Sunday, November 09, 2003

How the PJ editing process works

Football, pinball and more football for the last two days. You can see one of my shots and shots from all the DMN football shooters in this slide show. We don't get to pick which images go onto the web. I am happy with the image I have this week, but sometimes the selections are questionable if you see the entire take of a game.

I suppose the biggest part of the weeding process of this job is the edit. If you are married to your images when you walk in the door, you will be divorced from them by the time you leave.
I was asked at one of the football games why the DMN didn't post all our images onto the web. I explained that the photographers must prepress each image and in the best of times, it takes about 15 minutes. The man said he thought the camera did all such work. I explained the camera has no idea what it is doing other than looking for the color grey. So, I will elaborate on the painful process we call prepress. This sometimes takes as little as 5 minutes, if someone is breathing down our neck. It can also take quite some time if we need additional cutline information.

Here is how the editing process works. I am only going to write about the office-based system tonight. We all have laptops and can send via Wi-Fi or landline. Some DMN staffers also use satellite and specialized cell phones.
Additionally, please understand our office computers are all beefed-up Macintosh G4 or G5s connected to a server which uses multi-terabyte platters on a jukebox. All of these are on private T-1 lines or satellite uplinks (even in the Arlington, Collin County, and Northeast Tarrant County offices). So, everything is unbelievably fast compared to two years ago.
Let's say a photographer shoots 300 frames at an assignment (not unusual since we are all digital now). S/he (I'll call this "we" for grammatical ease) will take the microdrive to the scanning room with their cutline information. We will input all the information to infuse into each image (who, what, when, where, why, how) and all the codes (news section, story slug, negative envelope, and assignment number). Once this information is inputted, the microdrive is ingested into the Mediagrid system (the grid). Then we cut a CD for the archive.
We can then view the images on the grid in ditcam edits. We then select our favorites and put crop marks on the raw images. Of these, we select the best and put an additional notation tag on them.
At this point, we have narrowed the 300 images down to 10 and further down to about four (unless it was something non-visual and we have it down to one). We then go to the photo editing desk area (8 editors' desks, 4 color correctors, 4 stand-up work stations, banks of televisions on all the channels, pagers from all the fire departments, etc... -- not a friendly place with a lot of screaming people), which is next to the Metro department (take all of the above times several fold with more screaming people). You get the idea: get your edit, get out of the way -- NOW.
We pull up our selects in a viewing program on one of the work stations (all are G5s with Mac studio screens because there is no time for a G4 at "the desk"). The next editor with a little time will ask us what the story is. We condense the story to a 15 second explanation. They look at our selects and choose some. Then they look at our total take if they were not fascinated with our selects (remember many of the editors either have Pulitzers or have been finalists -- it's hard to impress them). They may add a different image to the selects or they may concur we picked the best and then they will give them another look.
Then they copy the ones they want into the selects folder and our edit is done.
If we are on tight deadline (less than 5 minutes), we just fix them there. If not, we go back to the scanning room and prep the images so someone else can get an edit.
To prepare an image for publication, we pull up the image on one of the scanning room computers. We will perform various color corrections and other adjustments to the raw images. Here is where I must note that we are not allowed to move pixels. We can only perform the same functions that we can do to any image in a darkroom. I.e. color correction, dodging (making some parts lighter), burning (making some areas darker), brightness, contrast and crops.
Once the image itself is ready, we write a complete cutline. Our initial cutline is deliberately vague to be applicable to all images on the microdrive. A normal ingestion cutline will begin "people attend" to remind us to replace the noun and verb.
Then, we double, triple, quadruple check our cutline information for accuracy. If it appears correct, we print all the images we have prepared. We take the prints back to the editing desk for a spell check. When an editor is available, we give them the prints and the editor reads the spellings of names while we verbally spell out each proper noun (names and locations) from the cutline. If the cutline is factually and grammatically correct, the editor will sign the print and return it to us. We then file the print in the proper section folders at the photo desk (editing area).
We then can place our CD and all supporting cutline information into the archive file drawers near the darkrooms. Then we can pull down the next day's assignments and make any preparations for the following day's shoots.
Note: we are strongly encouraged not to leave for the day unless we have "turned out" (done all of the above) the entire day's work. We could be dead or in the hospital in 30 minutes -- we don't know.

A normal shooting day will be about three assignments -- often in as many Texas counties. Each assignment creates about 100 to 400 images. Of these, we will prepress about two to 10 images from each assignment. As most can see, it is hard enough to accomplish all this during the eight hour shift. It would be impossible and impractical to post 150 to 200 images per person per day onto the website.
I hope this gives everyone a little insight into our workflow.

Enough for now,

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