Big picture galleries gaining acceptance at newspapers

Newspaper websites historically have never been photo friendly. In the first five years of the active Internet, most photos were compressed to a postage-stamped size of around 15k -30k. They had to in those promising days of 28K modems, where one oversized graphic element would bring a homepage to a screeching halt.

I think many photojournalists gave the early Web a big thumbs down as a place to display their work. At my newspaper, us photojournalists’ collectively shrugged our shoulders when the “web guy” would say that he posted one of our photos online.  Later requests on my part, to up the size on our online pictures, was met by one photo manager’s insistence that the images would be downloaded (stolen) or mass-produced across the internet. At that moment I gave up trying and, instead, embraced video as my online medium of choice.

Then, several years ago, Boston.com’s The Big Picture blog rocked my world when it launched.  Here, finally, was a large format online gallery that showcased photojournalism the way it should be. The images were displayed in a format that also didn’t frustrate the viewer with slow page loads. The minute I saw it, I knew we had to have something like it for Spokesman.com. Unfortunately our web team was in middle of developing a ground-up overhaul of our CMS, and it never made the priority list.

While I waited, other newspapers around the country embraced the idea of increasing the format size of their photo galleries. The New York Times Lens Blog, Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, and many others started big picture galleries.

A few months ago, Ryan Pitts, Spokesman.com’s online director, who was damned tired of my whining, came to me with a surprise. “ I built you a big picture gallery,” he said. After picking my jaw up off the floor, I took a look at what he built.

I was nothin’ but smiles the rest of the day. He gave me the keys, so to speak, to a beautiful Corvette. Behind the scenes, the gallery is really nothing more than a tool that I can access through our web-based Django admin page. I just upload my photos, paste in the captions, add some intro text and a headline, hit save and, drum roll please, instant big picture gallery. The nice thing is, because it is a web-based tool, I can create a gallery from anywhere in the field.

What I like best about our gallery is its clean design. For a long time I pushed the idea of a black background for photos, but our gallery is white and I am fine with that. In fact, I think it is easier on the eyes. I also like how I can pop in drop quotes in between the photos. I am pushing to have commenting on the gallery, which I hope will be enabled soon.

Update: here is some more  links to big picture galleries: Tampabay.com’s All Eyes, SacBee’s The Frame Any more? Send links my way…

Update Two: KobreChannel blog take on this post.

I do have the coolest job ever!

A slap upside the head always comes when you least expect it.

“You have the coolest job ever,” said a hockey fan standing behind me admiring one of my photos at the Spokane Arena last night.  I was on deadline preparing to transmit my pictures of a blowout Spokane Chiefs hockey game back to the paper when those six words stopped me cold.

“You have the coolest job ever.”

Up until that utterance, I’d beg to differ.  It had been a long 14-hour day and I was tired. I started in the morning shooting a freelance job. I take extra work now whenever I can.  It helps make up for the furlough days and pay cuts I have endured over the past year.

The economic trauma and turmoil facing my and every other newspaper in the country weighs heavily on my shoulders at times. When someone asks me why I entered the newspaper biz, I tell them it’s because I have a passion for telling stories.  Like any good photojournalist, I see the world a bit differently from most people. There is a creative energy that burns inside me.  When I put a camera up to my eye, life becomes my palette.  I felt it when I bought my first professional camera in high school and I still feel it today…well most days.

“You have the coolest job ever.”

As I sat there hunched over my laptop, awareness washed over me. Here I was at a hockey game that I didn’t have to pay to get in, surrounded by the best cameras, lenses and laptop that I didn’t have to buy. The only thing missing was a cold beer by my side.

Looking back over the past seven days at some of what I have produced for the readers of my newspaper and viewers of our website, I realize that I can’t let the uncertainty of the future kill my creativity. Today, I put a sticky note on my computer monitor that simply says, “Try Harder.” It is my little reminder  that  (slap upside the head)  I do have the coolest job ever!

These are some of the highlights of my past week– a mix of multimedia and stills.

Several dozen great blue herons were perched on pilings in the Pend Oreille River at Usk, Washington Tuesday, March 2, 2010. Area birding enthusiasts said this is the time of year large groups of the giant birds can be seen migrating and resting in certain areas, such as the Pack River Delta along Lake Pend Oreille. Soon they will disperse in smaller groups to nesting rookeries in cottonwoods or other woodlands near water.COLIN MULVANY colinm@spokesman.com

Tim Michaels, who lost part of his leg in a grain elevator accident holds a wooden foot carving a relative brought him during his stay at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane, Wash.

Videos: Click image to view.

The king of Cat Tales Zoological Training Center gets a root canal.

