Monday, June 18, 2007

Don't just look, see

One of the most debated aspects of the transition to multimedia is whether we reporters can handle it. Those who come from the visual background have mixed feelings over whether we can pull our heads out of our notebooks and survive.

Last week the conflict was apparent at the Baltimore Sun, where photographers went on strike over the idea of reporters carrying point-and-shoot cameras.

Storytelling has the same elements whether you’re writing a narrative or producing a documentary: interesting characters, conflict, resolution. With that, we do need to train ourselves.

Marcin Szczepanski made some great points in a discussion on Multimedia Shooter.

Marcin had said I oversimplified the problem confronting our newsrooms by saying that the conflict begins by people who want to cling to the old style of journalism rather than adapt to a changing business. Of course, I over-simplify. I’m a reporter. My job has been trying to oversimplify so people could understand complex ideas over their corn flakes in the morning.

Yet Marcin brings up some real problems that had me thinking all weekend, and that I hope spurs more discussion within our newsrooms. Marcin quoted Heather Hughes:

“I work at a sister paper for the Baltimore Sun, and our reporters got the cameras and video cameras last year, and all it has done is hurt the quality and look of our paper. Assignments are worse because the reporters don’t take the time to make it work for a photographer, and we get to spend time editing their crappy work to make it publishable.

“And yes, we still drive 45 min. for a building mug so that didn’t stop either. And yes, you can easily screw up a mug shot (most of them are out of focus, have trees growing out of their heads, under or over exposed, etc.) Even with their extensive 2hr long training class with our photo editor.”

Over the weekend, I spent some time with a book my wife, Gaye, had picked up years ago, “The Family of Man,” a mid-1950s photographic essay from the Museum of Modern Art in New York. It was then touted to exhibit the world’s best photos, from the pages of Life and Vogue, among others.

I will never shoot photographs like these. Nor will I approach the quality of the photographers at the Wichita Eagle. We need photographers and none of us wants to see a newsroom where there isn’t room for specialization. Collaboration of artistic skills still produces the best work.

But as we all venture into the world of multimedia, we as reporters have to refine our skills. That means learning how to handle a camera, even a point-and-shoot, professionally. That means taking care when we venture out of the office, whether it’s to be the first on the scene to capture a breaking news event or shoot a mug for our understaffed photo department.

Prepare yourself before you go out. Read the instruction booklet. If your photo department does give a training class, as ours did a year ago, by all means participate. You’ll need these skills. Talk to your photographer friends to get tips.

We have eyes. Use them. Appreciate the patterns freckles make on a face, or the way shadows and light dance across the landscape. Try to capture some emotion or a moment of truth. Don’t pose people. Snap lots of shots from many different angles, so maybe one won’t have a tree growing out of a head.

Even with a point-and-shoot, try to do something that at the very least won’t embarrass the real photographers in your newsroom.

1 comment:

  1. I'm surprised that the reporters got any training.
    Most papers do not offer any training at all, and reporters are left to themselves to figure out what works and how.
    I think often when papers think about training, they see it as a big financial investment. Really, a few hours with a (insert subject here) guru should suffice to begin producing at least passable multimedia.
    Another thing: it may be that reporters aren't getting the concept of taking at least a dozen shots for every good photo. I'm not a photographer, but I've made up for it by taking 100 shots - and picking out 10 good ones.