Presidential Pondering

Will the White House open up?

December 14th, 2013 | Uncategorized | 10 comments

President Obama appears to have nothing against having his picture taken. He’s photographed pretty much constantly by Official White House Photographer, Pete Souza. Pete does a great job documenting President Obama, no doubt about that. There has been an unprecedented flow of photos online through the White House Flickr photostream and other social media.

But there has been an unprecedented lack of access given to photojournalists during the current administration. While it looks to most people like the White House is being transparent they are releasing their own photos and only those photos they want released.

As much as it might make Pete Souza bristle his work is not the work of a free and independent press. The photos released are carefully selected by an image machine that has been brilliant in its use of social media.

The strong word for carefully polishing an image through the selective release of photos and other information is propaganda.

There has been pressure for better access from all corners of the journalism world to allow news photographers access to the White House and the President. On November 21 a couple dozen journalism organizations delivered a letter to the White House press office asking for improved access. Following that letter and meeting were lots of editorials and announcements that newspaper after newspaper were not going to publish the handout pictures.

Then, on December 12, at a press briefing, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was questioned at length about the lack of access and the lack of action on the part of the White House since the letter was delivered.

Carney talked and talked. He gave us the gratuitous bit about how much he admired those brave photographers he worked with as a reporter. Told everyone how much he respected their work. Yeah yeah yeah.

Then he proved he doesn’t understand what the real journalists want.

He talked about how there will never ever be as much access as the press wants. Probably true but not really the issue.

Then there was the odd part about how because of the internet and how that has changed business models all the news outlets want more pictures. Huh? We only want to be able to have uncensored pictures of the POTUS because of pressure on business models? Nonsense. The fact that many newspapers are not making the money they did in the past has nothing to do with asking for more transparency in the highest office in the land.

Then he said they were working on it.

That’s it? After three weeks? After three weeks all we get is “We’re working on it”???

How long does it take to change a line on a calendar from “closed press” to “pool spray”?

When pressed on what “working on it” means Carney repeated the phrase a bunch. When Carney was a reporter would he have been satisfied with that tap dance of an answer?

I’m not sure Mr. Carney understands the difference between what Pete Souza does, which is wonderful work documenting a presidency, and real photojournalism. Flickr and an official White House Photo of the Day are not fulfilling the watchdog role the public deserves.

Prove you’re working on it. Put more “open press” events on that schedule.


What’s your plan B?

September 2nd, 2013 | Uncategorized | 8 comments

I’ve been absent here for a while. Too long really. I’ll visit more often.

In late July I was in Chicago for a Business Blitz and saw first hand how knowledgeable the presenters were. I learned a lot about going into business for myself, if I ever want to.

I also learned a lot of staff photographers don’t have a Plan B. They have been going to work day after day, week after week, year after year. Just like me.  I’ve been going to work at the same place for 36 years now. I don’t have a Plan B.

It’s easy to go years without a Plan B if nothing smacks you upside the head and makes you see that your safe comfortable staff job is a lot more fragile than it appears. You work hard, you get good annual reviews, you might even win awards and contests. You buy a house, the kids go to good schools and the years go by.

Then you hear about layoffs at another place. And you are assured that won’t happen where you work. But you update your resume, because you want to be ready just in case, and then go back to work.

You didn’t need to update your resume as much as you needed to change how you think about your career. I’m in no position to give advice here beyond the obvious.

There are companies who will cut staff in order to meet goals set by people far removed from any newsroom and if you are staff you are vulnerable.

Just like the 28 canned in Chicago.

Some of the 28 had a Plan B, others hit the ground running and others seem stuck, frozen. The Business Blitz was good for all of those who attended. There was a lot of reason to hope and it was easy to see spirits rise as the day went on. There was also, as the day drew to a close, a frank discussion on what work was available. There is some, of course. But not enough to pay for everyone’s house and car and groceries. Not even close.

I have a staff job. I hope I get to keep it but it clearly isn’t entirely up to me.

I should stop writing and work on my Plan B.


For Photojournalists by Photojournalists

February 28th, 2013 | Uncategorized | 1 comment

Let me start by describing my day on February 26.
I’ll start at the end, just so you know it isn’t a tragedy.
It ends with Laphroaig over ice.
Back to the beginning.
Up at 5 am to drive to a murder trial where I would be the pool camera. That’s complicated by snow, blowing snow and 85 miles in road conditions I would describe as crappy to very crappy.
The trial starts late.
I’ve been checking Facebook and email and there is much uproar over various contest results and reactions to reaction and so forth.
I think I should react too.
But that will have to wait.
At the afternoon break I edit a little sound and video and start the FTP to the server. It’s flying along at 10.3 kb/sec. I go back to my spot in the courtroom and struggle to stay awake as the defense enters photos 218-234 into evidence and has the agent on the stand describe each one and asks him if there is any bread visible. Seriously?
Court adjourns for the day.
Remember 10.3 kb/sec? It’s a good thing the satellite truck is outside because only the soundbite is gonna make it to the server. At 4:48 I carry my camera, tripod, batteries and laptop out to the truck and learn the snow is too thick for the small dish. No way to uplink. Outside our speed has picked up to 13.6 kb/sec and the soundbite gets to the server and I assign it to the rundown with a good 2 minutes to spare.
What about the 6? FTP a short soundbite. Done.
We hit the road and my reporter, Jannay, writes her story as we drive.
Still snowing, still crappy roads but dark now.
In the middle of nowhere, we hit 4g and the VO takes off but not in time as Jannay does her report, live on the phone.
Another hour plus and I drop Jannay off at the station and head for home.
Stop for dog food.
Stop for Mike food.
Crank up the snowblower.
Come back in the house and the 10 o’clock news is on.
I think about reacting to the contest stuff.
I pour the scotch.
I sip the scotch.
I think about writing about contests.
My thoughts…
Much of what sticks in my mind about reaction to heavily toned entries is comparisons to Ansel Adams work or how, in the days of enlargers and printing presses, what was done to make an image display well in the newspaper.
I am not a still photographer. I do understand having to adjust an image in order for it to display properly, like the “Hand of God” thing done to black and white long ago. But change an image so it does well in a contest?
Please don’t.
The NPPA Best of Photojournalism contest, it seems to me, is much less about Ansel Adams and more about the photojs who get up at 5 am and their work appears in the homes of viewers and readers that day, often before they themselves get home, before they pour a drink and relax.
More about the photographer who chases someone down to make sure they get the spelling of their name correct than the photographer who has an assistant write a caption.
Judges in the BOP will apply the NPPA Code of Ethics as they judge. They will do that because Ethics matter.
Credibility matters.
Accuracy matters.
I wish everyone who entered the BOP contest the best of luck.
I hope no one who entered the BOP cheated.