In the Kalispel Tribal Language Program, new Salish speakers immerse themselves in daily conversation with elders and then teach what they have learned in nearby public schools.

Will the touch tablet save professional journalism?

Someone should just put a deadbolt on my laptop lid. When I peruse my Twitter feed I see nothing but scary newspaper industry news, which flows like a river of red ink across my pixels. Reading too much of it makes me think a prescription for Prozac might be in my future. I’ve begun to notice even journalism pundits have started to turn on each other by criticizing the need for yet another conference on “Envisioning the Newspaper of Future.”

Truth be told, no one really knows when printing presses will grind to a halt and news delivery boys and girls will be forced to hang up their logoed paper bags for good.

I had to laugh,  last week in Portland, Oregon, my former newspaper editor Steve A. Smith was the keynote speaker at “We Make the Media“A conference held to develop real-world plans for new media organizations to fill the journalism gaps left by shrinking news staffs at legacy media organizations.” As Smith was speaking about the need to save “professional” journalism, back in the corner of the room were a bunch of self-proclaimed snarky bloggers and citizen journalists who took offense to the notion professional journalism should be saved. Of course they twittered their opinions of Smith’s speech in real time. This, I guess, is the new digital divide, where any journalist older than thirty is viewed with mistrust. Hmmm, where have I heard that before?

It does seem the pace of handwringing is accelerating. The print folk, locked in their silos, are defending their turf as they make their last stand. Online departments are taking the brunt of the next wave of job cuts. If newspapers can’t hold the line on circulation and revenue, it will soon be curtains for the rest of us still drawing a paycheck. Or so I’m told. I hope I can last a bit longer, only because I truly believe, if we can make this digital transition, the future will not be as dismal as I was once led to believe.

Here’s my vision of how I see it playing out in the near future:

  • A new breed of touch tablet readers hits the market in 2010-2011. Newspaper publishers at first shun the devices. Then one gutsy newspaper chain embraces them. They form a partnership with the tablet maker to subsidize the cost for the consumer. The more publications a consumer subscribes to, the less they have to pay for the reader. Others soon follow…
  • A newspaper’s survival will be based on how many current subscribers can be converted to the digital replica of the newspaper. Replica is the key here. A newspaper’s digital future starts with making the transition simple (familiar) for  print consumers to make. It’s the newspaper, only better…
  • What will sell the tablet service is all the new things subscribers will be able to do with their wireless digital newspapers. Pictures will come alive with video and audio, graphics become interactive with a tap of a finger, Text can be set to be read aloud. Subscribers should easily be able to customize the paper to fit their needs. Want the sports page as your front page? No problem. Want more stories about your favorite pro baseball team? You bet!
  • The value to the tablet subscriber has to be so huge that they be crazy not to plunk down their cash.  The same goes for advertisers, whose ads will now have added value. Tap on an ad for a big-screen TV at Best Buy and get more info about the product. Tap a grocery store coupon to print it out.
  • Advertisers should be allowed to update their ads in real-time. Think about it. Let’s say you’re a local shoe store looking to move 1000 pairs of shoes. You place the ad in the morning showing the shoes at 20% off. By 2 p.m. you have 500 left and you want to sell them faster, you log into your account and update the ad yourself, dropping the price to 30% off. Don’t you think a whole bunch of those types of ads would draw traffic to a digital newspaper?  How about subscriber-only deals? Advertising will be targeted to subscriber’s tastes and talents.
  • Everyone talks about how they can’t make any money in online. The simple truth is most newspaper Web sites are not easy to navigate. They can’t display ads as effectively as a print newspaper. If newspapers are going to make this digital transition successful, then making the viewing experience for former print subscribers and advertisers as elegant as possible is paramount.

Finally, a few words about content. Our journalism is what’s most important and will no doubt have to be upgraded. Words and multimedia will need to work better together. The strength in the touch tablet is in its multimedia capabilities. Visuals like photo galleries, graphics, and hi-def video, will add value. Like your current Web site, the front page of the digital newspaper will change as stories are updated throughout the day. The page design will slowly change to integrate new content features.

Once this happens,  the true digital media revolution will begin to take place. Yes, the presses will eventually stop, which will only strengthen digital media’s position. Freed of the cost of printing and distribution, more resources will go to content creators. This is when the fun really starts. True innovation will kick in with each new tablet version. New types of devices will drive even more innovation and hopefully a super-renaissance of journalism. My vision may be utopia to some, but the internal optimist in me really believes there is a future in professional journalism.

The death of newspapers doesn’t mean the end of journalism

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Last week I stood in front of a convention of high school journalists and told them a career in journalism was still a solid prospect. I bit neither my lip nor tongue as I said this. For most in the room, it will be 5-7 years until they complete college.  In that amount of time, newspapers are going to experience a lot of change.

