Category Thoughts & Theory

“We’re people, we’re not news robots.”

We often wonder if the work we do makes a difference. Sometimes, we get a little evidence of it.

Noelle Lashley was Grady College’s Class Orator at our Convocation and called out Bob Lynn’s book, Vision, Courage and Heart.

We can be afraid. We’re people, we’re not news robots. We just can’t let that fear affect our work.

Printing Out of Time

My darkroom days are, thankfully, in the past. I was never enamored with the process of photography, it was the message and meaning of an image I fell in love with. The ability to bring someone somewhere, to let them bear witness.

That said, I do appreciate the work of masters in the craft and the Cibachrome prints of Christopher Burkett are enchanting. That his days in the darkroom are numbered is, truly, saddening.

The Good Fight, Business Practices and What’s Next

Rick Smolan is known for his book series A Day in the Life of …, a project that started decades ago. He was recently interviewed by Scott Galloway of L2 to talk about those books, his newest project The Good Fight: America’s Ongoing Struggle for Justice and the business of photography.

Smolan pulls no punches here – the business model is not working anymore. But as I sat through this, thinking about how we old timers lament the days of re-licensing work and sustainable day rates, I started to wonder how we should teach the business of photography going forward and whether we need a zero-base approach to it.

Day rates aren’t what they were, clients want more rights than before, their needs are different due to emerging platforms and so many of us still talk about holding on to the business model of the 20th century … maybe, just maybe, we need to think about a different way of doing sustainable visual storytelling.

I have no idea what that way is, but it seems like something we should talk about at least.

(Thanks to Michael Schwarz for the link to the Michael Zhang piece on PetaPixel.)

The Hypocrisy of a Corporate Mandate Urging Independence

By now, you’ve seen the video montage that Deadspin created, with anchors from dozens of Sinclair Broadcasting Group stations reading the same corporate-issued script. You’ve seen the response from media associations like the National Press Photographers Association (and seen the consequences of that statement), you’ve read the analysis from folks like Al Tompkins at the Poynter Institute.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer has a copy of the script edited to include local references to station KOMO. Some comments:

“Hi, I’m(A) ____________, and I’m (B) _________________…
(B) Our greatest responsibility is to serve our Northwest communities. We are extremely proud of the quality, balanced journalism that KOMO News produces.

By using news time for what is a promo or “public service announcement,” you’re cutting into your service to the community.

(A) But we’re concerned about the troubling trend of irresponsible, one sided news stories plaguing our country. The sharing of biased and false news has become all too common on social media.

Quality journalism dictates that you identify the source of your information. Neither the source of this script nor evidence of the “troubling trend” are provided.

(B) More alarming, some media outlets publish these same fake stories… stories that just aren’t true, without checking facts first.

Did KOMO review the information this report is based on? Allegedly, Sinclair did a survey – did anyone at KOMO look at the results? Did they look at the methodology? Did they talk to a survey expert about the sample size and composition? Did they ask about any implicit bias in the question structures?

(A) Unfortunately, some members of the media use their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda to control ‘exactly what people think’…This is extremely dangerous to a democracy.

When one media organization requires all of their stations to run compulsory commentary, with out identifying its corporate source, isn’t that using, “their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda?”

(B) At KOMO it’s our responsibility to pursue and report the truth. We understand Truth is neither politically ‘left nor right.’ Our commitment to factual reporting is the foundation of our credibility, now more than ever.

“Factual reporting is the foundation of our credibility” – that’s a powerful and true statement. But when you do not identify the words coming out of your mouth as being someone else’s, when you do not verify the data upon which those words are based and when you do not identify that these are coming from outside your newsroom, outside your news station and outside your community, you lose that credibility that you claim to need.

(A) But we are human and sometimes our reporting might fall short. If you believe our coverage is unfair please reach out to us by going to KOMOnews.com and clicking on CONTENT CONCERNS. We value your comments. We will respond back to you.
(B) We work very hard to seek the truth and strive to be fair, balanced and factual… We consider it our honor, our privilege to responsibly deliver the news every day.
Thank you for watching and we appreciate your feedback”

This is the soft close, this is the, “we’re listening to you but not telling you all we know” finish to make the audience feel good.

Broadcast stations are considered public trustees – because they use airwaves that are owned by all of us, there are certain standards they need to meet, certain obligations they need to fill. As more and more are owned by large corporations (Sinclair currently owns 193 television stations and is in discussions to purchase 40 more), there is a conflict between the public trustee role and the demands of corporate cultures.