Urging Corporate News Media Organizations to Improve and Expand News Coverage

January 28th, 2013 | Uncategorized | 10 comments

Today the NPPA released the following statement:

The National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) and the
American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP) Urge Corporate News Media Organizations to Improve and Expand News Coverage

The National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) and the American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP) are keenly aware that newsrooms in the United States have experienced dramatic cutbacks during the past decade, with many news organizations reducing the size, frequency and breadth of their coverage. These cutbacks have eroded the quality of information available to American citizens, while contributing to an overall distrust of the news media.

Candidates in the 2012 election campaign cycle reportedly raised and spent an unprecedented $6 billion. The campaigns expended a large portion of this sum to advertise on television and radio as well as in newspapers and news magazines. The Washington Post reports that the presidential campaigns, alone, spent more than $1billion – half or more of their total campaign dollars – on such advertising.

In order to accommodate this huge influx of advertising, many media outlets actually reduced their available news bloc to make room for more political advertising.

Based upon these facts and observations the NPPA & ASMP urge corporate news media organizations to re-invest a substantial portion of their profits into the communities they serve by improving and expanding local news coverage so as to achieve the highest standards in journalism and bolster public trust and respect.

Why? The direct but less revealing answer is because Greg Smith, one of the brightest minds in the organization, proposed a resolution calling for such a statement. The resolution was discussed, modified and passed by the Board in early January.

That’s the short answer. The longer more revealing answer is because the NPPA, long known for educating photographers and running contests, is continuing to become a louder voice for visual journalists. Part of that evolution, as described by now Past President Sean Elliot at the same January meeting, is that the NPPA should be the loud voice leading the charge, not the meek voice saying, quietly, yes, we agree with whatever another group says.

So, here it is. A shout, saying we, the photographers and editors and MMJs and educators and students and others, would like to be able to do our jobs better so the communities we live in will be better because those communities are better informed.

We aren’t demanding. We aren’t saying the companies we work for shouldn’t keep the money they make.

We’re saying some companies, in this election cycle, got a lot more money than they expected to get and we would like those companies to take some of that money, and $6,000,000,000 is a whole lot of money, and put it to work where we work and live.

Mike Borland

Is Resistance Futile?

October 22nd, 2012 | Ethics | No comments

It all started when FoxNews cited the NPPA’s Code of Ethics in a web story decrying a photo of Virginia schoolgirl’s humorous facial expression during a Mitt Romney campaign event. FoxNews referred to the clause in the code that encourages photojournalists to respect the dignity of the subjects of our photos and suggested that both the girl and the candidate were harmed by the image.
I will admit to coming down on both sides of the issue. I’m delighted that the NPPA code is being cited more and more of late. But FoxNews was probably also overreacting. The moment was funny, the girl was looking surprised because the presidential candidate was about to sit on one of her classmates. Absent the caption detail though, on first glance it does look as if the girl is looking at the candidate’s rear end.
But the subject of photo ops and the behavior of photojournalists was reignited this week when the director of an Ohio soup kitchen complained that VP candidate Paul Ryan washed already-clean pots and pans during a photo op.
The question was quickly asked, what business do photojournalists have documenting and distributing photos of so blatantly fake an event?
The NPPA’s Code of Ethics, not cited in the news coverage of this case as yet, says that photojournalists should “resist being manipulated by staged photo opportunities.”
Now I fully realize that virtually everything any political candidate does is in some way staged. I’m not that naïve. But there is a standard that must be established between the photo ops that are deceptive and those that are obvious.
The candidate touring a factory, sure, its’ staged, but any reasonable person can see and understand, at last I hope, that the situation is purposefully contrived. The same should be true for any rally with the candidate on a stage.
But once the candidates start performing mundane, everyday, tasks, we have to look closely at our own motivations and behavior. The non-stop news cycle in which we now live must be fed. We all know that. And it is far easier to feed that beast with pre-arranged photo ops than it is to seek out images that tell the stories of the issues of the campaign rather than just the story of the horse race.
That’s not to say that the horse race should be entirely ignored, but to pursue it to the detriment of all the other journalism that can and should be done as well is not good for the health of our field nor our democracy.
There are so many players in the mix that I’m doubtful of any easy fix. To get the TV networks, the major newspapers, the news magazines, the wire services, to all agree to cut back on the photo op coverage is a tall order. The networks have hours and hours of time to fill, the newspapers want to fill ad-driven photo galleries on their web sites and they want to be seen as being on top of every move the candidate makes and the wire services have clients from all the media who want return for their investment, they want content.
We have to start somewhere. The time has come for conscientious photojournalists to ask their bosses to think about this issue. The time has come for those bosses to think about what is really of value in covering photo ops. The time has come to honor the ethical standards of a profession under fire from economic and social stresses that threaten the viability of the news outlets across all media.
I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest that we can find a balance between the coverage needs of the news outlets and an ethical standard that favors the honesty and accuracy that we all agree should be our goal.

