USA TODAY’s Hubbard reveals visual knowledge

Garrett Hubbard, visual journalist for USA TODAY, speaks during the Town & Gown lecture series Feb. 27 in Providence Hall. | Photo by Jacob Moore

By Margaret Brinson, Managing Editor

Visual journalism, like a multitude of other job markets in America, is ever-shrinking and increasingly competitive. Garrett Hubbard may be the best man in the business — as evidenced by a slew of recently announced awards by the White House News Photographers Association — but his unassuming ambience would never suggest it. Then again, they say a positive outlook is everything, and as someone who is always the first to offer a word of comfort or the flash of a jovial smile, Hubbard has attitude in the bag.

Hubbard, a visual journalist for USA TODAY, spoke on campus Feb. 27 at the Town & Gown lecture “Media, Politics & Democracy.” He met with the Cardinal & Cream to answer questions on topics from the job market to getting started in the field and putting his faith into practice at a secular organization.

On being awarded Video Editor of the Year:

I got a phone call in the car, and I’ve never gotten a call for an award — ever. So that was really fun.

On working at USA TODAY:
I’ve always felt like being given the opportunity to work at USA TODAY has been a gift, and I am to be a steward of it, and stewardship looks like working very hard, working smart, working collaboratively and working humbly and learning, always seeking feedback from other people on how to grow. It’s given me this large platform to share some stories.

On getting started:
In the summer of 2002, instead of going and finding a job for myself … I felt like I was supposed to serve in a different setting, in a cross-cultural way. So I went to South Africa, and I was there for nine weeks. I saw a lot and experienced a lot. … That whole time I learned a lot, and coming home I learned even more. And I came home with amateur photographs, trying to tell more people about what we saw and what we experienced in this community development project. (And) … as people responded to these totally amateur photographs in really powerful ways, (I began to see photography) as a tool to communicate God’s heart for justice, God’s heart for healing and for freedom and for hope — and in the language that all of us know the best — and that’s through our eyes, through our heart. Visual literacy is so well-shaped and so well-defined in this culture. It’s one of the quickest ways to the heart.

On faith and photojournalism:
I think my relationship with God … shows me how to better relate to people and care for people and listen to people. … My faith allows me to listen with compassion and engage with encouragement and without altering the situation too much. Maybe that encouragement comes after the story’s done … after I’ve gotten what I’ve gotten for the story and the cameras are down, but I think relating to people is the biggest way (I incorporate my faith into my job). At USA TODAY I wouldn’t say that my faith is guiding my editing, is guiding my selection … but I can’t go into USA TODAY and come in with a Jesus bias. I can live it in my life, but I can’t emphasize it and prioritize it in my work.

On the job market:

I think (the job market) is going to continue to change and evolve. That thirst for storytelling has not gone away. That’s what hasn’t changed. But the outlets are going to be different, and the route is going to be different. … We can’t sit and relish in the glory days. We can remember them and celebrate them, but we can’t be stuck in them. And I think that’s something that’s so important for students to learn as that traditional model of finding a traditional employer, a traditional paycheck, disappears; students need business skills and savvy more than ever, and they need to understand who they are and who their client is and how to communicate to their client. And then in that communication how to price their work, because it has value. One of the most dangerous things I feel about the last 15 or 20 years is this notion, the gospel of people on the Internet, that information should be free. Information has never been free. Someone has to go gather it, and they can’t work for a byline. The bank doesn’t accept bylines for the mortgage and for the student loan payments.

A word to the wise:
Know the answer to the “why” question: Why you do this. Once you have that down, then you have a purpose, and when you have that purpose you begin to know who you need to reach out to, who you need to look to for mentorship, who you need to look to for advice. … Working harder than any of your peers is a given, but that’s just the starting point. Reaching out to people, making the most of your instructors and the other people who are teaching you is huge. It’s not to be taken lightly.

Image courtesy of Cardinal & Cream|Cardinal & Cream
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The Cardinal & Cream is a student publication of Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. Our staff ranges from freshmen to seniors and includes a variety of majors — including journalism, public relations, advertising, marketing, digital media studies, graphic design and art majors.