Interview with Photojournalist Kathy Coatney
I’ve got a little something special for you today. An interview…
But first, a question. When you think photojournalist do you think a writer-photographer out in a war torn country? I do.
Prepare to look the career of photojournalist in a different light with this interview with Kathy Coatney.
Jean: You were a photojournalist for years. What drew you to this profession?
Kathy: You know it’s funny but I kind of fell into writing and was pushed into photography. When my youngest started kindergarten in the early 1990s I decided to go back to school and took a writing class. And then another on freelance writing and decided I liked it. At about that time I also plunged into writing my first novel so I decided to write a few magazine articles to help pay expenses until I sold my novels. So I started writing for parenting magazines, then moved on to fly fishing and finally in the late 1990s settled into agriculture which turned out to be a good fit. I spent the first ten years of my life living on a dairy, then when my father and grandfather sold the dairy on worked on my grandfather’s olive ranch all through high school. Later after my husband and I married we planted about 30 acres of table olives and continue to farm them today.
Jean: What are some of the biggest challenges and biggest rewards of being a photojournalist?
Kathy: When I started writing agriculture articles I sold about five to ten a year and very few photographs. Today I write about 60 articles a year and provide photos for each article. In fact, it’s rare I don’t provide the photos and most publications demand photos.
The biggest challenges are the deadlines. Every month I produce four to five articles and it seems like I just finish up and I’m under deadline again. The photography always stresses me mostly because I never feel like I know what I’m doing. I’ve pretty much self taught myself so sometimes it can be a guessing game. The rewards are when you get that spectacular photo you never anticipated. And writing well you get that perfect quote and agriculture is a small community so my name is fairly well known so I get a lot of input from farmers that is almost exclusively positive. That’s always a day maker to get positive feedback.
Jean: Many writers look to using magazine writing as a way to help build their platform (myself included). What tips would you share with writers who are working to get into this market?
Kathy: Don’t forget the trade publications. They may not pay as much, but in the freelance world a steady stream of articles is better in my opinion. Always, always be professional. Send clean copy, no typos, no spelling errors. Send in your piece before deadline. Read the publications you want to submit to. Look for the style of writing, types of subjects they cover and find out what they want, i.e., query letter. Don’t hesitate to write a couple of articles for free in the beginning just to get some publishing credits. Provide high quality digital (I’m making the assumption everyone is doing digital today, but a few may not) photos. Photos sell the articles in most magazines.
Jean: What is your favorite memory from your years as a photojournalist?
Kathy: Probably my most memorable is right after I got my first digital SLR camera and running up and down an almond orchard taking pictures of an almond shaking off the almond. I remember being drenched in sweat (they harvest in August and temperatures can be anywhere from 90-110 degrees), the air heavy with dust and thinking is this really what I thought freelance writing was about?
Jean: You have a picture book out called “Four Quarts Make a Gallon.”How have your past experiences drawn you to create a picture book? What inspired you to write this book?
Kathy: Four Quarts Makes a Gallon is an extension of my freelance work. Last January a local vet I work with frequently contacted me about a dairy farmer who had a four-year-old Holstein cow who had given birth to quadruplets the month before, all healthy, all heifers, unassisted. This only happens once in every 172 millions births. I immediately had three different assignments for this article and thought there’s got to be somewhere else I can sell it. A friend of mine suggested that I should write a children’s book about it. I immediately sat down and the draft just flew together. I discovered writing the book was the easy part. Getting the photos together and the whole process of self-publishing has been a long journey. From finding someone to do the cover, the copy editing and last the formatting which has been the most time consuming. But I see the light at the end of the tunnel and I’m hopeful once I get the process down the next books will be much easier.
Jean: What was the biggest challenge with writing and producing a picture book?
Kathy: I would say the formatting and balancing the photographs in particular has been the biggest challenge. I’ve had to learn to edit photos. I know that sounds strange since I do that all the time right? Actually, no. The magazines I work for do all the editing. I just sort the photos and choose the best and send them to them.
Jean: What surprised you the most about writing a picture book?
Kathy: The biggest surprise was how much I enjoyed it. I love learning more about the farmer I profile in the book and the unique things about them. Farmer John, for instance, processed and sold his own milk in a drive-in milk store. I didn’t know there was such a thing but learned there are still some in the Midwest. In the next book, Beekeeper Pat owned a bike store in Santa Cruz and a guy came in and asked if he’d trade a bike for a bee colony and the next thing he knew he was spending more time with the bees than the bikes. These are the kinds of things I don’t ask or include in the articles I write.
Thank you for being on the blog, Kathy and sharing your tips and stories. Good luck with your book. Quadruplets is amazing!
Kathy Coatney has worked as a freelance photojournalist for 15 years, starting in parenting magazines, then fly fishing and finally specializing in agriculture. Her latest project is the Farmer Guy/Gal series of children’s picture books with an agriculture theme.
Reposted from: jeanoram.com/blog/2012/06/2