Enhanced Performance

August 29th, 2012 | Uncategorized | 8 comments

Maybe purity isn’t the right goal? I just listened to a Frank Deford commentary on performance enhancing drugs in sport and how they harm the purity of the experience. Now, I’m not one to argue with Frank, his weekly commentary on NPR is a must-hear for me, and in this case I’m not sure I disagree so much as wonder if I can apply his thinking closer to home.
Does the influence of steroids and HGH in sport hold any bearing closer to my life, the world of photojournalism? Is there any equivalency between the sporting world’s ongoing battle with enhancing the human body for greater recognition and the photographic world’s continuing struggle with the various enhancements of photos for basically the same reason?
If you’re not happy with your performance in the playing field there is a drug or treatment that will boost your output and give you an edge. If you’re not happy with your photos, they’re not winning contests or the raves of your colleagues, then just alter them to meet those higher expectations?
In the end Deford’s thesis is that absent the purity of un-enhanced athletic performance, sport becomes nothing but entertainment on par with special effects driven movies. Absent the ethical “purity” of un-altered photos is photojournalism any different?
I could take the pragmatic approach of many sports fans who believe that everyone is “juiced” and still stay loyal to their teams and games. Should I care that given the ease of manipulating photos today anyone and everyone just might be “juiced” in my field as well?
That is not where I care to be. I’ve heard a lot of apologists who are comfortable saying that we cannot attain for purity and therefore it is pointless to even strive for it. I beg to differ. As Deford said, it is in the quest for athletic excellence without enhancement that we are all inspired. It is in the quest for making connections within and between communities by means of honest and factual visual communication that we are all inspired.
I will continue to be deeply saddened by every athlete who feels the need to cheat and I will forever decry the photographer who cannot communicate their vision without playing with the facts.

It’s Just Too Easy

February 13th, 2012 | Uncategorized | 6 comments

I must offer a mea culpa this morning. Like any human being I made a mistake, one of perhaps minor overall consequence, but one of direct relevance to the office I hold.

Over the weekend I spotted a very entertaining photo/commentary on Facebook depicting “what photojournalists do”. If you haven’t seen it I’m sure you will. It easily captures to no small degree the experience of many of us in the field of visual journalism. I “shared” it on my presidential Facebook fan page, because isn’t that what we all do when we see something we like on the web?



The problem, as pointed-out to me this morning, is that the photographer who created this humorous image is not the owner of the copyright for the four images used. She even admits in comments accompanying that she plucked them off Google and does not know how to credit them. Therein lies the rub.

I am not copyright holder to any of the images, but I am President of a national association that fights tooth and nail on the issues of copyright protections for visual journalists. I should not be holding-up a blatant act of copyright infringement in any positive light, no matter how funny I might find the commentary to be?

These four-photo commentaries are flooding the web as we speak. Every occupation from politician, accountant, and athlete to photojournalist is the subject. They are going viral. The one in question here has had 400 “shares” so far on Facebook. The version for “journalist” has nearly 1,200 “shares” and over 1,800 “likes”.

Photographers are losing money every day over having their images pirated on the internet. The NPPA is part of a coalition of organizations working with the U.S. Copyright office on these issues. As a group we need to learn the underlying issues and keep them in the forefront of our minds. If this means calling-out a colleague who has, perhaps innocently, violated copyright law and contributed to the overall societal disrespect for our intellectual property rights, then we must do that.

My apologies in advance if anyone is embarrassed by my comments here. I am embarrassed by my own actions and hope to use this as a teachable moment for us all.

Making the Case

November 29th, 2011 | Uncategorized | 7 comments

I had THAT conversation again recently, with a member who is up for renewal trying to decide if they’re going to send in their dues or not.

It’s a conversation I’ve had countless times in the years I’ve been involved in the NPPA leadership, I imagine it’s a conversation I’ll have at least as many before I’m done.

The problem I face is that far too often the two of us in the conversation are coming from completely different sets of expectations, making it nearly impossible for me to make the case for renewal in the way that will work.

I have to admit, from the start, that I do not see NPPA membership the way I see a utility bill. I don’t get a daily service from my membership for which I can break down the dues cost into an easily quantifiable measure.

To me NPPA membership is more like … well, maybe my AAA membership, where I know it’s there if I need it, but I may pay the whole year and never get a tow. Or maybe it’s like the money I put in the collection plate at church? The reward is not here in this life? Okay, that may be a bit extreme. At $110 dues are not even close to a tithe. Heck, I like to point out that dues are about one less trip to Starbucks a week. That is not a daunting number.

Which really brings us all back to what we get for that membership? Right now, maybe in this economy, or maybe it’s the overall state of journalism, not enough people who are working in the field are seeing the value in those dues.

And yet I’ll make the case as often as anyone will let me, that being a member of the NPPA is about so much more than what you get for your dues.

If you are like me, passionate about visual journalism, if it’s so much more than a job, If it’s your calling, if you cannot imagine doing anything else, even though it’s not ever going to make you rich, If you’ll find a way to do journalism even if you end up finding other ways to pay the mortgage each month, Then being a member of the NPPA is about being part of that community.

There are countless blogs, web sites and forums where visual journalists gather in reasonable numbers. I’m a member of more than a few of them myself, but in the end there is only one organization that has the historical mission, the traditional connections and the reach to draw all of us engaged in the role of visual journalist together under one tent in solidarity.

When the chips are down (and they’ve been pretty far down of late) I believe we all need to pull together. If enough of us do it in one place, give that one place both some financial support as well as some of our time and energy, The NPPA can do even more than it does now.

But we all need to get past the thought that paying dues to the NPPA is about buying something. Because what it’s really about is buying in to a greater community.

Stop wondering what the NPPA is about and join the team and help shape that community. The NPPA may be over 60-years old, and we may have a tradition of changing only slowly, but that does not mean that the NPPA cannot be more than it is now and can be more of what you may need it to be. But that will never happen if you choose to wonder from the outside and leave the rest of us to explain to the next generation why we need to stand together in support of this profession, this calling, that we love.

Photo Editors Needed

November 10th, 2011 | Uncategorized | 2 comments

My September News Photographer Column:

Word out of Augusta, Georgia that Chronicle Director of Photography John Curry has fallen victim to the budget ax comes as visual journalism can ill afford to lose yet another photo editor.

As more and more papers make deep cuts into the skilled, talented, dedicated (how many positive adjectives do you need?) journalists who produce the content that is journalism I think it’s important to take note of the importance of the visuals editor, the picture editor, the photo manager, director of photography and his/her role in the field.

