Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The future is unwritten

This course did not so much introduce me to the tools of the digital age as it reinforced and re-educated me to the inter-connective powers of blogging and linking, but especially to the social media network that is developing exponentially.

Previous Experience:

I have experienced the power of blogging. Four years ago, while embedded with a local Army Reserve unit in Iraq, along with the daily articles and photographs I sent to the newspaper, I sent blogs on a daily basis that were more of a personal diary, sharing my perceptions and experiences with the troops and on the forward operating base. I believe that I received more responses from the soldiers' families about the blogs than I received from the newspaper's readers about the articles.

Here is a gallery of photos from my embed in Ramadi, Iraq:

My experience at the newspaper has inclueded producing a number of photo galleries and a few audio-slideshows using the software Soundslides and Audcity.

Pros and cons of multi-media

It affects my work in both positive and negative ways. The positive is in the way it improves the way I tell the story, whether I'm recording ambient sound or interviewing someone, sometimes while capturing the audio the subject reveals something that has remained hidden until that moment and then I know to stay on the watch for that moment to capture it with my camera.

The negative is that it is rare to find the time necessary to capture all the facets of multi-media, photos, audio and video, let alone find the production time to adequately edit all those components into a cohesive, linear story.

Where do we go from here

But, as I wrote in my lead paragraph, it is the power and potential of the social media networks that this course has opened my eyes to understand. As journalists we have to incorporate blogging, linking, RSS and multimedia, in our daily work, it is the next wave of reporting, 21st century journalism, and it is the social media network that we must utilize in transmitting our work.

You can make better use of all these tools by constant use. It's like a language, as you use it more you become more fluent and more proficient. And as you use it more, you will develop more connectivity to an expanding community, a community that has no borders, no borders and no restraints, other than the ones you impose on yourself.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Civil discussion behind the cloak of anonymity

After reading the mean-spirited, vituperative comments on the online blogs and responses to articles in the newspaper I've become a strong supporter of identifying yourself with your comments. It is something that newspapers require in letters to the editor and I think it is something that needs to be adhered to in online discussions.

I'm enough of a realist to know that what I'm advocating won't happent anytime soon. There are too many craven people out there who don't have the honor or spine to let themselves be identified with their spiteful opinions.

However, there are people who do sign their comments and when I read their statements I find that even if I don't agree with their opinion I find it easier to respect them and the argument that they advocate.

I don't advocate cracking down on the comments unless they become simply an ongoing spitting match between two individuals or the comments and discussion becomes one of such a distasteful, personal feud that has absolutely nothing in common with the debate. Even then it may be better to "give them enough rope, to hang themselves."

I guess you could have a referee, just as they have in boxing matches or athletic events, to oversee and officiate the discussion to keep it within the bounds of good taste. But then the question becomes who is the arbiter and why do you draw the line where you do?

It's not surprising, at least here in America, that some of the more obnoxious posts and comments can be found about sports teams, athletes and coaches. There's very few things that will rise the blood pressure and bring down a reign of terror at the local newspaper's website like an under performing coach or team. Perhaps this phenomenon in not limited to the States. I know by observation that there are many futbol fans through out the world and I'm sure they're apt to express their sentiments with little civil discussion.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Visual manipualtions violates trust of readers/viewers in reporting the news

I'm late to join the class discussion but I've been avidly following the ongoing discussions. Over the years that I have worked as a photojournalist every so often there arises an outrage when it is discovered that an award winning photograph has been manipulating some of his photographs. These days it is so easy to manipulate photographs digitally but in the past photographers also manipulated photographs by managing the situation to "create" the photograph, the image, that they wanted to portray.

In fact in can be persuasively argued that Dorothea Lange's famous photo "Migrant Mother" is a manipulated image and it has been proven that the image was manipulated in the darkroom. If you look at the series of images, the negatives from which Lange's famous image came from, Lange took a variety of images eliminating some of the children until she arrived at the iconic image and the image was retouched. I've included a link that shows the retouched image.

Almost three years ago, Allan Detrich, a veteran, award-winning photojournalist with the Toledo Blade, had to resign after it was discovered that a photograph that was published in the Blade, had been digitally manipulated. Detrich's manipulation was to "clean" up the photograph's composition by eliminating the legs of some people in the background of the photograph. The manipulation would not have been discovered except for the fact that other photojournalists photographs of the same event were not digitally altered. The National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) reported on the controversy. Here is the link to their report.

The NPPA has taken a very pro-active stance against the manipulation of news photographs and has a Code of Ethics. I've included the link to the Code.

It's an unfortunate fact of life that in the pursuit of the perfect image or the perfect story, journalists and photojournalist sometimes find it convenient to manipulate, alter and at times simply create fiction. Past examples include Janet Cooke's story on a child heroin addict in the Washington Post, Stephen Glass's reporting for the New Republic and Jayson Blair's reporting for the New York Times.

