Wednesday, 15 February 2012

7. Photographs are very important. Always ask for them, don’t think your job is just words

Photographs (or "art" as it's called in America, at least from what I can figure out from The Wire - reporters call them smudges in the UK reflecting our differences and giving you some idea of how we value our colleagues with cameras) are as important than words.

And don't go believing that if you write 1,000 words you've painted a good enough picture - you haven't.

In theory every page lead should have a photograph to illustrate it - although this isn't always possible.

But don't make the mistake, as many reporters do, that your job is simply words.

These days your job includes everything - including securing the picture. Always ask for them.

Of course social media has helped a lot - the days of banging on lots of doors may not quite be over but it is very close. (This is not necessarily a good thing as we shall see at a later date.)

More importantly don't even take it for granted that your local newspaper even has a photographer any more...or at least one available.

For despite the fact that newspapers are made up of just two things words and pictures - the pictures side seems to being slowly forgotten. Many are working on eradicating the words side too.

Ah yes! but photographs still appear in newspapers. Indeed they do - usually taken by the readers themselves on cheap cameras, with red-eye and no composition, badly lit or slightly out of focus.

Most of the time these pictures are pointless - they get dumped under "community news" the catch-all phrase for putting in any old crap that people submit to the paper.

But once in a while that blurry shot taken half in the dark with the side of someone's head disappearing off the edge is...well, is gold dust.

It could be the perpetrator or the victim of a crime, the local lad who is now a star, the health guru with a cigarette hanging out of her mouth...the local MP on a protest march as a student.

And always be on the look out for potential pictures to use (oddly many local paper editors don't understand their importance but it is good to maintain an eye for these things).

Some years ago as editor of a local newspaper I was sorting through some boxes of old photographs one was a wonderful wide black and white shot of the local hunt meeting outside the town hotel with protesters and supporters.

A few weeks later the hunt announced it would be returning to a town for the first time in years - suddenly this historical photo taken 15 or 20 years before was the perfect illustration...a look back for older readers, a novelty for younger readers and a historical reference to others.

Tomorrow: Using the in-house library

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