Visual Journalists need their editors just as reporters and correspondents need theirs. The process of editing photos and stories may be different, but the need is no less for journalism to work.

Photographers, just like writers, become invested by the act of newsgathering in their work. It is the role of photo editors to shepherd work through the publication process. Sometimes it is helping to select the right photos to go with a story and sometimes it is helping to get the less literal photos into the report to enhance the storytelling. Some photo editors fulfill the role of mentor, helping a visual journalist to navigate their way through daily assignments and long-term projects. Sometimes the photo editor’s job is to be the go-between for visual and textual departments within a publication. Some photo editors bridge what can be a daunting divide with grace and aplomb.

In the end, regardless of their skill, talent or critical success, the importance of the visuals editor is being devalued steadily.

The loss of newsroom jobs of all sorts is cause for great alarm. As newsrooms shrink publishers become increasingly willing to rely on the general public to supply the words and images in the news report.

A dangerous precipice awaits democracy as journalism, independent and ethical reporting, continue to take hits. The fourth estate is being slowly eroded into a machine that regurgitates anything it is fed with no conscious thought to news value, ethics or factual substance. The death of a thousand cuts is becoming painfully real in newsrooms from coast to coast.

The shortsightedness of this overall trend is all the more painful when you consider how cavalierly photo editors are removed from the picture.

The NPPA was founded in part to fight for the respect that “news photographers” deserved. Here we are 65-years later and the excuse of maintaining profit margins is being used to erode the strong inroads we have made in establishing the equal role of the visuals editor in the news gathering team.

But when it comes time to make cuts it seems that all the value the visuals editor brings to the newsroom goes out the window. And with it goes the vital role in shaping the visual report. The lesson is not one we should be learning the hard way. We should know intuitively that when you remove the person from the equation who facilitates, communicates, mentors and coaches that the report will suffer.

The talent of the individual visual journalists may still shine at times, but it will be at those other times; when they are most needed, when the chips are down, when the staff is overwhelmed or just plain burned-out, that the visuals editor is going to be most missed and the readers will be most ill served by the loss.


Of Networks, social and silicon

September 22nd, 2011 | Uncategorized | 4 comments

I have David Burnett to thank for this blog … it was one of his that inspired my need to comment.

Of course I have to thank Facebook for the privilege of being regularly privy to Burnett’s musings. Because without it I might not remember to check his blog as often as it merits among the millions of other sources of inspiration that float in the ether.

Burnett’s blog is a lament on how the digital age has left we practitioners of visual journalism scattered and socially fragmented across the landscape.

And he’s right. He speaks of the Golden Age of photojournalism, a period I am just old enough to have had a fleeting glimpse before it began to disappear rapidly into the rear-view mirror.

I remember when deadlines were at 9 or 10 at night, and when I could finish shooting an assignment, and if I didn’t have another one right away (granted that was rare in the world of small newspapers, but it did happen) I could stop, chew the proverbial (or real) fat with a group of colleagues.

Or, even if deadlines made it necessary at the end of an assignment to beat feet home to the office and the Wing-Lynch, there was probably still time during to at least say “hey, how you doing?”, maybe even exchange a few more pleasantries.

But those days are oh-so-over. I was there this very week. Republican Linda McMahon announced her second bid in as many years for the U.S. Senate. The crowd there was large as news events go in Connecticut these days. Newspaper, TV, wire and web photojournalists. And other than a quick nod here and there, we were all too busy to connect. It’s not just the immediate deadline, it’s the volume of content most of us had to produce in a limited amount of time. In addition to a photo or two for our printed edition, I had to work hard to get enough photos to create a photo gallery on our web site. Oh, and I had to set-up a video camera to record the announcement, also to be posted to our web site.

Given those demands it’s no wonder none of us had time to connect in person. And so we rely on the silicon networks in an attempt to make those connections and feel like we are all still part of one big, happy group of visual journalists.

It is, sadly, of no comparison and leaves me, and I suspect many of you, vaguely dissatisfied.

But still we slog forward. We complete our day’s work. We download, edit, upload, file, caption, render, blog, tweet and whatever else we need to do and then just hope we can keep our cynicism in check long enough to post pleasant, witty and insightful comments on our friends’ facebook pages before we head off to bed to get some rest to do it all again tomorrow.

See you all in the trenches.

I’m a Geek

September 14th, 2011 | Uncategorized | 1 comment

St. Pete Times photojournalist Melissa Lyttle, who I appointed to serve on the NPPA board of directors in February, is the founder of an online community called “A Photo A Day” (APAD) and creator of the annual “Geekfest”, which is a gathering of self-professed photojournalism “geeks”. It’s in Denver this year.
Sadly I won’t be able to attend. I’ve always wanted to. I am, without a doubt, a photojournalism geek and I’m proud to wear that label.
What is it that makes me a geek? What is it that defines such a geek? If you read the APAD web site it tells you that the members there …
And if you spend some time subscribed to that listserv you’ll encounter a community of people, with varying skill levels, experience and talent, who all really just want to show samples of their work in an informal setting and, hopefully, get some constructive criticism.
By and large all there embrace the idea of being a “geek” … of being someone so deeply invested in something that they can sometimes seem obsessive. When it comes to visual storytelling (or whatever you care to call it) that describes, nay, defines, me to a t.
I would concede sometimes that maybe I need to seek counseling to help me with this. And yet other than it clearly being a career path that does not allow me to provide for my family as well as I might like, it does not veer off into self-destructive or over-indulgent tangents. I don’t go to war, I haven’t left my wife and children, I eat and sleep and I even occasionally do something without my camera (though rarely I will admit). But still, clearly based on my constant attention to the APAD list, to my various other photojournalism communities, my efforts on behalf of the NPPA, I am without a doubt a photo geek of the highest order, and in the end, damn proud of it.