When these transgressions were revealed, as hard as these publications tried to redeem their journalistic integrity, the public response seems to be of an attitude that their deepest suspicions of journalism are only confirmed, despite the self-flagellating efforts by the New York Times to review all of Blair's reporting and printing a public report in the paper revealing even more transgressions.

As a photojournalist I find it difficult to accept the class assignment to take one of my photographs and digitally manipulate it but I'll accept the task. There have been times in the past at the newspaper when we will digitally alter a photograph to accompany a story and on those occassions we always label the photograph as a "Photo Illustration".

I've taken a photo of a nun in Maaloula sweeping the trash early in the morning and by using the cloning tool in photoshop I've added additional trash for her to sweep. Similar to what Mr. Detrich did in his photo but he eliminated the legs of the people standing in the background.

Ethical reporting by journalists and photojournalists protects not only their individual integrity but the integrity of the community of journalists and photojournalists.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Media Convergence in the digital era

I struggled with how I wanted to approach this exercise. Eventually, I decided to approach this assignment as an exercise to show how journalists and visual journalism are using the web to not only place stories on the web but are using the web to promote themselves in their efforts to find work, not just commercial work that will pay the monthly bills but meaningful work that is issue driven.

When Worlds Collide

  • Media platforms converge in the digital era
  • Websites bring newspapers, magazines, radio and television under one umbrella, one platform;

Online websites are an amalgamation of all media with news sites composed of print, video, audio and multi-media productions that combine all elements into one production. With this emerging digital revolution comes expanding access to information around the world without national boundaries or censorship to hinder the transmission.

With the developing growth of online websites, commercial, and independent, freelance sites comes the ability to offer more information, more variety of information than the standard media platforms from the past.

National Public Radio is an example of an evolving medium utilizing print, video, still photography and slide shows to augment what was in the past a strictly audio presentation of the news.

The above link takes you to the NPR website where you can listen to previous programs and even download previously aired programs. Some of the audio segments are supplemented with video, still photography and slide shows. The website has a section called "the picture show," that supplements the audio story telling with video, photos and slide shows. Examples are Andrea Hsu's "Seamstress By Day, Songstress By Night," and Claire O'Neill's "The Birds And The Bees . . . And The Plants," an essay with an accompanying slide show. Both stories are linked below

They even have a You Tube site called "Radio Pictures" where the convergence of multi-media, audio, video and still photography, along with some written text presents the stories of people, sometimes in their own words, sometimes in narrative.

The digital era has presented a new arena for freelance photographers, videographers and reporters to present their work and to solicit work.

The company Story4 is a multimedia organization of journalists that have moved from press journalism into multi-media reporting.

Examples of their work linked below, include stories about poverty in California's Central Valley, "Sowing Change" and a story about Big Sur, an area along the California coastline, south of San Francisco, in Monterey County, "The Nature of Well Being." Much of their work is done for non-profit organizations.

Another example of multi-media reporting in the digital age is the website MediaStorm. Brian Storm is the originator and creator. The site is sponsored by the Storm's style of multi-media reporting is at times advocacy journalism and he is unapologetic about his desire to use the media to effect change.

This is a small sample of the work proliferating on the web. As the world of journalism evolves so does the platforms we have to do the reporting to the world. As one door closes, another opens, and with the global accessibility of the web many doors open.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Self-Censorship versus serving as a Witness

As journalist we serve as witnesses reporting on events, violent and non-violent for our readers and viewers. We bring our perception of the events as we witnessed them. I abhor violence and I hate it when the media exploit violence, the lurid, and the disenfranchised merely to make a profit. Yet, we have to report and photograph the obscene violence that is rampant in this world. We have to report, for if we don't, who will.

I am reminded of a photo-essay I did a few years ago on the proliferation of dogs and cats and how the local animal shelter did all they could to find this innocent animals homes but despite their efforts they had to put a number of cats, dogs, kittens and puppies down every week. It was hard on the personnel but it had to be done. One of the photos I published was of the workers putting down kittens. In hindsight, I guess I should have placed a disclaimer or some kind of warning at the beginning of the story because a couple of families were caught unaware when they came across the photo of the kittens being put down. I felt bad and my managing editor was upset that I hadn't given him a preview of the photo-essay, on the other hand the employees at the animal shelter felt I had covered a story that had to be told but with sensitivity. I felt bad for the family but I also felt that the photo and the entire essay may have helped provoke and awaken members of my community, my city, to this issue.

