By Calistus Bosaletswe 

Worldwide, millions of people have access to smartphones, which individuals use to capture moments and breaking news at their fingertips as events unfold in areas that photojournalists would hardly access.

With mobile phones, people have been able to document events where such photographs end up competing for space with pictures that photojournalists captured. 

Compounded by a myriad of challenges, photojournalists in Botswana have remained resolute as they adopt innovative approaches to remain relevant in the ever-evolving media industry.

Photojournalists concur that the photojournalism market is one of the most expensive businesses to do with digital technology now pitting photojournalists against amateur photographers. 

At the height of digital disruption, some photojournalists took a bold move to diversify their trade through photography subscription models, documentaries and publishing with international media houses.  

Monirul Bhuiyan who has honed his photography skills for more than a decade in a newsroom currently runs a photography agency dubbed Press Photo, which is one of the leading agencies providing photography to local publications through a subscription model. 

His clients comprise mostly private media houses that access photographs through a subscription model where newspapers pay monthly subscriptions to access a wide variety of photographs online.

“The concept of a photography agency was born out of the idea to provide photographs to a wide variety of publications. There was no one doing it in the private media except the Botswana Press Agency (BOPA) which exclusively provides pictures for state-owned media,” said Bhuiyan. 

Bhuiyan, who established the photography subscription model in 2009, noted that the business had its ups and downs in its infancy. 

He was convinced to set up the business after he left his daily job with a local publication, though he was alive to the fact that the media industry was not big enough to sustain the business model.

Bhuiyan felt that it was important to set up the business which was critical in providing media houses with a wide pool of photographs on different beats. 

Media houses are provided with a password to access a wide pool of photographs at a monthly fee after subscribing to Photo Press. 

Bhuiyan said that initially, newspapers couldn’t come on board since they were not privy to the business model. 

He said that some publications were used to downloading pictures on the internet and he took time to convince media houses, especially newspapers to pay for monthly subscriptions. 

Bhuiyan indicated that not all newspapers have subscribed to the photo agency and he has come to realise that he is more driven by passion than making profits. 

Bhuiyan, who has worked in a newsroom, indicated that currently the media is going through a rough patch given dwindling revenues as a result of the Google and Meta duopoly. 

A costly exercise

He said that only a few media houses have come on board and sometimes they even struggle to pay for monthly subscriptions. 

“We have been archiving photographs along with captions about Botswana for a long time. It is very difficult to value intellectual property but I am convinced that the 68,000 pictures on our site keep on gaining value,” added Bhuiyan. 

He believes that the archive that chronicles the past and current events can also be used by researchers who are interested in knowing more about Botswana.

“They will be able to do research and tell a story as to what was happening in the country at any given time if they have access to our platform,” said Bhuiyan.

He indicated that the photo agency was mainly targeting local publications as opposed to international publications since most of the pictures were taken locally. 

Bhuiyan further indicated that running a photography subscription model does not come cheap. 

“We know that many people invest in projects that make money but our focus is to create value for content even when newspapers are not coming onboard,” he said. 

Bhuiyan has not given up on the business model which he even self-funds to attend international events. 

Bhuiyan has covered international events such as World Athletic Champions and other international events where he had to dig deep in his pockets to pay for expenses. 

“We haven’t been able to penetrate the international market since most of the content is generated for local media houses. Currently, we don’t have any international clients but we do cover international events and pictures we capture always have a Botswana angle,“ he added. 

 “We are planning to expand our service to the region in future,“ he said. 

 Bhuiyan indicated that they do provide clients in the corporate sector with videos and photographs when clients request such services, though Photo Press‘s business model is to provide photography to media houses. 

He said that Press Photo also provides services to corporate companies to raise the needed revenue to keep the business running.

Bhuiyan is of the view that the media industry needs to be diverse and innovative as the rise of technology has made it even more difficult for photographers who compete in the same space with novice photographers. 

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Making documentaries

Cosign267 director, Koone Boikaego who worked in the newsroom as a photojournalist has shifted to documentaries and producing content for screen and online platforms. 

Boikaego started in a newsroom before venturing into a new business. He went on to further his studies with AFDA – a private higher education institution that offers courses in film, television, performance, business innovation and technology, radio and podcasting, and creative writing.

His background in a newsroom along with a filming course helped him to offer cutting-edge documentaries, online content, and screenplays for local television and regional television.

“Documentaries, content for screen and online is more of a storytelling and the background in photojournalism helped me a lot though I do still need help from other people who have a background in filming,” added Boikaego.

Boikaego is optimistic about the future of his business which is far better than working in the newsroom in monetary terms. 

“My current investment now is that I get to enjoy, be creative, and also have an opportunity to learn every day. I have been working on three documentaries that are yet to be released for the past three years now,” added Boikaego. 

He indicated that the challenge with the content that he is offering now is that content production needs thorough research which usually takes time to come up with a finished product.

Boikaego said that the challenge with documentaries and screenplay is that there are no calls inviting content producers to submit proposals like in neighboring  South Africa. 

He said that some of the documentaries will be premiered on his YouTube channels.

“I am yet to launch a YouTube channel that has already reached more than one million subscribers. I am not yet ready to reveal the name of the YouTube channel which will be launched soon, but I do have another YouTube channel dubbed Cosign267 which has more than 540 subscribers where I mostly upload drag race video content,” he said. 

He remains optimistic that Botswana will become part of the YouTube Partnership Program (YPP) where content producers can monetise their content.

“In this line of work you don’t give up and we are hopeful that many content producers in the future will be able to monetise their content through YouTube,” added Boikaego. 

He further noted that so far he has done work for Zambezi Magic, a 24-hour African general entertainment channel created by Multichoice for DStv, BET Africa, SA Tourism and a newly launched NOW TV. 

Tapping international audiences

A  freelance photojournalist, Tshekiso Tebalo is eyeing international media houses to tell his stories through photography. 

Tebalo is currently freelancing for New China News Agency, also known as Xinxhua News Agency, which is the official state news agency in China.

Tebalo was of the view that photojournalists stand a better chance to penetrate the international market but emphasised that one has to be versatile.  

He indicated that he has learned that one has to be diverse when eyeing contributions to international media houses.

He said that all along his strongest point was photography when he was working full-time but he has since moved with the times where he also contributed stories that accompany his photographs.

“I do photographs and stories, especially on some of the beats that are not complicated,” said Tshekiso.  

Tshekiso is optimistic that with much exposure in the global market, there is a chance that one can break into the international market.

He said that with the Xinhua News Agency one has to be ready to provide photographs and news stories instantly. 

Tshekiso has worked as a photojournalist for Botswana Guardian, The Midweek Sun and has also done freelance work for Agence France-Presse (AFP) and Press Photo.

Tshekiso, who also does corporate photography, has noted that there is stiff competition in corporate photography.

“It is tough in corporate photography since most of the clients have now resorted to live streaming events while there are many amateur photographers who have the right equipment and they are getting a share in corporate photography,” he said. 

Reporting supported by a micro-grant from Jamlab


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