Tag Archives: Journalism


A Portrait of Luo Changping

Transparency International Integrity Award: Luo Changping from Jonah Kessel on Vimeo.

This video portrait of Luo Changping, an anti-corruption fighting journalist in China was commissioned by Transparency International to be played at the 2013 awards ceremony in Berlin. Luo along with Angola based journalist Rafael Marques de Morais received the annual award.

I’ve really grown to love this form of video. In my opinion it is the video equivalent of a still portrait where the photographer takes control of the elements from lighting to where the subject is photographed. In the video world, we have room to create sequences that build an environment and an atmosphere around a subject’s voice.

However, if we were to put narration in, I believe the format changes dramatically to become something different.

Working on projects like this is meaningful to me because I supply the creative architecture to let the character speak. And this character should be commended by what he says. Fighting corruption in China is an uphill battle and very few are brave enough to even try.

Transparency International Integrity Awards recognise the courage and determination of the many individuals and organisations fighting corruption around the world.Winners are a source of inspiration to the anti-corruption movement because their actions echo a common message: that corruption can be challenged.

Working in an environment of media censorship, Chinese journalist Luo Changping summoned the courage to expose corruption via his personal blog.

When the respected financial magazine Luo works for was reluctant to print the name of a high-ranking official accused of illegal financial dealings, he bravely decided to publish the full allegations, including the official’s name, himself. His naming of the official, Liu Tienan, eventually led to a government investigation resulting in Liu’s dismissal from the party and removal from public office in 2013.

The road to accountability was not an easy one. After the investigation was announced by Chinese authorities, Luo’s internet account was deleted before he could release further information on the story. But were it not for Luo’s courage and tenacity, the official’s conduct would have continued unchallenged. Luo’s success was a rare victory in the struggle for transparency in China. His actions have demonstrated the important role for investigative journalism and social media in the fight against corruption.

The response from the Chinese government to Luo’s award is not a surprising one. Before the award was released the central Propaganda Department told Chinese media outlets (via China Digital Times):

“Regarding Transparency International’s intention to give Caijing Deputy Editor Luo Changping [this year’s] Integrity Award, the media must downplay the story. Do not report or comment on it. (November 2, 2013)”


Transparency International
Get involved – Integrity awards http://buff.ly/I6rqzn

NYT: China to Investigate Top Economic Policy Maker
CNN: How Chinese journalist Luo Changping took on a corrupt official
BBC News – How a Chinese journalist took on a top official
China Digital Times: Minitrue: Luo Changping May Win Integrity Award
SCMP: Luo Changping on the state of Chinese media | South China Morning Post

Robbing our subjects or helping our audience?

“In the end, we didn’t reach an agreement. They got violent and took me away from the villager’s home. They hit me in the head, slapped my face and pushed me down the stairs. Then they forced me into the car and kept hitting me … They Forced me to meet their leader. They took me there and pushed me out their car and I saw the office of their leader. I thought I would be safe, but it wasn’t true. I was pushed into the office and I saw him sitting behind the desk. He was just staring at me. Then the thugs poured hot tea on my face and body. He just started at me in silence.”

Getting quotes like these is very difficult in China, especially when it comes to land rights. It’s even more difficult to get people to say it on camera. If a subject says something like this to me, on camera, they are risking even more problems for themselves. But in the video above, you won’t actually hear the subject say this in Chinese; instead, you’ll hear a voice-over in English.

I often wonder who I am truly making videos for. Am I doing it for the subjects in the videos, to give them a voice? Is it for a cause that needs more awareness? Am I doing it for me?

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Land in China: Über Touchy

The New York Times released their second installment of Leaving the Land on Sunday.

Articles in this series look at “how China’s government-driven effort to push the population to towns and cities is reshaping a nation that for millenniums has been defined by its rural life.” There’s a ton of effort going into this ongoing project in China and New York, similar in size to last year’s iECONOMY series or the previous year’s Culture and Control series.

With this installment, the first of three videos I made for the series published. The title “China’s Consuming Billion” plays off of Tom Miller’s book “China’s Urban Billion: The Story Behind the Biggest Migration in Human History” and McKinsey Global Institute’s report “Preparing for China’s urban billion.” The video, filmed in Beijing, Shanghai and Shaanxi Province sheds light on a possible by-product of China’s urbanization plan: a consumer culture that could drive and sustain economy.

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Why We Blog

One of my least favorite things to read is an apology for not blogging more. This is not that.

But instead, some thoughts about why we, and specifically I, blog at all.

If it becomes boring feel free to click off onto recent work embedded throughout this post. Its probably more entertaining than my words.

On November 26, 2011, I wrote an entry on this blog titled “To Staff or Freelance, that is the question.” The blog post marked the end of a 1.5-year-long contract with China Daily, a shorter contract in Algeria and three years as a staff member at the Tahoe Daily Tribune. After the 5+ year stint as a staff member at newspapers, I wrote:

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Committed to Truth: Liu Jianfeng

In May of 2012 the Committee to Protect Journalists approached me, asking if I would be interested in making a short film about a Chinese journalist.

