There was a lot of traffic going towards Fort Myers Beach on the morning of November 3rd but among the joggers and commuters, Andrew West stood out among the rest.
His tall frame and white hair set him apart along with the “reporter” presence he gave off when approaching me. He shook my hand, introduced himself, and so began our day.
I had been communicating with West for a few weeks to shadow him for an assignment, but the experience was one that opened a lot of doors to really what goes on behind the scenes of a newspaper – especially for photojournalists.
Students often think that the life of a photojournalist like West is simple and fun. They envision a job with taking beautiful photos, editing them, and calling it a day – but it’s much more than that.
It’s full of hard work, long hours, and over 300 photos just to get that perfect shot. According to West, it also includes a lot of reporting and fact checking.
West is not only an expert at taking beautiful story-telling photos, but also finding amazing stories.
During our trip to the Mound House to photograph the grounds for the re-opening, West approached several people who were simply taking in the weather and not only included them in the story, but also set up possible features for later times.
“I may use her for this story, or for a hot-shot,” he commented after taking down information from a painter on the grounds. “Or maybe I’ll make a feature.”
This process is exactly how he discovered his current feature on a man living in Harlem Heights, Fort Myers.
“There was a shooting. We were walking around, and we found this guy sitting outside who said he saw it happen, so we investigated but obviously he had his own story to tell. Sometimes it’s just that easy. Sometimes you just have to walk around.”
As I followed West through the day, I realized why he held the title of photojournalist, and not photographer.
West assisted in interviewing several people and took pictures for the stories that he and a colleague Ben Brasch were working on before heading back to the office to edit and package his work.
For someone who has never seen the inside of a new station, it is mind-blowing. It is also interesting to see a professional at work, but he was careful not to sugar coat anything.
“If you want to get into this, focus on writing,” he suggested as he edited a photo. “Then get yourself out there and practice, practice, practice. This photography stuff will come later but you want to do all this stuff by yourself and writing comes first.”
He commented that the world was changing due to social media which allows anyone to become a photojournalist – which is why he urges students to excel.
“In today’s day and age, you have to do more than just a report or just a photograph things. You have to do everything.”
“You have to do a lot. So get the writing down, and video. Video is important. This isn’t just about getting a great shot, it’s also about you being a complete package and telling a story,” he says.
Getting hands-on experience at both sites as well as the News-Press is something students should shoot for. It provides great insight into what it is these journalist do, and the amount of work it takes.
“It’s not always like this. Some days its quiet, and other days its crazy and people are running everywhere, like Zombicon – And you have to be ready for that,” he says, “But today was good. You got a good day.”