Nothing Less than Terrorism

June 11th, 2011 | Uncategorized | 12 comments

The news Friday that an Oakland, California jury had convicted a local man in the murder of a newspaper editor was tempered by the news out of Olympia Washington that NPPA Past President Tony Overman and his employer were the target of another example of domestic terrorism when anarchists vandalized Tony’s home and the newspaper property.
Back in April of 2010 Tony was assaulted by an anarchist, who sprayed his face and camera with paint, while he was photographing a public rally in Olympia.
This latest incident, in which the vandals painted the word “snitch” on Tony’s truck and the newspaper building, is nothing less than terrorism, the use of violence and threats of violence to intimidate an individual or organization.
The local community has rallied around Tony and the paper showing support in the form of letters and messages in social media. A public rally in support was staged Saturday at the paper’s offices.
It is important that we all recognize these attacks for what they are, a criminal act, and don’t mistake them for any form of protected speech.
The news out of Oakland was welcome in that it confirmed that the criminal justice system will eventually deal with thugs and terrorists who think that their actions should be immune from the scrutiny of the news media and hope that by violence, or threat thereof, will prevent coverage.
Hopefully the news out of Olympia will eventually confirm this as well when the perpetrators of this attack are prosecuted.
No journalists should have to fear violence, especially in the United States where we value free speech and the rights of our press so highly, just for doing their job.

It’s Eddie Adams Time

May 25th, 2011 | Uncategorized | 10 comments

The buzz over the impending application deadline for the Eddie Adams Workshop has sparked my nostalgic side.

It was 1994, I’d tried a couple times already, but I was going into my second year as a staffer, so time was running out when I finally got that acceptance letter.
I had no idea what to expect as I drove my Honda Accord hatchback out the winding highways to upstate New York. I knew if would be intense. I knew there would be a lot of talented young photographers. I knew the faculty would be top notch and I had no idea where I fit into all that.

My memories are mostly of snippets. Vignettes and anecdotes. I was on the Mint team, the first-ever digital team (let’s remember, this was 1994) and our assignment was to document the workshop. No sooner did I arrive at the hotel that first night than they handed me a Kodak DCS420, gave me a very brief lesson in how to use it and off I went.

Our team leader was Jon White. Out team editor was Vin Alabiso. We had a team of Vin’s staff there to teach us the ins-and-outs of the digital cameras. I remember Cliff Schiappa and Mike Martinez from that group. I also remember out team producer, Beth Ryan, who was a schoolteacher and sister to the NYT Magazine’s photo editor. She was something of a big sister figure to all of us, helping with logistics and planning and just calming us down when we got off track.
And much as I have lived my life I spent the weekend doing my best to be a fly on the wall as everything happened around me. I don’t recall making many (if any) really memorable photos. Between the technical challenges of the camera and a certain amount of mental overload I was not at my peak. I still have a CD somewhere with some of my images on it (which clearly I have found).

John White and Vin Alabiso.

Beth Ryan leads the team into town.

What I do remember especially are some of the people I met. I remember riding a golf cart across the farm with Eddie and Kerry Kennedy Cuomo and talking about my feelings about the advent of digital photography.

Kerry Kennedy Cuomo and Eddie Adams ride across the farm.

I remember watching the daughters of Donna Ferrato and Bobbi Baker Burrows playing on a tire swing. I remember helping Joe Rosenthal get a photo of Carl Mydans printed and stapled to a stick so he could hold it during the group photo on the last day because Mydans had to leave early and wouldn’t be there for the photo. I remember Rosenthal marveling at the digital technology.

Carl Mydans

There were fleeting glimpses of some of my friends as they moved through their assignments, looking at their slides, meeting with editors and team leaders.
There were portfolio critiques, which in the end I was too insecure to seek and there was very little sleep.

Like I said, it was an intense experience. In the end perhaps I didn’t get as much out of is as I could, but the memories I do have remain strong and I never hesitate to recommend the opportunity.


PJ Book Club

May 8th, 2011 | Uncategorized | 9 comments

The recent posting of a short interview with legendary photo editor John G. Morris on YouTube reminded me I’ve been meaning to write something on my readings of late.

As my children have gotten older (one is seven, the other three) I finally have started to find time to read again. This has meant both the chance to enjoy some of the fiction I enjoy, but also a chance to read more on the subjects of photojournalism that occupy such a key place in my life.

This does not mean I’ve had endless time and have read everything on the topic. But a few titles have really stood-out to me lately. I know as visual journalists we tend to consume books with more visuals perhaps than text, but these books are all or mostly narrative in nature rather than books of photographs.

Two of the books; Claude Cookman’s “American Photojournalism” and Howard Chapnick’s “Truth Needs no Ally” are arguably text books. Prof. Cookman’s book is a history of photojournalism that I consider a must read because of the author’s deep connection and compelling narrative of how the earliest practitioners of photography were the forefathers of what we now know as photojournalism. Cookman also wrote the definitive history of the founding of the NPPA “A Voice is Born” so I will admit a bias towards this narrative.

Chapnick’s book might be a bit dated, published in 1994, as a series of lessons on a career in photojournalism. And yet chapters on the purpose and value of visual reporting as well as his thinking on creativity and ethics are more than worth the time. I do recommend reading these two books spaced by other titles as to lesson the feeling of being back in school.

Sebastian Junger’s book “War” is the narrative of his year in Afghanistan’s Korengal valley that also created the National Geographic documentary “Restrepo”. The book is not so much about visual journalism, but to read the harrowing accounts of the efforts of Junger and his colleague Tim Hetherington as they document the soldiers’ lives is riveting.

Ken Light’s “Witness in our Time” is a collection of interviews with documentary photographers. Some you may never have heard of but many are household names in our field and to read their thoughts can be enlightening and inspiring.

With the impending release of the film version, a reading of Greg Marinovich and Joao Silva’s “The Bang Bang Club” was necessary. I, of course, came of age in this field during the events of the book. I knew the names well and have been meaning to read the book ever since it was published in 2000. I’m glad I got to before seeing the movie, because I will be interested to see how Hollywood did in dramatizing the story. The book is riveting. If you were alive in the early 90’s and following the photos coming out of South Africa you won’t be able to put this one down.