Last month, the piece published. It would be my umpteenth video looking at free speech and cencorship in China. Although it only took two days to film, there was about 10 months of planning involved. Thats mostly because, no one wanted to be featured.

I emailed many dozens of Chinese journalists for months and was having zero luck. They were interested in being featured until they found out the topic was human rights and free speech. As soon as they heard these words, most would immediately stop answering emails. Sadly, I think these people are better examples of what the average journalist in China. They are part of the system, and not willing to shake it … or in this case, come close to the shaker.

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Citizen Zhu: Dissident or Comrade?

Citizen Zhu from Jonah Kessel on Vimeo.

Since recently appointed President of China Xi Jinping has taken his place at the top of the communist party, China watchers have been swimming in content featuring the word “reform.”

Lately, this word has manifested itself in the topic of constitutionalism. Many intellectuals and liberal thinkers in China think that this might be the way forward. On the 30th anniversary of China’s constitution, Xi is reported as having said “The Constitution should be the legal weapon for people to defend their own rights.”

Some people are surprised at the fact that China even has a Constitution. What does a document like this mean in an authoritarian state? Following the cultural revolution when the document was created it guaranteed “full powers of representative legislature, the right to ownership of private property, and freedoms of speech, press and assembly.”

However, most people know that these things are far off in China. I’ve met countless people whose land has been taken, journalists whose speech has been suppressed and of course we all know what can happen if people assemble in this country.

This week I spent a day with a citizen journalist Zhu Reifeng. Zhu runs an anti-corruption web site called The People’s Supervision. The Wiki-Leaks style site has exposed corrupt politicians all around the country, many of whom have lost their jobs over Zhu’s reporting.

In my report I follow Zhu as he files for divorce and talks to other journalists. My video was created for a general audience, and is available at the New York Times or at my Vimeo account above. However, for China folks interested in free speech I wanted to share a few more bites/

The video briefly mentions police banging on Zhu’s door earlier this week. This visit was prompted by a sex tape Zhu released on line. This tape, was actually suppressed and held hidden by Bo Xilai’s cabinet for years. The party seems to have been ok with Zhu releasing this video, as it may help further to burry the reputation of the disgraced politician Bo Xilai even further. However, when Zhu said publicly he has six more sex tapes involving Chongqing officials, it didn’t take long until the police came to his door. Here is Zhu’s full description of the events that transpired that night:

A Dissident’s Rant: Extended Excerpts from Zhu Ruifeng Interview from Jonah Kessel on Vimeo.

Now, you might wonder why this is a big deal. Cops come to lots of doors, right?

Well, in China this could lead to a dark world. In 2009 Zhu refused a bribe from a corrupt politician who he exposed as having shady business dealings with mine owners. After leaving the, Zhu encountered uniformed and plane clothes policemen again. Here’s how he describes that situation:

So maybe Zhu would have been taken to the police station. Maybe he would have been taking to one of China’s infamous black jails. We don’t know, but I don’t blame him for not opening the door.

Over instant noodles in Zhu’s office we chatted. To me he appeared to be a warrior of free speech and anti-corruption. In my video, he sites China’s constitution and says he is following Xi Jinping’s words. However, during the 48 hour period it took for me to shoot, edit and publish this video Zhu made a swift reversal of some of his ideals he seemed so passionate about. Within this period, he decided he would not release the other videos.

So the question becomes, what happened? Who was involved in those other six video tapes? Times’ reporter Andrew Jacobs covers this in his report “Chinese Blogger Thrives as Muckraker.” However, on a more sad note we see yet another example of the facade of this document and the politicians’ claims to uphold it. If this document held any true weight, would Zhu have backed off? You can’t blame him though. I wouldn’t want to spend time in a black jail here either.

The Chinese political and media environment seem so connected at times that all it takes is just one toe over the ephemeral line of acceptance, to scare even the bravest of China’s journalists away.

The Southern Weekend Protest: In Photos

Xiao Qinshan, a freedom of speech advocate from Shenzhen screams from his wheelchair in front of the Nanfang Media Group compound in Guangzhou, China, Tuesday, January 8, 2013.

NOTE FROM JONAH: Going to take a break from the Madagascar series and come back to China for a moment.

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China followers will have seen the political uprising in Guangzhou this last week. I spent two days outside of the Nanfang Media Group shooting stills and video for the New York Times. I won’t spend time here saying anything, because other people have said it already, in a way far more intelligent than I can put in words.

I can however, offer a post-fact extended view into the scene. Here’s a larger edit from this week’s events down South. If you’re confused and looking for information on what went on and its significance, check out James Fallows’ blog that gives a quick rundown navigation of the scenario.

Here is the free speech protest, from my camera:

A group supporting the Communist Party of China confronts free speech activists. Fights amongst the politically polar idealogical groups continued on through Tuesday afternoon.

A freedom of speech advocate shows an anti-reformer his identification card saying “he stands behind his words.” Anti-reformers refused to share their identities at Tuesday’s protest outside the Nanfang Media Group compound in Guangzhou.