In this month’s Digital Journalist, an essay called “Circling the Drain,” by Mark Loundy summed up the present state of newspapers perfectly:

“Newspapers are trapped between two worlds. They can’t offer a viable online service because they can’t spend enough on staffing. Meanwhile, they’ve lashed themselves to a sinking ship that they’re bailing out by tossing journalists overboard. Of course, this drives readers away, causing the ship to sink faster.”

As many printed newspapers sink into irrelevance in their communities, the big question left hanging is what will replace them? Will newspaper publishers wake-up and invest in their online news sites, while also finding the courage to cut away their failing print products? Can they find a way to make the boatloads of profits online they once had in print?

In some ways, I don’t think it matters whether newspaper online websites survive either. When I looked out at that room full of high school journalism students, I realized they are going to be the ones that will define the revival of journalism in the digital age. This is a group that rarely reads the printed newspaper. When I ask them why? I get answers ranging from: “It’s not searchable,” and “The newspaper limits my ability to connect with multiple points of view,” to “I’m online all the time, so I sometimes will read it there.”

As I anguish over the present state of print newspapers, I’m likewise excited to see the future of online journalism begin to take form. Hyper-local sites are starting to claim ground where traditional journalism fails to defend.

Angela Grant, a former San Antonio Express multimedia producer who now works for a hyper-local news website instantnewsWestU.com writes in her popular News Videographer blog:

“Here’s the most awesome things about my new job: I’m now a TRUE multimedia journalist. On any given day, I will write a story, take pictures, produce videos, or create maps to illustrate stories. I’m learning a lot of new skills dealing with beat reporting and developing sources.”

It will be young people like Grant who will be the ones to shape digital journalism’s future. Many of these online experiments will fail, but in time, some formula will stick.

And don’t discount the castoffs from newspapers. They will also have an effect. There are a lot of talented former print reporters and visual journalists that are looking for online palettes to display their talents. Smart people don’t wallow in the past for long.

I know newspaper publishers understand that as their print product flounder, they need to be in a solid position to compete with their websites. The movement to online-only news websites will open up the conduit for new jobs in journalism. So for high school students interested in a career in journalism, I say: Come forth, be passionate, be curious and most important, be innovative.

Stretching the roles of traditional journalists

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Sunday’s Spokesman-Review was a bit like the newspaper of old. Writer, Kevin Graman’s story and my photos of the Fairy and Human Relation Congress, took up most of the front-page as well as two color pages inside. What was different about this story for us two veterans—one visual and one word oriented—was how we each stretched into the new roles of being modern newspaper journalists.

My visual multitasking role has been pretty much set in stone for some time. On this story, I not only shot the still photos for the newspaper, but I captured, edited and produced a video for online.

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Graman moved out of his traditional role of being a print reporter to now stretching into the multimedia world of writing words for video and doing voice-over work.

When I heard about this story of 200 people gathering in the wilds to worship fairies, I could think of no better journalist than Graman to do the story with.  We have worked on several other videos together. His innate ability to write to my video brings an authentic voice the story.

Most times I am fine with doing my own voiceover work. But on great stories like this one, having someone that can write and voice powerful words (check out the last minute of the fairy video) just makes all the difference.

In the end, I think we hit a grand slam. We gave the readers of our newspaper a great print story, with strong photos—and we gave our online viewers all that and more with the added value of the video that told a different story than print. This, to me, is the future of newspaper journalism, where traditional roles are stretched but not devalued.

Answers to my ten questions about quality vs.quantity

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about quality video vs. quantity. In it, I asked ten questions you should ask before your newspaper dives deeply into video storytelling. Both Rob Curley of The Las Vegas Sun/Greenspun Interactive and Angela Grant with Newsvideographer.com shared their answers.

From Curley’s post:

In regard to the “quality versus quantity” video debate (which is the whole point of his post), I think we’ve thrown our support clearly in the “quality” category … but probably in a different way than the writer of the blog above probably means – but I’m totally making assumptions there.

From Grant’s post:

I think his answers give me a working definition of the type of leadership that I’ve been craving in my own position. He has a vision and plans for higher-level strategies that I believe are necessary to enjoy a successful video endeavor.

Those strategies include:

* Deploying human resources to cover the news people want and need
* Distributing the videos on multiple platforms to reach the largest possible audience
* Advertising within / around the videos to monetize them
* Marketing the videos so people know that they are there

Check out their answers here:

Anglea Grant: “Great questions, and I’m answering them”
Rob Curley: “Newspaper-produced video: quality vs. quantity?”

Thanks Rob and Angela for helping me answer my own questions!

