Journalism Upside Down

by Steed Dropout
March 27, 2013


I am about to turn journalism upside down.

The following story was written just so I could publish a photo. Usually I shoot and report, but my stories for the Berkeley Daily Planet were written first; later I selected a photo-essay.

First the story, then the pictures.

At papers like the SF Chronicle and on television, photographers pursue their own stories, but their editors will link their footage to the ten o’clock news.

The Oakland Tribune Media Group has, for at least a decade, put photography in the hands of reporters — saving money when my friend David Yee lost his press photographer’s job to someone like me.

We’re news reporters first and reluctant photojournalists second.

I spent so much time shooting mayor’s election forums last year , I often came away without a story. My editor saw me in action with the camera, and told me to stick to the story.

Shot that snapped me out of my reluctance to shoot. Mayor with aide stows chairs after calling the meeting, presiding over it and headline-grabbing. Photo by Ted Friedman/Berkeley Daily Planet.

I tried that recently covering a meeting. I told my editor, I wasn’t going to take a shot. And didn’t, but a funny thing happened when the meeting was breaking up. I sprang into action, as if shot from a canon, when the mayor was wheeling our chairs away.

It was too good a shot not to get, and it said a lot about the meeting.


Photo-journalism somehow became more important to me than reporting.

I was helpless before its blandishments — sexy cameras (I have five excellent cameras), and the ability to “develop,” edit, and enhance” on-line.

Then I was invited to be a contributing photographer, a salaried staff position, at Berkeley’s leading on-line publication, Berkeleyside.

This puts me in a difficult spot. I received a little publicity by being called, “the world’s worst reporter.” This was not the first time.

Here I was being rewarded as a photographer, dinged for reporting.


The shadowy square-jawed guy in the van is Tom Garrison, 62. He’d just bought a new rig, rigged with his own carpentry. The new rig has one-thousand less miles than his last.

Photo that spawned an article. Tom Garrison, 62, a 'vangabond' in his new rig. Photo by Ted Friedman.

He was anxious to show me the new rig. He’s been my neighbor near People’s Park for the past two years and has been a source in my People’s Park dispatches. He was immensely helpful in my dog-shot-in-park yarn, which I turned into a short screenplay, here.

The shot of Tom in his new rig reminds me that an intended piece on South side “vangabonds,” my coinage, has languished.

The problem is that some vangabonds would rather blend in, although you can always spot their rigs. They eschew surveillance.

Bob Lewis, proprietor of a long rig, a former school bus, has probably returned to Sacramento, without my having shot inside his bus. He asked me not to.

Bob Lewis, Phd. apparently has departed with his supper-rig, to Sacto.
Photo by Ted Friedman.

Another vangabond, is reluctantly housed. After more than a year he misses the van life he led. Vangabonds swear by the life-style.

Nevertheless, Tom is saving his money for an apartment. He does odd jobs.

The shot makes Tom look like some kind of victim, but he’s far from it. He’s one of my most successful homeless friends. has gone conglomerate. We have two more separate sites: and; we welcome our sister publications to Berkeley Reporter. XXX reads like a string of expletives, and has one of the best banners online thanks to our designer, Michael M.

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