for, for creating stories. But I think it's been really, really successful for biographic and, and really great for our readers to, be exposed to these places and animals and people who are doing amazing work all over the world.
[00:28:22] Steven: I think in terms of, stories that stand out to me, and I don't know that this is exactly answering your, question about, the embarrassment of riches or, you know, how, how on earth do you choose when you have a couple hundred just, astounding images choose from? I mean, just generally.
[00:28:41] Steven: And I think we, I, I say this, you know, in, in many different contexts, but it's like, it always comes back to the story and trying to tell the story as well as possible. So, we want the most impactful images, but we also want an [00:29:00] image that truly illustrates. something that, that is described in the story that that might be a little bit hard to visualize.
[00:29:07] Steven: so a lot of times that kind of that initial cut is thinking about like, what will help to illustrate this process or this particular passage. And, you know, sometimes it's that literal. And sometimes it is, it really is just, a little bit more of of feeling that we're trying to capture or a scene setting that we're trying to create.
[00:29:29] Steven: but in terms of stories that have really stood out to me that, you know, conservation stories that have been immersive and really beautifully shot and, that have resonated with me. I loved the, the surprising story. I loved the stories that just sort of turn our typical perceptions of conservation kind of on their head a little bit.
[00:29:55] Steven: And there's one that I that comes to mind a [00:30:00] lot. And a lot of these ended up being sort of ecosystem restoration stories or, or ecosystem conservation stories that don't have necessarily a charismatic species at their center. but a story that we did from Scotland about an effort to, to restore peat bogs because of their incredible ecological importance, but also because they have an incredible capacity for carbon sequestration.
[00:30:31] Steven: And. Basically it involves a lot of destruction of forests, which really seems countered to our typical environmental mindset, but the forest exists unnaturally. They were, they were planted as, basically tree farms and they don't do as good a job of, sequestering carbon as the peat bogs do.
[00:30:53] Steven: And so the, the government and a lot of amazing volunteers and scientists are going in and [00:31:00] they're, and they're destroying these, tree farms to re flood and, and restore peat bogs. And I just, I think that type of story that shows both a surprising idea and, A lot of inspiration and action.
[00:31:16] Steven: Because clearly, I mean, I'd say like that's ecosystem restoration on a huge, huge scale and like, how do you even approach something like that? And I, and I loved being able to tell that story in a, in a way that that was really visually beautiful as well with, with photographs and video by, Peter, Cairn.
[00:31:39] Jaymi: Yeah. I feel like biographic is just rich with examples of these more complex stories, because there is so much space in an online publication to be able to do that. There isn't page restrictions or, word count restrictions or anything like that instead, you have the opportunity to really deeply [00:32:00] immerse readers in these visual stories.
[00:32:03] Jaymi: Now, I want to pepper you with a few questions that are really common questions that pop up from photographers who want to pitch stories. And one of them ties right back in to what you were mentioning earlier about how often the photographer who pitches the story in the first place becomes a source for information for the writing inside of the story.
[00:32:24] Jaymi: So what comes first, the photographer or the writer, and do the photographers have to write the articles that they pitch for you.
[00:32:34] Steven: That's a great question. we have a few different sort of recipes for. I would say both are our feature stories and our photo essays, because occasionally a story that might be pitched by a photographer as a photo story, and you might initially think would be a photo essay.
[00:32:54] Steven: it may become a feature but our recipe for stories [00:33:00] you know, in the process has kind of takes a few different paths. Often it is a writer reporter pitching us a feature story once that story is at least developed enough for the recording to begin, we start thinking about how we might illustrate that story, and whether photography might already exist, that we could license or whether we went to commission photography for that story and have a photographer follow along Or follow behind the reporter after the fact when they, their reporting is complete. but we also have run many, many stories that have begun as pitches from photographers. and those usually begin as a set of images and a brief description of what the story is in that person's view.