Of course the book can be a bit of a downer. Two members of the eponymous club are no longer with us. I had to follow with something a bit lighter so I read Annie Griffiths Belt’s “A Camera, Two Kids and a Camel”. Annie’s book is much more of a photo book than any of the others. And while you will spend time just looking at the beautiful examples of her work on the pages, you would be remiss if you skip her narrative. The book, as the title hints, is about her travels as a staff photographer for National Geographic and bringing her children along on those trips. Her stories are generally light and entertaining, but it is easy to be inspired by them because of her clear passion for what she does.

I actually read John G. Morris’ “Get the Picture” somewhere in the middle of all these books, but am feeling strongest about it still. News Photographer Editor Don Winslow refers to Morris as “the picture editor of all picture editors” and the story of his life is compelling and inspirational. From the dramatic tale of the 11 Robert Capa D-Day images that survived a lab error in London in 1944 through his work with the Magnum photo agency and a remarkable stint as picture editor of Ladies Home Journal you get a real sense for how photojournalism evolved through most of the 20th century.

I heartily recommend all these books and look forward to suggestions from you.

Honoring Hondros and Hetherington

April 20th, 2011 | Uncategorized | 6 comments

The deaths of Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros in Libya today seems to give ample reason to reflect on the role of visual journalism in covering conflicts around the world.

Often, when the journalists are recognized with all the awards the response is to wonder, often aloud, what business journalists have in documenting this strife. Whether it’s the combat or the lives affected around the conflict, the sensibilities of those of us safe at home are often offended, our lives maybe made a little less comfortable by seeing these reports.

And therein lies the rub, doesn’t it. Hetherington, nominated for an Academy Award for his documentary on the war in Afghanistan “Restrepo”, and Hondros, a Pulitzer finalist, are killed while covering the civil war in Libya. The question will inevitably be asked, “what business did they have being there?”. How important is it really that I have photos of the war there with my morning corn flakes?

As you can expect, I would argue that my morning corn flakes have no meaning if they are part of a routine that keeps me insulated from the troubles of the world.

Too often I hear from readers of my own paper berating us for only covering the bad news. The problem of course is that actual numbers of stories do not bear out this observation. It’s just that the bad news, the wars, the disasters, that make us uncomfortable and stick in our memories.

But that’s what they need to do. There will never be any impetus to improve the plight of those affected by poverty, disease and conflict if we’re comfortable with those situations.

It’s the work of journalists, like Hetherington and Hondros, that forces us to think about these things. Hetherington and Hondros have been honored by their peers, but they should be honored by all society for risking (and losing) their lives to be sure we don’t live in blissful ignorance of the world around us.

Tim and Chris will never return to covering conflict but now is the time to think of all those who put themselves in danger that we might know our world better.

Challenging Changes in the BOP

April 12th, 2011 | Uncategorized | 5 comments

Let’s get the clichés out of the way first thing. Be careful what you wish for, change is never easy, anything that can go wrong, expect the unexpected … I’m sure there are more I just can’t think of, but we seem to be hitting all of them this year.
This has been a challenging year for the NPPA’s Best of Photojournalism. First the photo division has been delayed as we transition to a new judging system. Then the TV judging suffered a major hardware failure. The TV editing division has been delayed as well. And now we’ve had to announce that portions of the photo editing division will be re-judged after it was discovered that a number of entries were not seen by the judges.

I can’t even begin to answer to the proverbial perfect storm of problems. But I’ve had a host of questions about the delays in the still judging and I want to address those.

When the NPPA’s Best of Photojournalism competition was created a decade ago the idea was already in the minds of the committee that this new, digital online contest could be conducted in a new way. No longer would we be limited to flying in just a few judges for a week or two of intensive judging. Because the contest was virtual, we could have judges, many more than is typical, from all over the world, weighing-in. We could have specialty judges, experts in their topic area, review the categories in which they were best suited.

And somewhere over the years the idea got put on a back burner. Things were going pretty well, entries rose every year. The contest had found its place in the visual journalism world and making changes, outside of small tweaks in categories and rules, simply was not the priority.

Then came the great downturn in the journalism industry. Sponsorship monies dried up, costs rose, and an idea that had been stewing for years came back to the fore. It was time to embrace that vision from the early days, time to change how we were doing things.

No doubt it would have been better to make the leap with greater advance warning. The logistics would have gone more smoothly. The shock to the system for those who enter and follow the contest would have been less. The challenges for the volunteers (and remember, they are all volunteers) who run the contests would have been easier to address. But in the end it’s what we’re doing.

As I write this small teams of judges are viewing and voting on their choices in the largest categories. If you’ve ever watched judging of almost any contest before you know the drill, in, out, out, out, in … it goes by fast. The images have to be pretty strong to get by this stage. The difference this time is there are more judges, judging fewer categories, with more time, oh, and they’re not sitting in a room together.
Once that stage is done, in a couple of weeks, then the finalists images will be uploaded to a centralized server and the core judging team will gather virtually, via Skype or conference call, and view all the remaining contenders one by one and begin naming the winners.

It is thanks to a partnership with PhotoShelter that all of this is possible. PhotoShelter founders Allen Murabayashi and Grover Sanschagrin have been working with the committee since the decision was made to do a virtual judging to adapt systems for this purpose. They’ve tested and fine-tuned to the point they’re ready to go. The NPPA cannot thank them enough for this effort and looks forward to working with them as we take this system forward.

In the end I cannot deny that this has been a difficult and awkward time in the history of the BOP. But good people with an honest desire to make the BOP better for the future have been working to make these efforts pay off in the end. Once the judging has been completed for all the divisions of the BOP I will be meeting with the committee to plan our next steps. We will review how things have gone, identify what we need to do going forward and any further changes will be announced with greater clarity and timeliness. I thank you all for your concern and your patience.

In Memory of Brian Lanker

March 14th, 2011 | Uncategorized | 27 comments

As a senior in high school, 25-years ago, I worked alongside the stepdaughter of Pulitzer Prize winning photojournalist Brian Lanker. She was the photo editor for the student newspaper, I was the photo editor for the yearbook. We were both effectively on each other’s staff at any given time.

Standing on the sideline of a Friday night football game with my Canon AE-1 Program and 135mm f2.8 lens, waiting for the action to get close enough for me to shoot, Julie walked in with a Nikon F3 and 300mm f2.8 over her shoulder, and a Pulitzer Prize winner carrying her bag.

