Friday, August 26, 2011

"New journalism" and potential backlash

Hurricane Irene approaches Tybee Island, Ga. AP Photo/Stephen Morton
There are a thousand names for what's happening in newsrooms across the country: new journalism, crowdsourcing, community-assisted journalism, iReporting. It's an attempt to get real people in our communities involved in the content they see in newspapers, TV news reports, online news sites and radio news broadcasts.

On its face it is a great idea. Ordinary people not only having a say in what's covered, but actually providing coverage. Cash-strapped and staff-starved newsrooms in every type of media imaginable use this type of reporting to bolster news coverage and give their consumers ownership of the news.

But there's a seemier side to the issue.

This method of news coverage not only helps put professional journalists trained in objectivity out of a job, but it can cast doubt over a submission's authenticity and whether the source of a piece of video/photo/story has a bias or other motive than objective coverage, which casts even more doubt over a news organization's credibility.

But let's even put THAT aside for a moment. Facebook and Twitter have been buzzing this week over a couple of requests from news organizations looking for help in covering major news stories. It's not uncommon. Both Facebook and Twitter are excellent resources for journalists to connect with sources, as revolutionary to news coverage as the cell phone, telephone and the various news wire services were before them.

The Associated Press has taken some heat on Facebook this week after putting out a plea for video coverage of Tuesday's earthquake in Virginia. Before the discussion was hijacked, posters questioned whether they would get paid and why AP wasn't doing their own reporting work. Yet, videos and photos galore have appeared across the Internet and on social networking sites.

Today, the Christian Science Monitor put out a tweet suggesting people tag storm photos so they can be retweeted by CSM. Now, this has been hashed out many times. How can a news organization, even back-handedly, ask citizens to venture out into a dangerous situation to take pictures or video for them? I'm sure any damage to life or property would be reimbursed by CSM, right? What about compensation for helping CSM make money as a news source?

Then there's the question of safety. The National Weather Service has called hurricane Irene the most dangerous storm to hit the east coast in decades. People should take cover, not video with their cell phones. How bad would a news director or editor feel if they found out someone died trying to get a picture of a hurricane for their organization's photo gallery?

There are professional photographers and videographers in the region that specialize in covering hurricanes and know how to stay safe in these situations. There's no way I'd blast off into a hurricane to shoot pictures without proper equipment and training in how to stay safe.

It's a sticky wicket to be sure. On one hand you have the need for news organizations to cover the news in any way possible, including asking for help from their consumers. On the other hand, why should consumers participate in news coverage by an organization when all that is needed is Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc.?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

New Week in Pictures up

Kaohsiung, Taiwan right fielder Chun-Yen Kuo. AP Photo/Matt Slocum
Sorry I was a little late updating our Week in Pictures slideshow. Trust me when I say the wait was worth it.

I stayed away from a lot of the usual suspects this time. No preseason NFL football. Only a couple of MLB photos. I did include a lot of sports images this time, I think. There just seemed to be a lot of good stuff being made out there this week, like the one here from the Little League World Series.

Be warned, however: The sixth image in this week's slideshow may be upsetting to sensitive viewers. My slideshow program won't allow an option to skip or I might have considered using it. The photo was so gripping I had to include it, though. It depicts from a distance a wing walker falling from his plane during an airshow after trying to go from an airplane to a helicopter's skids.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

I heart the Brown County Fair

I have a love affair with the Brown County Fair. Shhh! Don't tell my wife!

I don't know what it is about it. I like many of the other county fairs around the area that I cover on an annual basis, but there's something about the Brown County fair that always lends itself to good pictures.

Perhaps it's the volume of classic, brick buildings on the fairgrounds. Maybe the atmosphere? I'm not sure. But each year I go to the Brown County Fair I come back with at least one picture I really like.

The photo above is one of the first photos I shot at the Brown County Fair in New Ulm after moving here back in 2002. Everything seemed to come into alignment when I went into the sheep barn: The light, the composition, the moment between a young 4-Her and her sheep. I still like this photo.

The photos below I've shot in New Ulm over the past few years. Each one of them has a special place in my heart, and I may never know why. The Brown County Fair just seems to be one of those places where I can wander in, stroll the grounds for an hour or two and find a plethora of great pictures.

Evening light strikes a cow as she's led back to her stall.

Andrew Scholtz shows his prospect steer during the 4-H Beef Show.