[00:33:54] Steven: and we make an assessment based on the, on the photographs and what we [00:34:00] think the story potential is to, to move forward with it or not. Usually there's a, correspondence back and forth with the photographer about that, story.
[00:34:12] Steven: Often we want to see more imagery frequently. We want a little more information about the story so that we can assess the story potential. I would say it's common for photographers. It's actually even common for writers, to be honest. I would, maybe it's slightly more common for photographers because they're not as versed in the kind of difference between topic and story.
[00:34:41] Steven: It is very common to receive a pitch that is a topic. There's this thing. That's happening. It, you know, in, in this place or where there's this place and it's really amazing kind of, kind of thing. And it, and it doesn't end up being a whole lot more than that. That's, that's [00:35:00] being a little superficial about it.
[00:35:02] Steven: Usually it's in more depth than that, but often the story itself, any sort of narrative, any potential characters is not as well fleshed out. And I, I get that people don't either don't know that that's something that we require or don't have time to do that recording, but that's something that we can do.
[00:35:26] Steven: And so often we will spend some time internally, just our, our editorial team, figuring out whether a. A photo story that has been pitched to us seems like it has enough potential to at least be a photo essay. And I will say, and I'm sure your perspective too, having worked with a number of publications our photo essays are different.
[00:35:50] Steven: are bar is higher I dunno why we set the bar where we did, but, but our photo essays, I think generally are somewhere in between a [00:36:00] feature and a, and the typical photo essay. There, they ended up being reported usually remotely, but sometimes even in the field by the writer.
[00:36:12] Steven: But , they're a deeper dive , than a standard photo essay. And usually they're at least 1500 words. They might be as long as 3000 words. So they're basically a very photo rich feature. And that's something that we, again, I think we sort of stumbled into, maybe we painted ourselves and ourselves into a corner a little bit by pursuing photo essays the way we have.
[00:36:39] Steven: but I, I think our readers really appreciate those stories and, and don't notice they don't even recognize that there's a difference between our features in our photo essays. And I think that's a good thing. I think, because the writing and reporting of our photo essays ends up catching up with the photos in terms [00:37:00] of taking the reader to that place.
[00:37:04] Steven: that's what we're always trying to achieve. you know, I was a little bit flippant about I don't know why we did that. That is why we did that. Our goal with our longer pieces, whether they're features or photo essays is to transport readers to those places.
[00:37:20] Steven: And I feel like we do that by, by reporting our, photo essays too. And we have this wonderful added benefit of the photographer who often has spent years pursuing that story, who can be our initial source and back to your original question. sometimes the photographer ends up being writer as well.
[00:37:44] Steven: you know, it depends on their experience level and whether they've written longer, Pieces in the past their level of access and whether they can continue to do that, any sort of conflict of interest that they might have, if they've been sort of [00:38:00] embedded with with a conservation organization, they might not be able to write the story.
[00:38:05] Steven: But that's my long answer to your, brief. Yeah.
[00:38:08] Jaymi: I love it. I, I honestly think long answers are better because all kinds of good information comes out in long answers. And one of the things that you mentioned, which is really important and something that I talk about a lot, I work with my students in conservation photography, 1 0 1, a lot on this is the difference between a topic and a story.
[00:38:28] Jaymi: And one of the big reasons why stories or pitches I should say get tossed is because it's pitching a topic without anything, really bringing it into a story level. And a story is something that has characters, a narrative arc. It has. Like reasons why we care about what's going on. It has activity and all these other things for biographic.
[00:38:52] Jaymi: You mentioned that you're, you're willing to float pitches that are topic. If you can find that story inside of it, what do you look [00:39:00] for inside of stories, especially as someone who's been a writer for a long time, you love writing the process of writing. What do you look for in stories that make it feel like, yes, this is a beautiful fit for our publication and this has all the elements that I would want to see in a story.