Censorship Incites Protests in China from Jonah Kessel on Vimeo.

Police hold back a demonstrator in Guangzhou, Tuesday.

Police hold back a demonstrator in Guangzhou, Tuesday.

Police hold back a free speech advocate in Guangzhou, Tuesday.

Free speech and anti reformers clash in front of the Nanfang Media Group compound Tuesday.

A free speech advocate wears a mask from the movie V for Vendetta. The activist said he ordered the mask recently after he saw the movie on Chinese state run television.

Police officers and state media film reporters and advocates.

Supporters of the Communist Party of China march outside of the Southern Weekend offices with pictures of Chairman Mao Zedong.

Supporters of the Communist Party of China march outside of the Southern Weekend offices with pictures of Chairman Mao Zedong.

Supporters of the Communist Party of China march outside of the Southern Weekend offices with pictures of Chairman Mao Zedong.

Free speech advocates wear masks outside of Southern Weekend Tuesday afternoon.

A man rips up a freedom of speech sign outside of Nanfang Media Group, Tuesday.

Free speech advocates and communist party supporters clash in front of the Nanfang Media Group compound, Tuesday.

A tres chic protestor, outside the newspaper.

A group supporting the Communist Party of China hangs demonstration signs outside of the Nanfang Media Group compound. Clashes between protectors continued into Wednesday afternoon, although rumors of a deal had broke from within the newspaper.

Free speech advocates and communist party supporters clash in front of the Nanfang Media Group compound, Wednesday.

A group supporting the Communist Party of China hangs demonstration signs outside of the Nanfang Media Group compound. Clashes between protectors continued into Wednesday afternoon, although rumors of a deal had broke from within the newspaper.

Police try to contain a free speech advocate outside of the Nanfang Media Group, Wednesday.

A group supporting the Communist Party of China hangs demonstration signs outside of the Nanfang Media Group compound. Clashes between protectors continued into Wednesday afternoon, although rumors of a deal had broke from within the newspaper.

A group supporting the Communist Party of China waves flags outside of the Nanfang Media Group compound. Clashes between protectors continued into Wednesday afternoon, although rumors of a deal had broke from within the newspaper.

Inside the Story

Inside the Story Cover

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I recently participated in a group project called Inside the Story. Multimedia storytellers from around the world were asked to give their two cents, on how to tell a good story, using only 200 words. The excerpts were put together into an e-book you can find here.

The project was put together by Adam Westbrook, a freelance multimedia producer, blogger & lecturer based in London. Adam calls the book “A masterclass in digital storytelling from the people who do it best.”

Given the list of contributors, I am honored to be included amongst so many excellent journalists and storytellers from around the world.

Home Page

The book and the associated web site also included some of my still photography, including the cover of the book (taken from the Friendship Highway in Tibet into Nepal), the home page image (taken on Tioman Island, Malaysia), as well as a couple images inside.

The book contains some really great thoughts and would be valuable to experienced and novice multimedia storytellers. Beyond being priced extremely reasonably ($5.00), ALL OF THE PROFITS of the book benefit Kiva.

Every penny made from selling this book will be donated to Kiva, the developing world entrepreneurship charity. Founded in 2005, Kiva works a bit like Kickstarter or Emphas.is, effectively crowdfunding loans to be given to people who want to start their own businesses in places like South America, Africa and Asia. As well as using microfinancing and crowdfunding in a unique way, Kiva is great because it empowers people to start their own businesses, and create their own wealth and security. No handouts or aid involved. Since 2005 more than 736,000 lenders, each lending around $25 each have given $295million in loans to 750,000 people in 61 different countries. Remarkably, 98.9% of lenders have got their investment back as well.

BUT — There is one kicker to this opportunity — the book is only on sale till May 24th. This means you only have a few days to grab a copy and support Kiva. From Adam:


  • A high quality, 45 page ebook, to download and keep.
  • Personal, unique advice on the craft of storytelling from a hand selected group of the best producers around the world.
  • Concise, practical advice, beautifully laid out.
  • A ‘storyteller’s library’ of book recommendations to take your skills even further.
  • Access to films produced by the contributors, so you can see high quality storytelling in action.
  • A warm feeling inside, knowing your money will help entrepreneurs in the developing world start businesses and improve their quality of life.


  • The advice in the book is invaluable, and not like anything you’ll find in the usual books about journalism, design, photography and film making. But we want it to be available to as many people as possible to raise the standards of storytelling.

    Learn more about Adam Westbrook here.

    Learn more about Inside the Story here.

    And grab a copy and help Kiva here.

    How to Control the Culture of 1.4 Billion People

    A Date with the Censors from Jonah Kessel on Vimeo.

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    Is it possible to control the culture of 1.4 billion individuals? The Chinese government is trying.

    If you’ve been following my work with the New York Times this year, you may have noticed a theme in some of the coverage: censorship. However, behind the censors a greater story is being told. I’m currently working on my fourth video in a series called “Culture and control.” The Times’ explains:

    “Articles in this series are exploring the struggle to shape the culture of authoritarian China.”

