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Becoming a Martial Arts Journalist

Author Topic: Becoming a Martial Arts Journalist  (Read 15357 times)

Offline John Bishop

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Becoming a Martial Arts Journalist
« on: September 29, 2004, 04:18:18 PM »
Occassionally I get questions about how to get a article published in a magazine.  
Writing articles is a great way to actually learn more about the martial arts.  One of the most enjoyable things about it is all the great martial artists you can meet and talk to.   It's also a good way to get recognition for little known martial artists you admire, who deserve recognition, but are normally too humble to seek it out.  

Below is a short explanation I wrote for another martial arts forum I moderate.


 SUGGESTIONS FOR FUTURE JOURNALISTS

Over the last 15 years I have been lucky enough to have over 65 articles published.
These have appeared in “Black Belt”,  “Inside Kung Fu”,  “Inside Karate”,  “Inside Kung Fu Presents”,  “Inside Karate's Master Series”,  “Martial Arts Professional”, ”Martial Talk Magazine”,  “Centuron Negro” (Spain), and “Kick” (Germany).
So after working with all the major magazines and editors, I've gotten a good understanding of the Martial Arts media business.
The truth of the matter is that martial arts magazines are no differant than any other magazine or newspaper.  They are published to make money.  Very few of their full time editorial staff are actually martial artists.
They mainly make money from advertizing sales.  Very little money is made from the actual sales of the magazines.  The sales numbers of the magazines help boost their advertizing prices, but don't really make them much money.
For the most part they follow trends, "what's hot and what's not", and contraversy.  Those of us who have been in the arts long have seen these trends:
1950's Judo
1960s Karate
1970's Kung Fu
1980's Ninjitsu
1990's Brazilian Jujitsu, No Holds Barred

Lesser Trends:
1980s Aikido
1990s Filipino Arts

Just look at it this way.  Everybody has their day in the sun.  The arts like Karate and Kung Fu have always been popular, and have lasted the test of time.  Ninjitsu and Judo are still popular with a small loyal following. The Filipino arts and jujitsu will have to prove their ability to go the distance.  They already have a strong following as arts to cross train in.
So, if you have a favorite area of the arts that you like, it will be back in the magazines when the editors feel enough people what to read about it.

One thing to remember, 80-90% of magazine articles are written by freelance writers, so if you don't see something in the magazines you like, write some articles yourself.  That's what got me started.

All the magazines have "writers guidelines" that they will mail or email to you.

Try and pick a subject that is timely or unique.  Avoid personality profiles, unless they ask for someone specifically.

Pictures really help sell a article, so get some very good ones.

Be persistant, if you get a rejection notice from one magazine, just send your article to another, and another, until you find the one that is interested in it. My first article was rejected by 2 magazines.  When I sent it to the 3rd magazine (Inside Kung Fu) the editor called me at work to get my permission to use it right away because he needed another article to finish off the special "Kenpo" edition he was working on.  Since then I have sold every article I have written.

Once you get published, stay with that magazine/editor for a while.  You'll find once they know your work it will be easier to sell them more articles.  Plus, if they really like your writing style they'll start assigning articles to you.  After you've got several articles published you will have a good enough resume to start spreading your articles out to the other magazines.

Also, when you sell a magazine a article they own the "English" language rights to that article for the month of publication.  This means that the same article can also be sold to a foreign language magazine at the same time, or resold to another English language magazine after the month of publication.

Lastly, be your own editor.  After your done with your article, let it sit a day or two.  Then look at it again and see if anything needs to be expanded on, or deleted.

Read all you can from good writers, and learn from them.