[00:39:21] Steven: That's a great question. and I think it actually applies to our, spotlights as well, which as you mentioned are just a, a single really striking photograph And a science essay that explains some of what we're seeing and maybe digs a little bit deeper, but it's just a, just an essay.
[00:39:41] Steven: it's a surprise factor. it's a wow factor, which I, I hate to even use that phrase. but I, you know, I want to be, surprised and moved by an image or a set of images to begin with. And so, there's no doubt that we will work really [00:40:00] hard to find the story, even if what is pitched, what is written is just a topic.
[00:40:06] Steven: If the images are stunning and surprising, something we haven't seen before, something that makes us ask what is that, or what is happening here? We will work really, really hard to find, to find a story there sometimes not successfully, but, but often we can find that story. And I think, the access that photographers work so hard to gain and again, the amount of time that they put into these stories that they'll, they will often in those initial conversations often be able to give us enough information that like, oh, there's, there's a story.
[00:40:48] Steven: And so what we mean by that, you know, that I'm sure you've, you've covered it in depth in your, with your students. we as editors, we as readers [00:41:00] whatever we want to know where you're going to take us who we're going to meet, what is, what motivates those people, why they're working so hard at something that we didn't even know about yesterday?
[00:41:15] Steven: . We want to know why we should care and then the final piece of it. I think you captured all of that, but the, the, the only thing that I would add to that is is why now, why do we want to tell this story now? And that comes up with feature stories, even that are like a true story that is pitched.
[00:41:39] Steven: It's the timing and just figuring out when is the right time to tell a story. So, so thinking about a story in terms of what just happened, what is about to happen? finding that you know, it's not, it's not news, but it's the hook that, that we need to [00:42:00] to say yes now, now is the time to report that story. cause we always want action. We want, we want to response to something or we want the lead up to something like the buildup to this is going to be big.
[00:42:14] Steven: It's coming soon. And, and we're telling that story and you know, here's, here's all the work that led up to that. Or here's the response. That thing or, you know, often it's it's. I mean, there was a really great story that we, we ended up doing as a, as a short film, which was about a disease in Western Africa called schistosomiasis and these Stanford researchers had done this amazing work and had discovered like the link between the damning to create fresh water, which seems like a good thing, which eliminated the migratory path of this freshwater prawn.
[00:42:55] Steven: So it basically eliminated the prawns from this river, the [00:43:00] prawns feed on a snake, a species of snail, or maybe multiple species of snails that Harbor. This disease. I think it's a, spsorozoen you can't remember for sure, but microorganism that causes schistosomiasis, they had done this small scale experiment, and we knew that they had plans to try to figure out how to scale up a re-introduction experiment that they had done by, by putting prawns back in and seeing that, that had a direct impact on, on disease in the, in the region where they did it or the, the village where they did it.
[00:43:38] Steven: And they, they were going to beat trying to scale up, like, how, how do you, how do you expand this successful experiment? We wanted to tell that story. So it seemed like a really good opportunity, like just right on the cusp of. how do you, expand this, this thing? Yeah, I, I love it.
[00:43:58] Steven: It's actually, I I've mentioned a [00:44:00] couple of times that we, we don't do news. But we do actively try to follow the news and try to try to figure out, Hey, this thing that was reported a couple of years ago and that people may have heard about, that's probably a good thing actually, that they know about it, but we're doing the follow-up on what, what happened after that?
[00:44:23] Steven: I love those types of stories. Like how, how was that working out? You know, this thing that, that made the New York times and people read about and have not heard anything about ever since we want to tell those types of stories and they're really in depth,
[00:44:40] Jaymi: Yeah. I mean, that's really also at the heart of conservation too, is it's not about something splashy that happens once.
[00:44:46] Jaymi: It's about the long haul. And is it going well? Is it not, what's been adjusted. How are people reacting? There's so much there? Well, I know that, as a editor in chief, you get a lot of questions about [00:45:00] how do I pitch and what do you look for in a pitch and what do you look for in stories? But one of the things that I always try and remind folks is editors are people.