The issue of not linking to websites that promote pornography or graphic depictions of violence such as the beheadings of 12 Nepalese workers in Iraq can't be dismissed by ignoring its availability on the internet. These issues need to be addressed, by not linking to them do we deny they exist? I advocate some kind of warning system, perhaps similar to what we use in the U.S. to rate movies, PG, PG-16, R, X. It's an imperfect system and its flaws may create more problems than it resolves.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

ICFJ Assignment#1

All right, finally getting around to posting a blog. I visited all the websites because I'm curious to see what is being done in the "industry." I work for a small town newspaper, circ. 18,000, and the overriding emphasis is on the online production these days, the newspaper is secondary. So, with all the emphasis on the website I am always looking to see what other websites are doing to bring additional viewers & readers to their sites.
So, lets talk about the websites: My initial impression was that this was an objective news site with an emphasis on hard news. The lead story was about Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas criticizing the EU's decision on Jerusalem being a two-state capital. But beyond that story the rest of the website became a series of one-sided opinion pieces or stories with single sources, weak reporting and reading more as one-sided public relations by government censors. As a photojournalist I took notice of many file photos that really had no relationship to the stories they were used to illustrate. In fact I noticed comments on one side about Saudi women at a shopping mall being harassed that even the readers comments were critical of the photograph's non-relevance to the story and one reader's comment was to chastise Alarabiya for over use of this photo, that he had seen it used to illustrate a number of previous stories. When a website or a newspaper is too lax or lazy to make the attempt to cover the very news it is "reporting" on then it loses credibility with me. I feel the same way about using photo-illustrations for stories. I know that with some some stories you just aren't able to photograph the situation but with a story about Egyptian men complaining about divorce laws with a photo illustration it is another example of loss of credibilty. There are unattributed quotes in the story that one has to assume come from the main source, it's sloppy reporting and bad editing. Perhaps the story was lost in translation. When you go to the bottom home page of the website to read "about us" the description there is nothing about who the people are behind the website, who funds the website, who works at the website, who is the management of the website, there is a lot of information on what awards they have won and a lot of self-congratulations regarding how great the website is.
I guess the one asset I appreciated from the website was the number of story ideas I gleaned from the website.

Gawker: Right from the start, from the very minute I saw the home page I had no faith in the objectiveness of the reporting. The stories seemed to have a condescending, snarkiness to them, definite attitude in the reporting and very subjective. Even the Gawker title seems to telepathically send a message of non-seriousness. The design, relying on a series of thumbnail photos of celebrities tells me that this is a website devoted to infotainment, yes it's information, but of a most specious and irrelevant need to know brand. Gawker is more of an in-house hipster rag, being cool and teeming with irony and that sense of superiority. Gawker is not competing with the New York Times or the Washington Post. I get the feeling that Gawker is trying to be the anti-newspaper website. On the left column is a solicitation to "tip your editors." All newspapers rely on tips from their readers, so many stories come to us that way but the very tone and use of the word "tips." Tips sounds more like briefs or gossip, they're not asking their readers for story ideas but to send in your tips. There is a non-seriousness that permeates the website and the editors lamentably fulfill that non-seriousness.

MinnPost: This site really threw me off, first the home page design is so busy that it's tough to track stories and the first story I read was a sympathetic Q&A profile on conservative congress woman Michelle Bachman by a conservative journalist Michael Bonafeld. I quickly assumed that the website was a branch of Human Events but then when I went to read the "about us" I discovered the background of the people funding the site and the career backgrounds of the management involved with the daily operations of the site and I had to reverse my initial impression. I found many of the stories to have multiple sources and the reporting was on a first tier professionally, however some of the stories had a subjective slant that should be avoided in hard news reporting, especially when covering politics. There was a story on a state senator resigning to become a lobbyist and the reporter's lead was more appropriate for an opinion piece then news reporting. It gives me the impression that the Minnpost is an attempt to give voice to all spectrums of the political arena. That the attempt to report objectively is a vain and futile effort and to allow its reporters to report the news from their own subjective bias.

The one feature that I found most important to me as a reader was the "about us" bio information and the one website that I thought was the most open and revealing was Minnpost. Gawker and Alarabiya talked about their websites but they did not reveal any information about who is behind the website. Who funds the website and what are their professional backgrounds. All three website design's did not inspire me with trust and first impressions are important, I will be the first to admit that first impressions can be wrong, as was my first impression of Minnpost, but with many viewers and readers you only have that first impression, if you lose them you often times won't have them return. That's why design plays such an important role in the newspaper and the website.
Even though I found Alarabiya and Gawker reporting not to be of the top caliber I don't think that is the purpose of Gawker but Alarabiya is more deceptive in its presentation of the news and attempts to be the serious provider of mideast news when it is more a serious propagandist promoting the policies of Saudi Arabia.