John Bishop  8th Degree-Original Method 
Under Grandmaster Gary Forbach
K.S.D.I. # 478, FMAA


"You watch, once I'm gone, all the snakes will start popping their heads up!"  Sijo Emperado

Offline Rob Poelking

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Re:Becoming a Martial Arts Journalist
« Reply #1 on: October 01, 2004, 01:23:49 PM »
So my first question is...when do you "know" enough to write an article?
Second question is...how do you go about researching a topic to have enough "know" to write a quality article?
Rob Poelking, Black Belt, Original Method
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Offline John Bishop

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Re:Becoming a Martial Arts Journalist
« Reply #2 on: October 02, 2004, 02:21:48 AM »
So my first question is...when do you "know" enough to write an article?

I guess it's sort of objective.  We all know people who claim to "know" everything, but know very little.  And then there's people with outstanding knowledge, who believe they're just starting to learn.  
If your talking about your rank, it has nothing to do with journalistic ability.  The magazines do like to have their writers be black belts, but the quality of the article is what sells it.  So there are white belts writing articles.  
Most articles are going to be around 1200 words.  And the editors are going to cut out 0-40% of your work.  So your never going to be able to write everything about any topic.  Hit the highlights, and cover the important interesting things about your topic.
I never took any type of journalism classes.  But I spent 32 years in law enforcement.  A job that requires you to write reports every day.  Your reports have to tell someone who wasn't there (D.A., judge, jury, etc.) the story of what happened.  You describe the "who", "what", "where", "when" and "how" of the event.  And sometimes the "why".  
So when I started writing, I used the same proceedure.  
If you can explain the   "who", "what", "where", "when", "how", and "why", in a interesting way, your story is complete.            


Second question is...how do you go about researching a topic to have enough "know" to write a quality article?

Read all you can about a topic.  I probably own 75-100 martial arts books, and have read thousands of martial arts articles.  
If your doing a article on a particular style or method of training, you'll need someone to pose pictures for you.  Pick someone you know is knowledgeable on the topic.  It's surprising how many well known masters will help you out with research for a article.  Some out of ego.  But most of them are very humble, and dedicated to the proliferation of the martial arts.  
Your name's going to be on the articles.  So to protect your credibility, be like a investigative reporter, check your sources, verify the information.    
John Bishop  8th Degree-Original Method 
Under Grandmaster Gary Forbach
K.S.D.I. # 478, FMAA


"You watch, once I'm gone, all the snakes will start popping their heads up!"  Sijo Emperado

Offline The Kai

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Re:Becoming a Martial Arts Journalist
« Reply #3 on: October 04, 2004, 09:03:24 AM »
Mr Bishop
You mentioned photographs, how good do the photo's have to be??  Can a good camera handle it??
Todd
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Offline Rob Poelking

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Re:Becoming a Martial Arts Journalist
« Reply #4 on: October 04, 2004, 12:01:22 PM »
I was just looking at a 1995 copy of Masters&Styles of one of Sigung Bishops articles on James Ibrao and having been in the photo/publishing industry for a number of years I can answer that.

I would tell you that any 35mm camera will take excellent picutres and any digital camera that ranges $200 and up is even better. The important thing about the pictures is usually in the content and how well lit the image is. Light is everything to photography and if the image is dark it won't print well. If the image is to be printed black & white on newsprint as many of these images are in the 1995 edition, even ordinary images look like mud so make sure you light them well. Shooting outside on a sunny day is the most ideal and using a flash outdoors is good too. It helps "fill in" where sharp shadows are cast.

Here are a couple examples of some photo's I shot when Professor Allen Abad visited us.

Learning how to shoot good picutres takes practice and lots of film. Thank God for digital cameras these days, you can see immediately if your picutre turned out right. If it did not, you shoot again.

Hey, there you go, I could write my first article on how to shoot good pictures! :)
Rob Poelking, Black Belt, Original Method
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Offline John Bishop

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Re:Becoming a Martial Arts Journalist
« Reply #5 on: October 04, 2004, 12:53:11 PM »
What Sibak Rob said+

Now all the magazines have gone to glossy paper and color photo's , so no more having to shoot B&W film and going to custom labs to develop B&W.