    This has been a very interesting series to be part of — on a cultural level and on a production level. Each article has posed new challenges in storytelling and as the collection builds I hope we have helped shed light on a complicated situation.

    There are two parts to this story. One might be looked at as external, while the other is more internal. The external part of the story is about China’s cultural exports. What art, culture and media do people outside the Middle Kingdom see and how do they reflect upon China via that cultural product? The other part is internal: How does the art created in China, shape China’s internal population’s culture? Or more bluntly: How is TV, literature, movies, art and other forms of communication working to shape modern Chinese society?

    In many ways, I might describe this complicated situation as a bit of a tug-a-war. On one hand, China wants its cultural products to be exported all over the world. On the other hand, they want to make sure the right products are exported. Therefore, they are trying to control culture from within China and hope that it will both influence its own population positively and be exported to the global stage. But if you ask most artists — controlled creativity is suffocating.

    In a speech last October in Beijing, President Hu Jintao said:

    “The overall strength of Chinese culture and its international influence is not commensurate with China’s international status … The international culture of the West is strong while we are weak.”

    Hu notes on the global stage China’s cultural industries are lagging behind its powerful economic and political influence. In response to this, there is actually significant funding going to the arts in China from the government. However, in trying to shape this culture the Communist Party is taking great measures to help steer artists and culturati into what they consider, a moral and ethical direction.

    Word Crimes from Jonah Kessel on Vimeo.

    Reporting on something like this is a bit complicated and thus far, the stories have focused on specific cultural industries examining what the government is doing in those specific areas as a means of control. In each area, we have found one person to help tell a greater story — a documentarian, a writer and a TV executive representing film, writing and television. In an earlier article in the series, Ian Johnson shows how the government is even shaping perception of history at its national museums.

    The stories collectively help create a bigger behind-the-wall picture that people in the west and in China might not see. A word taken out of a book, a materialistic tendency squashed from a TV show or even a movie being completely unreleased in China — the censors’ hands and eyes are all over the place beyond the widely publicized and infamous Great Firewall.

    Given the enormous population, a lot of people have asked me — Is it even possible to control China’s culture? Last year, in an essay China’s beloved blogger/race car driver Han Han wrote:

    “The restriction on cultural activities makes it impossible for China to influence literature and cinema on a global basis or for us culturati to raise our heads up proud.”

    And this is where the tug-a-war occurs. In the government’s view — culture needs to be of global significance and also controlled for substance for internal and external purposes. But from the point of view of the artists, restrictions on substance make it very hard to create something that, In Han Han’s words, artists can be proud of on a global basis.

    Filming China’s Dark Side 拍中国的黑暗 面 from Jonah Kessel on Vimeo.

    The influence of art and media on society can be of enormous magnitude. I believe the extreme measures the government is taking in China, demonstrate it is clearly possible to control and shape the culture of 1.4 billion people. Regardless of modern communication and a strong counter culture developing, the masses are still largely at the will of the censors.

    As China’s global influence grows, measurements like this will start to have a larger global effect and I believe keeping an eye on it as it develops is an important step to understanding China’s future.

    – These videos were all co-produced with Times’ reporter Edward Wong. They go with fantastic articles by Ed and Ian Johnson and photo essays from photographers Gilles Sabrie and Chi Yin Sim and portraits from Shiho Fukada. You can see the entire collection on a recently built landing page on the Times’ site here.

    Dissemination and the Art of Entrepreneurial Journalism

    NOTE FROM JONAH: The following blog post is a guest lecture I am giving to the International Multimedia Journalism MA in Beijing, Wednesday night. The course is based in Beijing, and is a collaboration between the Beijing Foreign Studies University and the University of Bolton in the UK. The course leader is Dr DJ Clark.

    DISCLAIMER 1: Dear Biel Calderon, Stephanie Thiedig, Mark Esplin, Joseph Djima, Dirk Claus, Jeff Kennel, Lui Chen, Tracey Shelton, Michela Orlandi, Yi Song, Lee Ryan Perkins, Chen Mai, DJ Clark, Sharon Lovell and BFSU social media and photography students,

    In talking about online promotion for photographers, there is no correct answer. There are certainly best practices, things to avoid and techniques to help, but the information that follows this note is simply my quasi-guerilla (social) warfare technique that I employ to promote me, my photography and my business. The online atmosphere for #togs is constantly changing and in many ways, to stay up to date with the blogosphere, microblogosphere and visual communities — would be a full time job. While we have other full time jobs already, doing every step below, every day, is simply not always possible … but we can sure try.

    DISCLAIMER 2: Yes, I am promoting myself, by talking about promotion.


    The first question we might ask before we get into how I go about promoting myself, might be — why should we promote ourselves?

    We are currently living in an over-saturated photographic world. Nothing says this better than the latest iPhone update. While the phone has improved a small bit, the big push from Apple this round was a photographic update. For $399 mobile phone users now have an 8MP camera and a video camera shooting 1080P at 30 fps. Apple’s attention to this detail (over some more practical things) is certainly a testament to the world’s current obsession with photography.

