Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Press journalists are not talking heads

There have been a lot of good comments on the Iraqi blogs. There are some new ones. I would suggest visiting all to get an across-the-board look at the inside of Iraq. You can find links from Fayrouz's blog.

Although I prefer not to mention this, I have read enough "media" bashing lately on other blogs that I should let readers learn something some don't know. Newspapers are not the same as television. Furthermore, journalists (I am talking newspaper, not talking heads) do not come from some cookie cutter school of thought. Journalists run the whole range from ultra right to ultra left. They tend to gravitate toward publications which reflect their views, but some end up in the largest newspaper near their ideal location or newspapers willing to pay them the most without compromising their integrity.

In photographic terms, journalists are many shades of gray. Journalists are not lithographic (black and white).

Now, let me address television "journalists." There are some who have been educated as news journalists. These reporters are instilled with ethics, accuracy and report responsibly. However, many television personalities come from an RTV (Radio/TeleVision) college background.

At my university, RTV majors stayed primarily in the theatre building and were taught by theatre instructors rather than journalism instructors. Since theater is the exact opposite of truth, you can see the immediate problem many (newspaper) journalists will have with many television reporters (talking heads). As if to physically prove the point at my university, the theatre building and the journalism building are on opposite sides of the campus.

With this in mind, I will tell a REAL inside secret of our profession. If we (DMN photojournalists) make a mistake (misspelled name or incorrect fact which requires a retraction or correction), we get in HUGE trouble. How much? We must write a report about the problem, what caused it, how to correct it, and how to prevent a similar problem from ever happening again. Furthermore, this report -- and all the managerial crap that goes with it -- is put into our employment file and will be considered for the next possible pay raise. Furthermore, if we make three such errors IN OUR ENTIRE CAREER, we are fired.

Think about the last sentence.

Now, ask yourself if you would be willing to put your information to the same scrutiny. This is why the photo department has so many safeguards installed (reading names back to the editor to verify problems).

If the problem is something completely out of our control, we are not held personally responsible, however it is still a source of personal anguish. An example of an acceptable "cutline bust" would be a misspelled name on a football roster. There is no way we can personally verify the spelling of all names on all football teams while they are playing, and we are on deadline.

However, if it is spelled correctly on the roster we use (remember the roster is filed with the CD), we are responsible for the error. See above for total rump chewing and blood-letting.

Ask the television "journalists" at FOX News or Al-Jazeera to be held to the same standard. Please.

So far, I have not been faced with this particular torture at The Dallas Morning News (see me knocking on everything wooden in the room because I know it is just a matter of time). I had one near-miss, but I corrected the problem in my cutline and informed the desk who informed the layout desk, who ignored the correction and ran a misspelled name anyway. (Insert choice word here).
As you can tell, I still feel horrible about it even though I did everything I could to prevent it.

Consequently, some darn good shots never get to grace a newspaper page or the web because there is no way to confirm the identity of a particular person. Occasionally, we might fluff something off as "an unidentified protester," but it is so incredibly rare it is not worth mentioning. In sports it is almost impossible.
So, if you are on a football team -- demand numbers on your shoulder pads or at least on your sleeves. If you are on a hockey team, push to be the only team in the world with numbers on the front of your jersey or (at least) on the front of your helmet or somewhere on your stick. (Do you get a hint of screaming over a light table in my past).

This is one particularly great aspect of digital photography over film. I can take as many "follow shots" or "data shots" as I need. With film, I would shoot the play (one to eight shots). Then, I would try to get record the numbers of the two main players or hope they were identifiable by shoelaces or some other difference. Sometimes this lead to a great shot being killed for lack of confirmation (again this is a shoulder number problem).

Now, I keep shooting everyone pulled from the pile. If new volleyball or basketball players come onto the court, I will often shoot the change so I know what numbers are eliminated from the possibilities.

Since I am on the subject, I will make one more observation of use for people who are thinking about going into this crazy job (or simply trying to figure out what we are doing). The reason we often choose the strangest person in a room as the subject of our attention is because they are easily identified.

We record what people wear or some way they do something as to whom is whom. If we walk into a room of business people wearing blue blazers except one who is wearing a bright orange blazer, guess who will be shot. Yup. By being different from the crowd, people actually make themselves the best subject for our images (and our cutlines later).

This makes schools with uniforms problematic. The more uniform a place is, the harder our job becomes. We then rely on shoot order (frame by frame) and other factors, which I do not prefer, to tell the difference between people.

Enough for now,

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