[00:45:11] Jaymi: And you mentioned earlier that this is a dream job, but that it's also quite difficult work. So what is it like to be you? What is a day in the life? And I know that you kind of have special circumstances now because you're juggling a couple positions at the same time as editor in chief, but what is being an editor in chief of a publication like.
[00:45:34] Steven: It's hard to, it's hard to answer that question in, in depth without I don't know, using cliches, like, you know, whack-a-mole or, or whatever, often it feels a little bit that way where it's just, it's kind of too much at any one time. I mean, I, I would say it is still a dream job.
[00:45:58] Steven: And I [00:46:00] certainly don't feel sorry for myself at all, in the sense that I have the opportunity to start a magazine that is My very favorite topics in the world. I mean, nature in general, natural history in general including evolution and ecology and, and all of that. Plus that at least aims to have an impact and, and to share stories about amazing work that people are doing to, conserve, preserve, protect those places and those species but also you know, re regenerate them where they've, where they've been lost.
[00:46:41] Steven: So I love having that opportunity. I would say a little bit too much of the day to day ends up being administrative but the necessary part of the job is communication and being communicative and responsive to [00:47:00] contributors. And I, wish I did better at that than I do.
[00:47:04] Steven: Because that is one of the most important parts of the job I would say is just, just making sure you're, treating people well and, and being responsive to them and understanding where they're coming from, making sure you're paying them well, or as well as possible. Making sure.
[00:47:23] Steven: Yeah, that's there taken care of and, and are happy. And I think the hardest part of the job for me is, is when I don't have time to do that, when there's just, there are too many, I'm pulled in too many different directions, and I can't, be as responsive as they need to be, because I know that our contributors are, are the core of what we do.
[00:47:45] Steven: We couldn't possibly do even a quarter of, of what we do without them. And so yeah, it's just being respectful of everyone's time and, and to treat them well. The [00:48:00] editing work, both the photo editing work and being involved in that is, is the part I love the most. I love, being directly involved with the words and making, making a piece better, hopefully.
[00:48:14] Steven: it's actually funny because the whole time I was growing up and even early in college, I, I think like a lot of people, maybe, maybe like a lot of other loners, like I, tend to be a little bit I hated group projects. I would grown every time a group project would be a find and yet.
[00:48:35] Steven: The work that I do now is made so much better by working as a team on something I can do far more impactful work by working with really talented people. so yeah, you have to just sort of, grab onto that with open arms and treat the people you're working with.
[00:48:57] Steven: Well, and it's really fun to be involved [00:49:00] in all aspects of the work. I don't love the administrative stuff, but it's the necessary part of, keeping the the business running. But I loved the creative -work. I loved the editorial work. I wish I had more time for it.
[00:49:15] Steven: I really wish I had more time to write myself because you know, that that's one of the first things to go as you're trying to keep the magazine running. It's a little hard to write your own, stories, but I, I aspire to do that over the next you know,
[00:49:33] Jaymi: Awesome. Yeah, I have to say that.
[00:49:35] Jaymi: One of the funny things about photo editing for you is I'll get to a certain point and I actually have to like stop myself from emailing you and be like, okay, well, this is where my head's at. And then I'm thinking about this. And then I'm thinking about moving this image over here, but including this.
[00:49:51] Jaymi: And what do you think about that? And the idea of going back and forth with someone else is a lot of fun. So I know [00:50:00] that I'll try and wait until I'm at more of the final stages before sending you like a video and walking you through where I'm at and wanting your feedback, or if I get stuck or something.
[00:50:09] Jaymi: But that collaborative thing is a pretty big deal because especially when you're working on something creative, you have other people's creative perspectives all coming in to, to say, oh yeah, I didn't see it quite like that before. Oh, what happens if we swap this out? Or what happens if we move this over here and then suddenly.