    Meatheads with an iPhone

    Given that the average meathead has at least 8 MP in their pocket, and thousand of talented graduates come out of J-school, photography school or multimedia programs like yourselves every year, it becomes increasingly important that we as professionals not only separate ourselves from the general amateur photo community, but also within the professional community.

    By promoting ourselves efficiently we gain two things. First and most importantly, we gain eyes on our work. Second and also most importantly, we gain income. While some will disagree, our work is heavily based on technology that is constantly changing and improving. To keep these toys in our hands, we need money. Increasing our revenues to keep up with technology is important (as is money to live comfortably while tackling this competitive world).

    While no one will put a knife to your throat saying “promote!!!” there is a great risk in not promoting because everyone else will be doing it. This has a semi-swing effect for photographers who don’t have web sites, have no Google klout or place in online social communities. At least from the public perception and online eye, you could become buried under those who do. For some this is very tough. I have plenty of friends who truly dislike social media and online promotion — but who are great photographers. You can chose not to play the game, but given the online environment for #togs, you are walking a slippery line.


    When I was going through J-school I was always told — if you are looking for money, you might want to try the business school across campus. Post univisity, in my first years as a staffer at newspapers I was paid the equivalent of peanuts by Swift Communications, a chain of newspapers in America’s west.

    While you probably won’t become a millionaire by being a photojournalist, for the entrepreneurial journalist there is a world of financial opportunity out there. To get a piece of this, you need to think about your images, as your business.

    Freelancers often think about themselves as independent contractors going from job to job. This is true. However, what you are really doing is creating a business. So whether you sell cupcakes, lemonade or photos — you should have a plan. Brand yourself as your business. Branding is essential to any business.

    The first step to this branding, is creating a web site. And the first step in creating a web site is creating a name for your web site. I see a lot of questionable decisions at this early stage of the game.

    Do you want to brand your name or some other abstract title? For example, you might have a portfolio site that has lots of breathtaking photos form Asia. You want a web site to show case this work and call it “asiaphoto.com.” Now, let’s say this site becomes popular. The average person will now know asiaphoto.com instead of your name (.com). I see this very often with nascent production companies and individuals who chose a name which makes them look like companies. In the much more likely scenario that the business doesn’t succeed, you’ve also wasted time branding a business that doesn’t exist anymore, while you as a person, photographer and business — will always exist.

    My first web site was called kesselimaging.com. This site branded “Kessel Imaging” which was actually just me. After a couple years I decided to pull the plug and stop wasting time promoting an ephemeral brand, and instead brand me (a real person … I think) and moved my branding efforts to jonahkessel.com.

    • For more on entrepreneurial journalism check out Steve Buttry’s post “Jonah Kessel and Carmen Sisson discuss entrepreneurship and photojournalism” here.



    The backbone to my online presence is my web site (not to be confused with my blog, photoblog, microblog, etc.). First, in no way does Facebook “cut it” as “your website”. Neither does Flickr, Picasa or some other photo sharing site.

    I meet photographers almost daily who don’t have personal Web sites. Many of these folks will have Flickr pages or Facebook pages — but don’t be confused, these become largely invisible to the public eye, expanded social networks and bots who will be your friends in getting visitors, clients and eyes on your work.

    While bots are increasingly indexing social media, by hosting your works on these sites, you end up promoting them, sometimes more than yourself. They gain traffic. They gain Google status. And perhaps worst off,they can gain the rights to your media. On an subconscious level or psychological level, hosting your content exclusively on a social media site such as Facebook or Flickr, can create an unprofessional association with your work.

    BEST PRACTICES FOR PHOTOGRAPHERS CORE WEB SITES: The top five concerns I have with my site, and also the top four problems I see with other photographers’ sites are: usability, compatibility, search-ability, share-ability and load times. Let’s quickly go through these elements:

    • USABILITY: On a basic level, your web site should be easy to use. In fact, it should be so easy to use — an idiot should be able to navigate. For the busy client who is checking dozens of photographers’ sites, fancy and hidden buttons can turn mean a click off or closed tab.
    • COMPATIBILITY: Your web site should function not only across all browsers but all platforms — and for all users. jonahkessel.com may look like a flash built site, but there’s more than meets the eye backstage. Underneath the flash site is a mirror HTML site for users who don’t have flash as well as for bots who are indexing content. There is also a site for mobile users, a site for tablet users and another site for disabled users.
    • SEARCH-ABILITY: Photographers who simply have one flash built site lose a tremendous amount of traffic because bots can’t truly search the content of the site. Every image on jonahkessel.com has: (1) file names specifically labeled for SEO, keywords specifically labeled for SEO, titles specifically labeled for SEO. While this information is not contained in the flash built site, it is contained in the HTML site. When bots cruise the Web they see this information, index it and then make it available for users and potential clients browsing. Then when they click the link, the images forward to the flash built site. If your content is not searchable or findable, its almost as good as it not being there.
    • SHARE-ABILITY: I’m assuming you are all children of the 21st century and understand the power of sharing. A viral video or a photo can take off putting millions of eyes on your work. Let’s hope that content links back to you — but in the meantime, let’s make sure there is a sharing button accessible ALL OF THE TIME. By not having these buttons easily accessible, or accessible at all, you are simply loosing out to potential traffic, eyes and income.
    • LOAD TIMES: Unlike print journalists, our media unfortunately requires some space. It is critical to keep file sizes on videos and photos down to the smallest point possible. A long load time can be the difference between a click off and view. You could have the best content in the world, but if it takes too long to see it — no one will.