I've tried to use my $300.00 Olympus Digital, but digital dosen't seem to freeze action.  Or there are some manual settings I'm not aware of.  I just get blur, when I shoot techniques at speed, or sparring.
John Bishop  8th Degree-Original Method 
Under Grandmaster Gary Forbach
K.S.D.I. # 478, FMAA


"You watch, once I'm gone, all the snakes will start popping their heads up!"  Sijo Emperado

Offline Rob Poelking

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Re:Becoming a Martial Arts Journalist
« Reply #6 on: October 04, 2004, 03:02:41 PM »
I would say that depending on what you are shooting & what you want your picture to communicate, "motion blur" as it is called is not necessarily a bad thing. It communicates the direction of motion very well rather that a "static" stop motion image. But then again, it is all in what you want to capture. If I want a static image, then I pose my subjects in mid-motion. Of course there are shots where that cannot be done. If you need to stop motion on say a flying side kick, then you need to shoot in well lit conditions so that you can use a fast shutter speed of 500th-2000th of a second shutter speeds.

I happen to like the motion blur but for instuctional purposes (breaking down a technique by step) then the images need to be mixed, some static, some with blur but not too much. Again, it takes practice, and lots of film, good light, blah blah blah.
« Last Edit: October 04, 2004, 03:05:55 PM by Rob Poelking »
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Offline Gints Klimanis

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Re:Becoming a Martial Arts Journalist
« Reply #7 on: October 04, 2004, 09:39:23 PM »
Good technical photographical comments by Rob.
I'll add some of my own experience.

I'll start off by saying that action photography is HARD.
I do a lot of frame-grabbing from video, and I've found that the most interesting shots aren't what I initially expected.   The essence seems to be capturing the human response, be it intent or reaction.  For martial arts,  the best shots aren't when the strike lands.
They seem to be the starting point of the actual attack, which is the slight pause between the windup and the delivery, using baseball terms.  This is not a uniform rule,
but simply a generalization of my observations.  Sports photographers should really be rifling off pictures in burst mode, which only the latest crop of prosumer cameras can handle.  Video rates would be ideal, but the resolution is currently too low.

Most of the comments below are directed towards indoor photography, which is where American martial artists generally train.  I envy those lucky enough to train outdoors.

I experienced the same disappointment with my digital camera action shots - generally blurry.  The video feature proved to be FAR more useful, although the video frames are too low in resolution.  

So, I spent a lot of money on better gear.  I bought
a camera with a detachable lens so that I can add my
own indoor lens, one that opens wide enough and still
allows a fast shutter time.  Most consumer digital cameras have a 1/20 to 1/50 of a second shutter time
which isn't fast enough to freeze the action.

Even with the good gear, a 50mm f/1.8 lens will yield poor picture quality unless you use a flash.

Here are some tips that have helped me take better pictures for indoor events that have horrible lighting,
horrible at least for digital cameras.

1) Use a higher ISO value, such as 400-800
This boosts the picture level at the expense of noise,
but you will be able to tell if you have a decent exposure in the LCD review panel.

2) Use support to reduce user camera shake
I use a monopod, which is a one-legged support. It
is far more portable than a tripod, so I end up using it more.  It doesn't remove all camera shake, but it will
reduce it substantially.    A tripod is ideal, but that usually makes for boring shots, in my opinion.  The shots
are boring due to the lack of variety in camera angles, I believe, even with the improved clarity.  If you don't have either, lean against a wall or tuck in your elbows.

3) Don't press the camera shutter button too hard.
Many people stab at the button, causing the camera to move during the exposure and causing more blur.

4) Use continuous auto-focus when the subjects are
all over the place.

Many cameras lock-into focus before snapping the picture.  This is a contributor to the delay between the
button press and the exposure.  By then, your subject is
out of focus anyway.  Sometimes, it's just better to manual focus at a particular distance and stay there as autofocus will mess your shot anyway by focusing on the wrong object, often the wall behind your subjects.