[00:50:29] Jaymi: The piece comes to life. And so, yeah, that collaborative side of things is huge. And I was laughing while you were talking about, you know, hating group projects because I hated group projects in school too. And it was just like, no, I want to go and do what I want to do my way and be the only person who's responsible for something.
[00:50:48] Jaymi: And now I really love hearing what other creative minds think about stuff inside of this? Well, I think ultimately biographic is such a joy to look [00:51:00] through whether it's the longer feature stories, whether it's the photo essays, whether it's the spotlight images, because you have stayed along that mission of.
[00:51:11] Jaymi: We want to show the world in a surprising, inspiring hope filled way that keeps people motivated to continue on with conservation. And I know that at least among many, many conservation photographers, it ranks way up there as a publication that you hope to be in. Because especially when you're starting out, it's kind of like way, way up there as a publication that you hope to be in because it holds all of that.
[00:51:38] Jaymi: It's not just simply a publication where you're like, yeah, I want my images in there and then move on. It's like, I want my images in there because it means something to people to readers. And for those of us who really want to ensure that what we do with our work, what we do with our photos, our visual stories, our film clips are films themselves.
[00:51:58] Jaymi: Any of the work that we put into this, [00:52:00] we want it to have actual impact. And, and biographic is a place that celebrates. And prioritizes it. And so it's always, it's a joy to scroll through all of the stories that are on there that have happened over the years since, since the very beginning. And like I said, I remember biographic hitting the scene and just being like, whoa, this is a cool way to look through images for a story.
[00:52:24] Jaymi: So thank you for what you've built from the ground up.
[00:52:27] Steven: Well, I really appreciate that. I mean it is rewarding to know that that the effort we've put into biographic has been seen in that way. I it's, it's hard to get. Out of the weeds sometimes.
[00:52:46] Steven: And I think that's, that's why I appreciate having conversations like this, because it does allow me to step back and think about why we do what we do and and hopefully why it matters. [00:53:00] It's something that I've just never wanted to let go of and it, it's an interesting place to be as an editor, as a journalist and head of uh, an independent publication.
[00:53:12] Steven: we are very mindful of, that independence and journalistic integrity we don't want to do advocacy. And so I mentioned a few minutes ago about, you know, occasionally we'll, We'll get a hint of like some potential conflict of interest and we'll, you know, like, like let's just avoid that and tell the story in a, in a way that you know, that doesn't raise any concerns about that.
[00:53:39] Steven: But the reality is as independent as we are, as journalistic as we are, as much as we try to just be very, very objective about the subject matter for a particular story, we are insanely passionate about the natural world and the importance of it and the importance of [00:54:00] protecting it and restoring it.
[00:54:01] Steven: I mean, I think it's an interesting place for, You know, magazine editors and journalists to be in like people, people who are in, who are on this beat. Because I clearly have a bias. I have a very strong bias in favor of the natural world because it's like, well, what's our alternative.
[00:54:21] Steven: That's a pretty, pretty, pretty terrible alternative. so yeah, I'm glad I think we have managed to walk that line by, you know, being objective about the stories we report while also being champions of, the natural world and the people who are, doing their, their best to protect it.
[00:54:43] Steven: So I want to keep doing that. That's that's what inspires me. That's what gets me up every day. And yeah, I do love it. Wonderful.
[00:54:54] Jaymi: Well, thank you again for the platform that you provide to people [00:55:00] like me and conservation photographers who want to be able to get stories out into the world and in front of audiences who work really hard to document those stories.
[00:55:09] Jaymi: Thank you so much for providing a place where those stories can live and be celebrated and be enjoyed. And I'm going to make sure to link to a biographic in the show notes. So anyone who wants to go check that out in the show notes can see that. And is there anywhere that you want to direct listeners to go look or follow or support?
[00:55:31] Steven: I absolutely encourage everyone to follow our social channels. That's where we promote or our latest and greatest. And even, even not necessarily our, our latest, but stories you may have missed.
[00:55:45] Steven: great.
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