S-R web producer says goodbye to the newsroom she loves

Spokesman-Review Web Producer Thuy-Dzuong Nguyen was one  of 21 young staffers laid off last week. Thuy just wrote this goodbye to the newsroom she loved working in. She posted it to her friend’s network on Facebook, but I thought I’d share it (with her permission) with everyone. Tinged with sadness, her message still finds hope for the journalism profession she leaves behind and for her co-workers left to pick up the pieces.
I cried today when my assistant managing editor, Carla Savalli, said goodbye to everyone in the newsroom.

She told about growing up in a family that subscribed to both Spokane newspapers, when she decided she would start her own neighborhood paper at the age of 10. The first page was news, and gossip about neighbors. The second page was art from coloring books. The third was filled with recipes, the first ever being her mother’s zucchini bread recipe.

Savalli’s biggest dream while growing up was to be the editor-in-chief of The Spokesman-Review. Things didn’t happen that way (she was the No. 3 position when she resigned), her resignation was her own decision, but she is not abandoning this industry.  We all know this industry is really a religion – of journalists – of storytellers.

The S-R has always housed great storytellers. I admire everybody I’ve had the honor to work with. We celebrate everyday people who do phenomenal things, as well as – like the iron sculptor making African mammals, the retired police officer caring for his paraplegic dog, the record producer multi-instrumentalist who dropped out of high school and started his own studio, the twin brothers from Hauser Lake sent to Iraq. We also witness things we never wish we’d have to witness, like the Spokane mayor recalled after a sex scandal.

But then you poke around on the inside and newsroommates are also good storytellers in-house. Christmas parties, funerals, potlucks, people bringing babies into the newsroom and sharing good news, talking about recipes, going fishing, sharing tomatoes, staying late for election night when some of our families probably think we ought to be at home. Spending all day trekking around at political conventions, forgetting to eat, excited to be witnesses to a ridiculously amazing process (or is it amazingly ridiculous?).

We spend more waking and bonding hours with our coworkers in this weird environment of nasty negative things. Bizarre murders, car crashes, house fires, building fires, Taser incidents (I remember being the producer in the hot seat when surveillance video contradicted officers’ accounts of Otto Zehm’s death. The most stressful work day), writing and posting news on deadline, relying on each other to not just be accurate and fair but to call out each other’s mistakes, of which I made many, and they forgave me.

Storytelling is then a collaborative activity, a collective consciousness, bringing formless data to a higher plane, like prayer. Ask around in a newsroom about how people feel about their job, and most of them will tell you it’s a religious calling – The way anybody would choose to be a priest or a nun, somebody chooses to be a storyteller.

Until I join another newsroom, I will miss having front-row seats to everything that happens. I will miss following the senior political reporter to events – I would follow him to the end of the world and would have missed him when he retires in several years. I will miss video training, usual staff meetings, blogging about ethics in our Transparency Initiative and explaining to the public how our news decision-making process works.

I was given a blog and was trusted to write what I saw fit about news decisions and internal affairs. I was given a camera and was trusted to shoot, to essentially invade other people’s lives at interesting times. I was trusted for journalistic sensibility, audiovisual perfectionism, trusted to capture reality and present it as realistically as could be done. They trusted me with such big responsibility and for a long time, it baffled me that they did.

I will miss the honor of being able to say to someone, “I work for The Spokesman-Review” When we got the announcement that 21+ people would be laid off, including myself, I wondered who would be without the Review. The sensible answer is that I wouldn’t change as a person – I would retain all the skills gained and life would move forward, eventually. I’d find the next thing, just like when somebody gets a divorce they (might) move on.

But that doesn’t negate the value that the S-R has in the community among its readers – A newspaper will always be a big deal, and it will always be a big deal to have that honor of reaching out to readers who wake up in the morning and get crisp warm newspapers on their doorsteps, welcoming us into their homes and exposing us to their children – or in this day and age, opening up the computer and exposing their household to our video stories on the web. I get butterflies in my stomach not just when nice guys hold my hand, but when little old ladies tell me how long they have been subscribers and how much they wait for it in the morning.

Counting this layoff round and last year’s, the newsroom is down 35 percent people. That’s 35 percent fewer content makers. This will be a smaller group, but I just like hearing people say, “Things will be better – I promise.”

I don’t want this industry to die. But I also wish I knew how to save it, immediately, instead of doing my thing and hoping it will help, wondering if I’ll “recognize” journalism in twenty years. Probably.

But for now, this is everything I have loved about what we have been doing. If the universe permits, I would like to do it again – Even if it’s somewhere else, in that newspaper in the sky where all the good journalists go when they die off.

Meanwhile I really want to cuddle and watch Cinderella.