    There are about a thousand choices for web sites. For the past three years I have been a client of Livebooks, a company who makes web sites for photographers. For the most part, I’ve been very satisifed. The company has lots of options including custom options. Might site is custom built off of my own functionality and front end visual design.

    jonahkessel.com backend

    The company allowed me to give them the blueprints of how everything should work and look, and then they build the back end. The back end (in screenshot above) has a graphic user interface that makes managing the web site extremely simply, easy and fast. When I update the GUI, it updates the site and all mirror sites (including mobile and tablet sites). While this isn’t free — I couldn’t imagine updating 6 web sites manually every time I make a small change. The money spent on the site surely is made up in productivity time later.

    In my continued efforts to brand myself as a business, the details of the site will also cross into the upcoming topics. Fontography, color schemes, link functionality and logos will be cross-branded across all of my web sites. Although these are small details and are largely ignored, the subconscious effect of branding continued out over multiple platforms turns you as an individual — into a brand.

    You can sell a brand. Selling yourself is much more difficult … or illegal (in most places).

    Jonah Kessel's Blogs


    After creating jonahkessel.com, my goal was to create a continued traffic stream to it. While there are a number of ways to do this, we can split it up to a couple key categories: the blogosphere, the microblogosphere and social media communities. By engaging in these three keys elements, you will bring direct traffic to your site, while creating a Google ranking that will bring clients to your doorstep.

    • BLOGOSPHERE: The site you are currently viewing is my blog, hosted by WordPress. This site, named “Nomadically Curious Visual Thoughts” (note visual branding/attention to myname.com over title in logo) is dedicated to long form blogging and details images I take from traveling, as well as commentary about work I do. The general topics are journalism, photography, technology, video, China and travel. In an active month I will update it eighth to ten times. In a inactive month (which probably means I’m too busy to even sleep) I will update it two or three times. Since I am always working or traveling — there is never a shortage of items to blog about.

      The WordPress community is often a more mature community and technically sound one, than some of its counterparts (i.e. Blogger, Tumblr, etc.). People who use WordPress generally know HTML (at least enough to update a blog) and in general, the professional blogosphere is found here.

      I also host a photo blog called “Good Light and Good Luck” hosted on Tumblr. The Tumblr environment is very very different to that of the WordPress community. In general demographics of users seem to be much younger. Narrowcasting seems to be much greater in the Tumblr environment as well. While in the WordPress arena we see blogs on China or technology for example, on Tumblr, topics are widdled down to a much more specific level. Some of my favorite examples of narrowcasting on Tumblr include Kim Jong-il Looking at Things, Lesbians Who Look Like Justin Beiber, Fuck Yeah Girls on Bikes and Awesome People Hanging out Together.

      I do believe a monkey could use Tumblr. Its extremely simply, extremely efficient and requires no knowledge of HTML. While I target a general audience with my WordPress, I am targeting a younger demographic with the Tumblr blog. However, my Tumblr account is linked directly to my Twitter account and Facebook account, and these are updated simultaneously to a Tumblr post.

      The photoblog I update (at least) every day. However, this process is automated. About once a month I will update the blog for the next 30 days. I program the system to release one picture a day that includes a large caption with some backstory about the photo. I initially started this blog as a simply traffic fishing device that required little effort; however, over time I have come to like the community and its ability to focus on very narrow subjects.

      My Google Analytic report for last year shows my WordPress blog as the eighth largest traffic generator toward my mane site, and Tumblr coming in at eleventh.

    • MICROBLOGOSPHERE: While my blogs rank eight and eleventh in traffic generators to my main site, microblogs are ranking much higher, coming in at third, only behind Google and direct traffic. When I talk about microblogging I am primarily talking about Twitter. I believe Twitter is the single greatest tool we have for promoting ourselves as photographers; however, without the assets listed above (site, blogs) it becomes a much different beast.

      Twitter is something that has become integrated not only into my work but my life. It is always on. While I have backed off a bit compared to where I was at about a year ago (in terms of time actually spent watching Twitter feeds), it is still an intrigal part of my life. It connects me people who see and view my work. It gives me the opportunity to let those people who do follow my work, do follow it as it develops.

      From posting cell phone photos during shoots, to talking about the process as it happens from shoot to edit, Twitter helps me create transparency in what I do. People ask me questions daily about photography, technology and the stories I am working on. As a journalist I believe transparency in our work creates exponential value to our content. When readers, viewers or users have a connection to both the content and journalist, this becomes a lot easier.

