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Friday, January 16, 2009

Photography: it's back

The personal computer and the Internet have made one major improvement for the news media. It has rediscovered the slide show or photo gallery and the efficacy of written news copy illustrated with carefully composed and selected photographs.

As one who habitually, well, okay, addictively, searches for the most thorough but succinct and clear presentations of news, I find myself relying on the online versions of major newspapers more and more, and a few of the comprehensive online efforts such as The Huffington Post.

The Huffington Post uses an old newspaper device of providing a brief summary of its stories so that a reader can quickly decide whether to read a detailed version or go on to something else. Newspapers used to do this by providing sub-headlines under the major headlines so people could scan the newspaper and select those stories they want to read immediately, note those thely wanted to come back to, and dismiss those they found irrelevant to their needs or interests. The editors understood that most people do not have the luxury of unlimited time to spend on looking for and reading news--or the inclination, for most.

Photojournalism has added a deep dimension to news coverage. The problem with newspapers was that editors had to choose one or just a few photographs to illustrate a story. Even photo magazines, such as the old Life were limited as to the number of photos they could use, and often some very effective and informing photos had to be left out. Television brought the age of the video, and stories were written to explain the visuals rather than visuals being produced to amplify the story. Still photography maintained a place in reporting, but was regarded as a lesser form than motion photography.

The digital age has changed all that. With digital cameras, photo computer programs, and instantaneous transfer of images onto screens and printers, many disadvantages in photography have been surmounted. As a journalist, I could shoot basic pictures, but not with the skill and effect of our best staff photographers. In shooting an assignment, we generally carried three or four types of film so we could adjust to the lighting requirements, the nature of the shoot--action, still, landscape, etc. And then we had to process what we came up with--with factors like the freshness of the chemicals and the water temperature to be accommodated. A routine photo assignment would produce 25 to 75 negatives to examine, select from, and edit. Color photos required much more intensive and extensive labor to produce.

However, the still picture has had recognized advantages. The main one is that a good photograph can be studied and contemplated at length. An effective still photo arrests the senses and conveys quite a different experience than does motion photography.

The Internet has brought a resurgence of still photography. Most news photography on television is marginal in its production. Podcasts tend to be dreadful. Still pictures allow viewers to get into a moment.

Now news organizations put up slide shows or galleries of an event. The above photo of the crashing of the passenger jet into the Hudson River captures the significant emphasis of the survival of the passengers as they wait on the crafts wings for rescue. But a series of photos (click here) show more details of the rescue.

On the local level, this series of a boys basketball game in the Argus leader captures the event in a way that adds a dimension to watching the players in motion.

However, the main diffference is that the photography in these examples supports the writing of the stories and restores good reporting, writing, and editing as the essential basis for effective journalism.

1 comment:

Douglas said...

I don't know if the photo you have is the one that hit Flicker? some time before the regular news media had any kind of image or not.

BBC News (I think) had a short story on citizen journalism or some such which mentioned this. Cellphones with photo capability are everywhere.
Unfortunately, US cellphone companies charge exorbitantly for many features free in third-world countries. We have our antiquated phone systems controlling new technology and disabling features on phones. This limits the availability of photo images.

Anyway, photography is so much easier now than it was in the days of chemical trays and week or longer waits for processing of color slides. Film Nikons set on the shelf as a dinky digital captures fuzzy images.

Time to update the digital, so I can get something that will be obsolete next month.

But, digital still photography and the internet provide a whole new window on the world. Text and still photographs provide information in a way that can be remembered and found. Video is so transient that even a video loaded with information is forgotten nearly instantly and finding the information buried in one is not like opening a book, magazine, or newspaper.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States