5) If you use Autofocus, make sure the zone is on the
face of your subject if you're doing a portrait.  When the eyes are in focus, the picture is good.  Otherwise, focus
on a high contrast part of your subject even if it messes up the framing of your shot.  At least your subject will be in focus.

6) Take a lot of photos when the subjects aren't moving.
These aren't exactly action shots, but you'll be surprised
at how many of these you want to keep.

7) Buy the biggest, fastest flash card you can afford,
and an extra battery.
Take tons of pictures without worrying about filling up the card.  You will have many more junk photos, but you'll also have more keepers.

8) Use available light
If the light is coming from one side, position yourself
to take advantage of it.

9) Use manual mode to adjust shutter speed versus aperture.

With many cameras, this leaves you with the choice of
dark but frozen action or bright and blurry action.
You can always add motion blur in Photoshop .

10)  Shoot in RAW mode.
This is the highest resolution format for your camera.
JPEG is ok, but if you really need a good picture, you might get all of the data.   Often, the camera will over-sharpen the entire picture, adding a lot of noise

11) Learn to use Photoshop.
It's amazing how many pictures can be rescued by Photoshop processing.  The Crop tool can help you turn
an ordinary picture into an outstanding one.

12) Take a picture of a white piece of paper
It will help you with White Balancing after you've left the scene.

13) Don't zoom, get close
Zooming on most consumer cameras reduces the brightness of the lens as it can not open as wide at
full zoom.  This means the shutter speed will drop.
Also, at zoom, you'll have more camera shake . On the
downside, your subjects will also move more because they occupy a larger part of the exposure.

Wow, I didn't think I'd write an essay.  Don't get me started, ok ?

Hope this helps,

Gints


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Offline John Bishop

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Re:Becoming a Martial Arts Journalist
« Reply #8 on: October 04, 2004, 11:10:22 PM »
Gint's; are you talking about using a digital camera?  
I guess I'm still doing my magazine work the old fashion way, with Canon 35mm SLR.  400 film for action shots, 100 for stills.  
You can pose a lot of pictures, but without wires you can't pose throws and takedowns.  Most schools are really limited in size, so I usually use a 28mm wide angle lens, instead of the standard 50mm lens.  Then I use a difuser on the strobe to widen the flash area, or you'll get dark corners on your pictures.
And I'll usually take 30-50 photos and keep the best 10-12 for the article.
I love the ease of using my pocket digital camera, but it's just not useful for professional work, other then some up close posed pictures.
       
John Bishop  8th Degree-Original Method 
Under Grandmaster Gary Forbach
K.S.D.I. # 478, FMAA


"You watch, once I'm gone, all the snakes will start popping their heads up!"  Sijo Emperado

Offline Gints Klimanis

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Re:Becoming a Martial Arts Journalist
« Reply #9 on: October 05, 2004, 02:56:17 PM »
Hello Sigung Bishop,

Yes, I was talking about using a digital camera.  Even with all of that technology, it's really hard to come up with something that matches even a disposable film camera.  For magazine work, you're probably doing the
best thing for now.  I spent a lot of money on a Nikon D70 digital camera, and I don't think the results compare to film.   Hmmm.  Maybe it's my technique ...
On the plus side, I can take 1000 photos in an afternoon without worry and land a dozen or so excellent shots.  Still, my yield is low.
Or just hand the camera to my girlfriend.  She seems to take better pictures anyway.  

Gints
"We do not condone the use of a toilet seat as a deadly weapon"
Go Shin Jutsu Kenpo, 3rd Degree Black Belt Prof. Richard Lewis
Bono JKD/Kajukenbo, Prof. John Bono, San Jose, CA
Baltic Dog, Dog Brothers Martial Arts

Offline John Bishop

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Re:Becoming a Martial Arts Journalist
« Reply #10 on: October 05, 2004, 05:51:10 PM »
Hello Sigung Bishop,

Yes, I was talking about using a digital camera.  I can take 1000 photos in an afternoon without worry and land a dozen or so excellent shots.    