      Making Twitter an effective tool for promoting is not as simple as just placing a link to your content when it becomes available. In fact, per article you publish you might have a specific roll out plan just for Twitter in how to best promote your work. But first, you need an active community of followers and aggregators to help spread your links around. And this means actually being part of the community, helping to promote other journalists and photographers works and engaging in dialogue.

      If you have 100,000 followers, but you are not active with them — the tool will be much less powerful. However, 200 active followers can be a huge help in getting your work into their networks.

      Here’s a couple things I keep in mind when using Twitter to promote my work:

      • TIME ZONES: Your followers most likely follow many people, and probably exist in many time zones. Therefor, if you post something once at 9:00 am its probably unrealistic to think Sahid in Qatar, Jaques in France and Chen in China all see the link. This makes it necessary to post things for different audiences in different time zones. Now look at times during the day when people might most likely be online.

        Right before lunch, when desk employees are killing time before they can take off. Right after lunch, when people don’t want to do work cause they are tired and full. Maybe 45 minutes after people arrive at work and are finished checking their work emails and thinking about how long till lunch. 30 minutes before the end of the work day is another great time when the Twittesphere becomes very active.

        If you post during those times and based on different time zones, you’re sure to get a little more attention.

        However, if you post the exact same Tweet twice, or Tweet too often, you’re followers will likely be annoyed with you for clogging up streams with content they’ve already seen. There is a fine balance between tweeting often enough, but not too often to be annoying.

        To give your followers more than just your content its important to stagger tweets linking back to your content, with tweets leading elsewhere, or commentary on other people’s works. If I put out a big piece that I thought could really go viral, I would link out to it every four hours for a day, and in between link to other things. With an article that was not as important, I might do it twice in a day (once for the Eastern hemisphere and one for the West – usually separated by 12 hours exactly).

      • TIMED TWEETS: You may be thinking … well, that seems like a lot of work. And it is. However, you don’t need to be sitting next to a computer the entire day waiting for 4:30 to roll around in every time zone. Instead you can use tools to automate Twitter. For example, right now, I am talking to you; however, I have programmed Twitter to automatically send tweets out during this lecture every 10 minute pointed at one of your Web sites.

        Having a presence on Twitter during all time zones will create a bigger following in more places. So take advantage of technology and tweet while you are sleeping.

      • SEO: You only have 140 characters, and Google is watching, so make them count. Just like writing a good headline, writing a good Tweet will make be clip or pass over.
    • SOCIAL COMMUNITIES: Beyond Twitter and the microblogosphere, other online social communities are critical in creating traffic to your sites. Last year, Facebook ranked fourth (only behind direct traffic, Google and Twitter) in generating traffic to jonahkessel.com. In the last six months of this year, Vimeo ranked eight, with stumbleupon, YouTube, Google+ all also ranking in the top 20.

      Social communities can build your profile independently of your web sites as well. Today (November 23, 1:52pm), I had 2,300 views on Vimeo alone. This doesn’t count YouTube, Youku and Toudu where I also host videos.


    So far, we’ve discussed the basics of online promotion. This is the bare minimum. However, if you want to excel I believe with each article or project you produce you can have a promotion plan and weasel your content into more places. Let’s take a couple examples, going from simple to some more complicated methods.

    THE TEASER: If movies can have teasers, why can’t you? As cinematic journalism increases you’ll probably see more of this. I’m currently working on a project for Save the Children documenting disabled people around China. On December 1 a series of six videos will release on a new channel on Youku to promote the NGO and the channel. The videos are funded by the European Union as well as Save the Children.

    The client requested a teaser to help promote their screening as well as the upcoming online dissemination. This can be a great money maker because, hey, its easy. Most of the content will already be ready to go: edited, color graded, codec-ed, etc.

    THE REEL: In the past, it was normally just cinematographers, cameraman and movie people making reels. However, in the realm of cinematic journalism putting images with music can create a great self promotional tool. Having a reel ready, also opens up the doors to working outside of the traditional journalism fields. While I am largely video based now, in the past I would still make an annual reel made up of still images.

    Creating a reel can be effective and fun. However, there are many things to think about when creating one. See this post “The Science of the Reel” for more thoughts on journalists using a reel as a promotional tool.

    THE GUEST BLOG: Alright, so you have a blog, a photo blog, a microblog — now its time to guest blog. I guest blog on a number of different sites, one of my favorite being DSLR News Shooter. This community is mostly film makers and visual journalists, but plenty of audience members too. The video above, which was made mostly for the fun of it — has received over 5000 views, just on this site. For taking 20 minutes out of my day to write a blog post, I would say this is worth it.

    Guest blogging also opens up the door for community members of that blog, to find your blog, increasing your core audience. On all major articles I produce I try to write at least one guest blog talking about what went into the production or some type of backstory, on top of creating content for my own blog. Here’s a couple examples:


    PRODUCT REVIEWS: Reviewing products can benefit more than just a manufacturer. When reviewing gear, you can use your own work as an example of what can be done with the kit. By speaking out on your experience with gear and kit, you can help create dialogue for both users of technology and the creators.

