In Conversation with Mags King

Mags King – Managing Photo Editor, The Sydney Morning Herald

I’ve been the Managing Photo Editor at The Sydney Morning Herald close to 8 years and have been a photo editor for over 20 years. It all began at The Guardian in London as a photographic intern- which I thought was a dream start to becoming a photojournalist, but nothing is ever that straight forward. I have a BA Honours degree in Design, Media Management from the University of West London. I have held several roles working with photography, as a photo library manager for advertising campaigns with clients such as The Ministry of Defence, National Power, Marriott Hotels; as a Business Development manager for IDS creating systems and websites for photographic content for media companies, to photo editing for a range of magazines, newspapers, photo agencies in both London and in Sydney. I have been at the Herald for 14 years working alongside and managing some of Australia’s best news photojournalists. I have curated several photo exhibitions including the Herald’s Photos 1440 at the State Library- now in its tenth year and have created commercial events centred on photography. I am a member of the Walkley Advisory board, a World Press Photo Joop Swart nominator and was awarded Nine’s Women of Influence award for leadership this year.

What changes have you seen in the photography industry, specifically publications and news, since starting out? The good, the bad and the ugly.

I can only comment about our experiences over the last few years. The departure from broadsheet, cost-cutting exercises, fewer resources, fewer people, smaller books, faster pace, 24-7 newsroom, multiple platforms, internal changes from systems to editors, changes in readership behaviours and profiles, all these factors are part of the reality that we work in and we continue to respond and evolve with it – the pressure point is how to work effectively, grow and retain the quality as well as work with passion and integrity in this environment. There’s very little room to lament, there’s certainly no room for complacency, we focus on the quality of the photography that we produce, how we work as a team, how we remain engaged, creative and effective. Online and in print, professional photography produced by experienced news photographers who have been at the masthead for 15- 30 years, is a major asset and it is celebrated in and out of the newsroom. Herald photography is key to drawing readers into the story, broadening and deepening reader engagement. I do believe that it is our job to consider first and foremost what our readers want and they have high expectations of visual storytelling and are sensitive to how visuals are used. Their reaction can often be immediate and explicit.

How has COVID-19 impacted your team and what measures have you put in place during this time?

We reacted to it in the same manner as we would prepare for a significant event such as the bushfires or an international news event. Each photographer is equipped with the necessary safety gear; proper respirator, filters, hand sanitizers, cleaning material for camera equipment, alcohol wipes, goggles and all photo shoots had to be taken outdoors and at 2 metres away from the subject. I kept a check on mental health especially as it came after the long bushfires season.

How do you and your team stay relevant in today's ever changing world?

Our stories are consumed on different platforms including social media; our photography is one of the key elements that contribute to how well a story is received. It is fundamental to how news and stories are produced and presented. I have always been focused on ensuring that each photographer is well versed with the different genres of photography in order to fulfil the newsroom’s diverse demands. It is important that we remain competitive, engaged, and contemporary in our approach. Most of the team photograph, produce projects, video, video edit, write, speak at events, contribute to podcasts, television and radio. Kate Geraghty has even filmed live breaking news packages for Nine. It is a small department but it is very much a team effort and we are focused on what our readers expect of us. In the last two years, we have added two young photographers to the team, Dominic Lorrimer and with the help of the Judith Neilson Foundation, Rhett Wyman who is a Palawa man from Brisbane.

What would your advice be to someone wanting to become a photojournalist?

Be open to different perspectives, people, stories, conditions. Be inquisitive and know that hard work is on the menu. Be proactive, persistent and resilient, editors appreciate initiative, creativity and photographers who are resourceful. If it doesn’t work the first time try again and again. Be focused and develop an inner gut instinct – it’s part of getting to know who you are as a photographer. Education, read, watch, listen, write, film and find mentors.

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