I honestly never had the guts to even talk to him.

Lanker was larger than life to me. As a junior I had gone from thinking that photography was a fun hobby to defining myself as a photojournalist. I had gone from just taking photos for the paper and yearbook, to pursuing a career in the field. And here, in my backyard was one of the greats. Lanker’s Pulitzer photos were eye-opening. Not just because of their content, but because to me they were proof that even the smallest event was a story that could have impact on people’s lives.

Before he’d ever walked onto that football field, before I’d even realized who Julie’s dad was, I was aware of Brian Lanker. I knew he’d turned our local paper, The Register-Guard, into one of the “best photo papers” in the country when he came there from Topeka, Kansas. I knew that the inspiration I got from looking at the photos in the paper every day was in part because of his influence there.

But the story does not end there. I graduated from high school I remained in Eugene for a couple more years attending community college, doing a little freelance work, consulting at my old high school as mentor for students following me. I still never got the guts to call Lanker.

But in 1990, the year after his I Dream A World book was published (I raced out and bought it at the Boston University bookstore as soon as I could scrape up the cash) I had an assignment in my newswriting class. I had to interview someone famous in my chosen journalism concentration. The broadcast majors called the networks, the print majors called the Globe, I called Eugene.

I told Brian Lanker, in a cold call, about my high school years, those football games, and I asked if he could spare some time when I was home for spring break? And he did. For over an hour, both sides of the tape in my mini-recorder, in his living room, he let me ask him the most mundane questions a wide-eyed college kid could ask. He told me his life story. He told me about the idea to do I Dream A World. He talked about the Pulitzer, about coming to Eugene. About fighting to change the culture of the paper. About shooting the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.

I can honestly tell you I have no idea what grade I got on the story. I can tell you that Lanker wrote me back when I sent him a copy and thanked me. That experience has stuck with me for 20-years, the Pulitzer Prize winning photojournalist who was willing to give me of his time to inspire me in my career.

The odds of me ever winning a Pulitzer are pretty low I suppose. But one thing I do know. I will never hold back from providing an aspiring visual journalist with as much of my knowledge, experience and passion as I can share.

Commentary on Community

March 3rd, 2011 | Uncategorized | 4 comments

Newly appointed board member Melissa Lyttle invited an open discussion online, and it’s taken-off in just the way I love. It’s generally productive, civil and lively.

But short of taking a leave of absence from my job and family there is no way I can sit and respond to every post as it goes up.

You’ll have to take a look at the Luceo Images facebook page to see the origins:

As I’ll often tell anyone who will listen, the NPPA suffers from a couple of primary ills. We’re old and we’re big. We may not be as big as we once were, but that hasn’t kept us from being old. The NPPA was founded over 60-years ago … for those who need a history lesson … in an effort to build community (back then they called it fraternalism since all the members were men), improve the perception of news photographers (the term photojournalism had not gained widespread acceptance at that point) and fight for the rights for cameras in the courts.

Any organization with 60-years of history may well find it difficult to change directions. A decade ago, just before and just after I joined the board, the NPPA was mired in a debate over the new stringer agreement being foisted by the Associated Press. A lot of the AP’s stringers were resisting the Work-For-Hire aspects of the contract and many were begging the NPPA to speak-out on the issue.

The leadership of the NPPA used language in the association’s bylaws that forbade the NPPA from taking sides in any labor matters, primarily meant to keep the NPPA from butting into union business. In the end, as is well established, too many of the AP’s stringers signed and the battle was lost (and some would argue the war). I was among those who made it a priority to change that language in our bylaws, help establish the NPPA’s advocacy committee and supported the NPPA’s creation of a Business Practices committee. Maybe it was too little too late, but this is what I’m talking about, historic forces slowed our ability to respond. It is my hope that changes we’ve made in the NPPA over the last few years will make a difference in addressing future challenges.

Historically the NPPA did many of the community building things being sought in those comments. Only as the newspaper industry has fragmented and the NPPA’s financial status dwindled has that become less the case.

Regional gatherings, photo nights, were a regular thing. Regional clips winners were published each quarter with both comments from judges and commentary from the winning photographer. Larger educational events were well attended and gave ample opportunity for socialization and professional networking.

Now, most of us rely on the web for these things, and the NPPA’s web presence has lagged behind. It’s undeniable, it’s frustrating. For years the NPPA web site was little more than a listing of phone numbers and mailing addresses. Like the newspaper publisher who believed right up to the turn of the 21st century that the web was just a fad for kids and pornographers, the NPPA’s leaders and staff failed to keep-up. And now we are behind the 8-ball. Catch-up fast or be left behind.

All I can say now is that the leaders of the NPPA, the staff and the volunteers, are aware of this challenge. We know where the services need to be, where the virtual community must be built and it’s just a matter of finding the resources and hoping this can all be done in a timely manner.

But in the meantime, where are our members going? Facebook. Blogs. Sportsshooter. But no one of those places offers the comprehensive needs of the community. My goal is for the NPPA to be that one-stop community for visual journalists.

Journalists Under Fire

February 3rd, 2011 | Uncategorized | 1 comment

Events in Egypt took a disconcerting turn today for journalists covering the protests. Here are just a few accounts:

Changes in BOP

January 27th, 2011 | Uncategorized | 3 comments

If by some twist of fate you’re reading this blog before you’ve been looking at the home page or reading your weekly newsletter, then you’ve missed the news of the changes coming in judging the NPPA’s Best of Photojournalism competition.

You should read the announcement here:

and you can go on and read Steve Meyers’ piece on the Poynter web site:

Sometime in the near future there will be more details on how the new online judging for the still competition will work. I’m sure to spend some time on that here when it’s announced.

In the meantime, less than 36-hours remain (it’s 4 p.m. on Thursday the 27th as I write this) before the midnight on Friday deadline for getting your entries in for the 2010 BOP.

Best of Photojournalism Deadline Fast Approaching

January 23rd, 2011 | Uncategorized | 2 comments

Just in case you’re a procrastinator, like me, be forewarned, the deadline for the NPPA annual Best of Photojournalism competition is this Friday, January 28th.
Please don’t contribute to the logjam on the BOP server by waiting until the deadline.