Mike Griebel helps his son Isaac get his cow ready outside the cattle barn.
Bethany Seifert sits with her cow.
A rabbit checks out the competition during judging.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

You never can tell

Frank Glick's photo at Fort Snelling National Cemetery.
I always keep a camera in my truck. You never know when a good photo will come your way.

The story about the photo at right, taken by amateur photographer Frank Glick during an early morning drive through Fort Snelling National Cemetery on his way to work, is a touching one. As reported in Star Tribune columnist Jon Tevlin's column in June, Glick tracked down the widow of the World War II veteran on whose tombstone the eagle rests.

The photo spoke to her, and since Tevlin's column, the photo has spoken to hundreds of others. Glick, according to a follow-up story Tevlin wrote recently, has sent reprints of the photo to airbases, veterans affairs offices, Arlington National Cemetery, and a base in Afghanistan. All from a photo Glick captured while traveling from one place to another.

Unfortunately, in this day and age, the inevitable accusations of digital alteration (know by the inaccurate and, in my opinion evil, term "Photoshopping") have come into play. The bird is too big, some say. Others point out the sidelighting creating an aura around the bird. Glick reassured Tevlin the photo was not a fake (which is something he shouldn't have to do!), but rather the end result of 60 frames of shooting and a little cropping.

For a photo like this, that's all that's necessary.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Really odd photos get all the attention

Art project in Beijing, China. AP photo
I had to look at the caption when I first saw this photo, featured in this week's The Week in Pictures. Ed Thoma, one of our page designers, often points out pictures that catch his eye for the slideshow. When he showed me this one I had no idea what I was seeing at first. Reading the caption only helped a little.

That's probably why I like it so much.

Ignore the fact that it looks like a giant box of Crayola crayons for starters (Have you seen the person yet?). Ignore that all you really see at first is the back of two young people's heads (no, not THOSE people). While you're at it, ignore the fact that you can't really see anything going on in the picture at all (yes, THAT person!).

Pay attention to the fact that you really have to see the picture before you figure out what (or who) you're looking at.

It's one of those pictures that grabs your attention because you have to spend some time seeing the picture. You have to study it a bit before you realize there's a third person being painted there. The photo is of Chinese artist Liu Bolin, center, being painted to blend into rows of drinks in his artwork entitled "Plasticizer," to express his speechlessness at use of plasticizer in food additives. A neat statement, and a striking photo.

The photo illustrates the difference between looking at a photograph, and seeing it. Looking at a photograph involves a simple physical act. There can still be appreciation, but in my opinion a viewer doesn't really get to enjoy the entire picture. It's like reading the first and last chapters of a novel. You get the point, maybe even enjoy the "book," but the subtleties are missed. To see a photograph is to read into its meaning, to grasp some of the nuances that make a photograph unique and appreciate those subtle parts of the photograph.

The picture, and the above statements, fly in the face of everything I was taught in journalism school that makes a good picture. Newspaper photographs should be a "quick read," I was told. A reader shouldn't have to stare at a picture to figure it out.

Well, maybe not EVERY photo should be a quick read. After all, they put crossword puzzles in the paper too, don't they?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Who's in town?

Jim Kleinsasser. John Cross photo
Oh, yeah! That's right! It's Vikings Training Camp season! I was wondering why there were so many cars going the wrong way on one way streets in Mankato. Not to mention all the SUVs with tinted windows and chrome spinners.

Don't get me wrong. Those who know me know I'm a BIG football fan (though I tend to root for a different team). I even enjoy having training camp in town (but don't tell anyone. I don't think I'm supposed to like it!). It would have been odd if camp didn't happen in Mankato this year due to the lockout. Training camp is a good time to see some of my Twin Cities colleagues and shoot photos of something that gets national exposure. How can I NOT like it?

Of course, I can do without the circus atmosphere, the crazy drivers, the piles of extra work and the general nuttiness that goes with camp. It seems that once 90 famous (or semi-famous) people invade town everyone kind of loses their minds a bit.

Not me. A photographer once told me on one of my first assignments shooting famous people to "act like you've been there, cause you have. Just shoot. They're still people, right?" Words I continue to live by.

I haven't been up to MSU yet. I'm scheduled to shoot the Thursday practice, when all the free agents hit the practice fields. I'm kinda looking forward to it. In the meantime, John and I have created a running photo gallery we'll update each day we're at camp. I posted it below, though it's sized to fit our website's column space, so you'll have to hit the full screen square in the right corner. You can also see it here.