    In this example, I combine a product review of Kessler Crane’s Pocket Dolly, with a promotion for my own work. Guest blog post here: KESSEL ON KESSLERCRANE – JONAH KESSEL REVIEWS THE KESSLERCRANE POCKETDOLLY V2.0

    PEOPLE HAVE QUESTIONS, YOU HAVE ANSWERS: People are curious. That’s a universal truth. One of my favorite new sites (which admittedly I had more time to use) is called Quora. Its a social media based Q&A site with an excellent community of experts on various subjects. As journalists we’re always (at least attempting to) answering questions. Often when I have a new story I think about what question it might be answering. For more on Quora and its potential see this post “Curious on Quora.”

    In the example above, I created a video on censorship. I searched Quota for questions relating to censorship and China and found a couple that it related to. For example, one user had asked “When will China’s web censorship stop and the government’s attitude change?” While my video didn’t exactly answer this question, I did have an unused quote that I added to the conversation. I then gave some links to help push viewers from this site to my content in other places.

    UTILIZING YOUR ASSETS: Often I see great content with short legs. This means, I see a great article but I don’t think the journalist (if its a freelancer) necessarily got all they could out of it. If you can promote your content efficiently, you will have the capability to make more money while getting more eyes on your content.

    This means one project can have many different lives. In the fall of 2011, journalist Kit Gillet and myself created a project called “The Fate of Old Beijing.” This was an interactive project funded by the Asia Society and included three videos, a digital tour and two photo essays. You can see the project in that form here. However, we wanted more eyes on the content.

    While we had an audience in the nonprofit sector, we then found a home for the video package in the editorial, or news sector. We sold the package to Global Post, who published all three videos in a series called Beijing’s vanishing act. You can see those videos here.

    After a nonprofit and online newspaper — we moved to television and sold the rights to the Archeology Channel, where the videos were shown in the summer of 2011. Their posting about the series here.

    Using our own contacts in the media, we started offering interviews and screenings of the films. This might seem like an obvious thing to do, but you will gain a greater audience by simply making yourself available to other journalists. Here’s some links of some of the places I interviewed, blogged or helped promote my material:

    Beyond online media, we had enough content on this one to flip it around into a print article. As DSLR shooters, you always have the option to shoot stills and video. I often grab a still shot before I shoot video, to examen the frame. This gives me still photographs of most subjects and places I go. When video is rolling, you are grabbing quotes. So the only thing left is to fill in the details of the story where the quotes leave off.

    The Fate of Old Beijing - print

    This video appeared as a print article in UK based Geographical magazine in November of 2011, nearly six months after its first publication at the Asia Society, again — bringing in more revenue while getting more eyes on our content.

    THE WIDE WIDE WORLD: You may have noticed a great variety of places mentioned above. Geographic variation can be another great asset to your content. When I publish an article, often times I think — “Ok, its published in China. Where’s next?” While publications like the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal won’t make this possible, other publications have looser rules surrounding the issue.

    Hong Kong - Underground Beijing

    In many instances this can be a great asset to you and publications. For example, it is unlikely a reader in India will read a newspaper in Hong Kong. Above, you can see an article titled “Tunnel Vision” which appear in South China Morning Post in May.

    Beijing - Underground City

    Three months later, a slighter shorter version appeared in That’s Beijing’s August edition. The article would again be printed in Caravan, an Indian magazine. And of course, a blog post. Looking at your content as dynamic assets will get more eyes on your content while at the same time raising your profile and your income.

    RE-EDIT/RE-SELL: Keeping control of the rights to your content is perhaps the most important thing you can do in repackaging and reselling. While NGO’s and the nonprofit sector don’t necessarily pay well, its usually pretty easy to control the rights to your content while helping out a good cause. Most NGOs are very happy in this scenario as it creates greater awareness of their cause. Here’s an example:

    I support a couple different NGO’s, one being Shanghai Roots & Shoots. In the fall of 2011 I helped create a series of twelve, two-minute videos detailing one of their projects called “The Million Tree Project.”

    The NGO paid for my expenses to travel to Inner Mongolia and film their volunteers planting trees in the desert. While there I grabbed more content that I knew would not be needed for their films, but might be useful for an additional program. In the end, I had enough content to create their videos as well as another long form piece here:

    I find the nonprofit and NGO sector to be a great resource in doing ethical work while gaining assets that would otherwise be expensive and hard to find. In my experience, its pretty rare to encounter newspapers and magazines that will pay freelancers expenses (lodging, flights, food, fixers, translators). However, NGOs can do this — and as long as you can keep yourself separated as a journalist from their agenda, you can put yourself in a great position to gather unique and sellable content.


    If the above plan sounds daunting, it is. On good days, I can get it all done. On days where hundred of emails are stacking up and the clock clicks away toward deadline, this can become tough. However, I have found the effect of my dissemination and promotional plan to be invaluable to both my career and content.

    Now … Any questions? Those of you in class, ask away, those of you not in Beijing, feel free to write in questions in the comment section below or email me.