Gints

Yea, that's why I love the digital camera for just about everything else.  Unlimited pictures, instant editing, delete the bad ones.  Instant gratification.
John Bishop  8th Degree-Original Method 
Under Grandmaster Gary Forbach
K.S.D.I. # 478, FMAA


"You watch, once I'm gone, all the snakes will start popping their heads up!"  Sijo Emperado

Offline Rob Poelking

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Re:Becoming a Martial Arts Journalist
« Reply #11 on: October 05, 2004, 08:34:12 PM »
Gints, I have to ask, what digital camera did you get? Those options arn't available on consumer level cameras and pretty much the best deal I've seen moves into the pro-sumer camera.

I've got the Canon Digital Rebel. The only thing I wish is that I had more $$ for lenses now.
Rob Poelking, Black Belt, Original Method
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Offline Gints Klimanis

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Re:Becoming a Martial Arts Journalist
« Reply #12 on: October 06, 2004, 05:12:17 PM »
Hi Rob,

The Canon Digital Rebel is a nice camera.
I bought the Nikon D70, mostly because reviews said that is could take a lot of pictures per second. I also bought a good flash and a few great lenses. I only planned to buy the camera, then I just got carried away.  The good thing about Point&Shoot cameras is that they don't have a lot of accessories,
and accessories for the accessories.  Doh !

Gints
"We do not condone the use of a toilet seat as a deadly weapon"
Go Shin Jutsu Kenpo, 3rd Degree Black Belt Prof. Richard Lewis
Bono JKD/Kajukenbo, Prof. John Bono, San Jose, CA
Baltic Dog, Dog Brothers Martial Arts

Offline Rob Poelking

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Re:Becoming a Martial Arts Journalist
« Reply #13 on: October 06, 2004, 09:31:15 PM »
DOH...sorry...I had to wipe the drool off my keyboard after reading a review of the D70. Though I have to say, I have no regrets about the Digital Rebel. For most of the "pro" shots I take, manual mode takes care of what I need. I just need more lenses and I want to go to a studio flash kit. For now my 2 Vivitar 283's will have to do. I think the only thing that bugs me is the startup/wakeup time is too slow. I've lost a few shots waiting on my camera to wake up but after that it still shoots 2.5 frames a second.  I've not had a need to shoot that fast yet.

But now I'm forever cut free from the chains of film. No more 36 frame limit, no more processing, no more bad exposures. I can shoot to my hearts content and keep the couple that look good and delete the rest. I spent an hour at the pumpkin patch this afternoon taking pictures of my daghter (can you believe it's been a year already :o ). Out of 31 shots only 2 were keepers...glad that wasn't film! You know how patient you have to be with a cranky 1 year old?
Rob Poelking, Black Belt, Original Method
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Offline Gints Klimanis

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Re:Becoming a Martial Arts Journalist
« Reply #14 on: October 06, 2004, 10:06:14 PM »
> But now I'm forever cut free from the chains of film

That's what you think.  Hah !  Now, you have to sort through hundreds of pictures for each afternoon.  
As soon as you learn how to fix basic stuff in Photoshop, you have a second job.  Since you have such a snazzy camera, the expectation of pictures that are better than everyone else's will hound you.  You'll want to fix every picture before you send it to anyone.  
Sharpen the eyes, blur the backgroun, recover the highlights, color correct this, crop that.  You'll drive yourself nuts with digital printing . Everyone expects the pictures to be sent by email, so you have to batch process everything for every event.   And ... it's no longer a fun hobby.



"We do not condone the use of a toilet seat as a deadly weapon"
Go Shin Jutsu Kenpo, 3rd Degree Black Belt Prof. Richard Lewis
Bono JKD/Kajukenbo, Prof. John Bono, San Jose, CA
Baltic Dog, Dog Brothers Martial Arts