Sinclair didn’t cross any legal lines here, but an ethical one has been bridged. Local news organizations should be reflective of and responsible to their local communities. The benefits of corporate ownership should be in taking advantage of scale for business purposes, not in taking advantage of scale to push a political agenda that may not be reflective of the communities.

Having local anchors read a corporate-provided script decrying that, “some members of the media use their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda” is the very epitome of hypocrisy and erodes any credibility those news organizations may have.

So what do we do? As an educator, I advise my students to research the entities that are offering internships and jobs beyond just the basic info of location, market share or pay scales. They need to do a deep dive into the newsroom, the local organization and the corporate philosophy.

More so on the broadcast side than on the print side, journalists may have to sign contracts that stipulate everything from how much they’ll be paid to how they can – or cannot – move-on or quit.

I ask my students to look deeply inside themselves, to see if this corporation is a company they would be proud to represent because it will be their name, their likeness, that will be the public face of that company.

A good working environment and culture will go a very long way to make you both happy and successful. Salary alone doesn’t dictate job satisfaction.

I surround myself with journalists, journalism students and journalism educators by choice because we share a common ethical framework and a deep desire to help our local communities, to ask questions in our local communities and to seek answers in our local communities. I appreciate that working for the University of Georgia gives me access to certain benefits because of the scale of this operation but I also appreciate that I am given the ability to work with and react to my immediate constituents – the students and, by extension, the citizens of the state.

Corporate ownership of news organizations is not inherently evil, corporate dictates that do not reflect local priorities is, though. As a public trustee it is incumbent upon corporate owners to allow local operations to reflect the values and needs of those local consumers.

If they don’t, they are participating in yet another form of propaganda designed to control what people think.

Reading the World Press Photo FInalists

Michael Shaw has an interesting take on the six World Press Photo finalists over at Reading the Pictures.

There is not one photo that begins a dialogue, that poses a question, that does anything other than hit us upside the head.

The question of what’s the purpose of an image is a long, deep one. Is it just to document?

My belief is that a great new photograph is designed to inform, to educate and to resonate.

The Image, Deconstructed Workshop

High on my list of events I want to get to is The Image, Deconstructed Workshop out in Colorado:

THE IMAGE, DECONSTRUCTED workshop is an immersive weekend photographic experience. Attendees are welcome from all skills levels. The workshop will be held at The Denver Post in downtown Denver, Colorado.

Our faculty is comprised of award-winning leaders in the field. They will help attendees become more aware of their purpose and vision. Importantly, they can help demonstrate how to express this more effectively.

Storytelling Lessons

My friend Al Tompkins at the Poynter Institute has broken down a couple of Super Bowl commercials to help us become better storytellers.

Worth clicking through for the other ad breakdown.

LOOK3 Festival Shuttered

Photo District News is reporting that the LOOK3 photo festival, held for the last decade or so in Charlottesville, will not continue due to financial issues.

This was on my bucket list for a long time, the line up was always intriguing and the atmosphere, reportedly, amazing.

But I’ve also heard there was minimal, if any, discussion on the business of photography. Every venture has risks involved, markets move on from where you’ve staked your claim. The key is in making sure you’re able to survive those market moves.

Without a sound footing in the business of photography, you won’t succeed. I hope there’s something new that comes along, that the organizers take what they’ve learned and build a new program, one that will continue to be supported by the industry, that will draw in amazing storytellers and have them talk about how to both make the images and how to market the images in a sustainable way.

Maybe call it LOOK4Ward … to the rest of your career.

(Thanks to John Harrington for the lede.)

Getting the Big Picture, Leaving a Legacy

A wonderful piece by a gentleman whose work I admire and whose character I deeply respect – Billy Howard writes about making a group photo at a summer camp and becoming part of the camp’s legacy.

Too often we drop into people’s lives, quickly assess what makes them who they are and then dash off. If the photo succeeds, if it wins awards, maybe we get to stand on a platform in a darkened room before our peers and share our experience of how we made the image. But how often do we consider what it was like to have been on the other side of the image? What did that experience mean?

Mr. Howard knows for those he photographed last summer wrote a song about it.

Personal Boundaries

The Deer Center for Journalism and Trauma interviewed nine female journalists about the issues they have faced in the field and how to deal with them. This should be required viewing for everyone who is a member of the media or who interacts with the media.

So, essentially, everyone on the planet.

(Thanks to alum and friend of the program Minla Shields for the link.)