Please visit the BOP web site ASAP:

Getting Started

January 23rd, 2011 | Uncategorized | 12 comments

This is a test. No, really, just a test. A little inauspicious for my first blog entry as President but stay tuned. There will be more here soon.

One Year with the President

January 20th, 2010 | News, Thoughts | 9 comments

Did you catch NPPA member Pete Souza this morning sharing new photos of President Obama on the anniversary of his inauguration? I actually caught him on the CBS Early Show, FOX and Morning Joe on MSNBC. At 9 a.m., the White House released a new series of photos covering the first year. It can also be seen on their Flickr photostream. As always, Pete has done a great job giving us an inside look at the White House.

Time to call your Senators

November 13th, 2009 | Advocacy, News | 7 comments

For nearly five years, the NPPA and through our membership in the Federal Shield Law Coalition has been working with Congress to craft a federal shield law. This week, it appears to be closer than ever to be enacted into law.

The House of Representatives passed a version of the shield law (HR 985) last March and two weeks ago the the Senate Judiciary Committee reached an agreement on the Free Flow of Information Act (S 448) which is a compromise bill. An integral portion of the compromise was the approval of the White House which was given two weeks ago. The bill is scheduled for mark-up next Thursday and the NPPA is asking members to call the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee and encourage them to either support the bill or allow it to be voted upon if they oppose it.

According to the NPPA Counsel Mickey Osterreicher, previous “national security concerns, expressed mostly by Republicans but also some Democrats, have been addressed and significant concessions were made in the compromise bill to take national security into account.”

To find a list of Senate Judiciary members, check here.

Cast Your Vote

November 3rd, 2009 | News | 8 comments

For the first time in NPPA history, members (both professional and students) are electing the Board of Directors nationally. This is an important time in the NPPA and I want to encourage you to look at the candidates running for the Board and cast your vote for the two individuals you feel are best suited to lead the NPPA into the future.

The NPPA is looking to the future and we want the leadership on the Board of individuals who are responsible. I am excited about the caliber of everyone who has decided to run. It is an impressive group and I believe we have some outstanding candidates. I look forward to working with the new Board beginning in January.

The candidates who are running for election for NPPA’s new national board are:

Mike Borland
Jeff Gritchen
Danny Gawlowski
Michael P. King
Todd Maisel
Merry Murray
Jim Michalowski
Smiley Pool
Greg Smith
Gerald S. Williams
Jack Zibluk

What happens in Vegas this year goes home

June 3rd, 2009 | Education, Events, Workshop | 13 comments

Convergence 09 kicks off Saturday with the sold-out Multimedia Immersion Workshop in Las Vegas. This year looks to be a great time with a multitude of options for learning and improving your profession.

On Wednesday June 10, its the 20th annual Women in Photojournalism followed by the Photojournalism Workshops and Edit Foundry on Thursday through Saturday. Saturday night finishes the week with the annual NPPA Awards Banquet.

There’s still time to register for events. The workshops are “hands-on” and will help tailor your skills for today’s changing workplace. We’re offering such things as: shooting & editing video, starting up in multimedia, pricing your work, audio, marketing, and shooting panoramas to name just a few. Additionally, there are workshops to help you transition from a staff position to freelancing.

Remember, this year what happens in Vegas, goes home with you.

Leave your comments

May 27th, 2009 | News, Thoughts, Website | 5 comments

If you haven’t seen the new comments section on News Photographer news stories, I encourage you to check it out. The first story it is available on is here. We have added the ability for you to leave comments when editor Don Winslow posts a story on the web. Our hope is that you’ll respond or comment on the latest news in photojournalism. It’s just another way for you to interact with us.

By the way, if you haven’t used it yet, you can also share stories on Facebook and other social networking sites. Look for the share box in the right hand column of every news story.

Do you Twitter? Well follow the latest news from the NPPA on Twitter.


May 19th, 2009 | News | 3 comments

Congratulations are do to photo editing icon John G. Morris on his being awarded the The French Légion d’Honneur. The award is the highest and most prestigious award given by France. Morris received his award from French photojournalist Marc Riboud at the paris office of Magnum Photos. News Photographer has more on the story and photos of the event by Peter Turnley.

Souza provides a behind the scenes look to CNN

April 27th, 2009 | Education, News | 9 comments

White House photographer Pete Souza provided a behind the scenes look at the first 100 days of President Barak Obama to CNN’s John King recently.

This is a fascinating look at the way Souza works covering the President. As an educator, this is a great teaching piece on how Souza considers himself “a visual historian.” I am constantly looking for pieces to share with students on how visual journalists play an important role in society. This piece is one that will help make an impact on young photojournalists. Souza emphasizes the importance of visual journalism for society when he states:

The most important thing is to create a good visual archive for history, so 50 or a hundred years from now, people can go back and look at all these pictures.

You can view the video featuring Souza here.

Info for covering Fallen Hero returns

April 6th, 2009 | Advocacy, News | 7 comments

With the first coverage of the return of a Fallen Hero after Secretary of Defense Robert Gates overturned an 18-year ban of media coverage of the transfers, I want to pass on some information that may be helpful for photojournalists and media outlets wishing to cover the ceremonies. The Department of Defense has posted the following media advisory to explain basic rules and procedures.

Photojournalists interested in being notified about the return of Fallen Heros should write to the Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations Center Public Affairs office: The DOD requires that the e-mail include their name, media organization and e-mail address, plus the name, phone number, and email address of their immediate supervisor.

In several of the stories, the DOD reports that they discussed the policy with

several military support organizations for a policy change that, under strictly delineated conditions, allows media filming of dignified transfer operations of fallen servicemembers’ remains at Dover Air Force Base.

Interestingly, the releases make no note of discussing the policy with media groups, although several press agencies were involved in a couple of conference calls on the policy.

Here are some other links related to the transfer policy:
Gates Signs Policy Change for Dignified Transfer Operations at Dover
Military Support Groups Provided Input for Dover Policy Change