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.

New Spokesman.com launches

New Spokesman.com

New Spokesman.com

It’s been a long time coming, but today we launched the brand spankin’ new Spokesman.com cue angelic music.) This often-delayed website forced us poor multimedia content producers to use an antiquated CMS that was held together for way too long with bailing wire and twine. So what arrives in its place? Let’s just say the proof is in the code. This may be the most modern content management system deployed at newspaper today. Built from the ground up using the latest version of Django, our new CMS will allow us to display, create, and search content in ways we never could before.

My last year as multimedia editor allowed me to give input into how video and multimedia is showcased on the site. All I can say is WOW. One of my long time beefs with newspaper websites is that they hide their best web-only content in a sea of links on their homepages. The new Spokesman.com uses an innovative way to get to any content quickly. Ryan Pitts, Spokesman.com’s managing editor and uber-developer, explains it better than me:

“Goal No. 1 in the redesign was to make the Web site cleaner and easier to use. Our top-level navigation reflects a fundamental move in that direction. Our print newspaper is organized into sections, based on geography (the Northwest) or general topic (Sports). People seek information online differently, though, so the navigation at Spokesman.com is different. You’ll have quick access to information based on not only what it’s about (Topics), but also when it happened (Times), where it happened (Places), and what kind of storytelling was used (Media). Switching among the browsing systems should be seamless. You can click on Times > Today to check out a “day page”; click on the calendar icon to find any day in our archive; toggle among media types; click on an item to view it; click on that item’s tags to see related content, and much more. No matter what you’re looking for or how you’re looking for it, we’ve made navigation – and exploration – easier.”

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The multimedia capabilities of this site are stellar. Former S-R developer Brian Immel built a new in-house video player that takes advantage of Adobe Flash Player’s built in hardware acceleration. Video, audio slideshows, photography is accessible on almost every page of our website. On the Media>Video page, you can search for content by tag, producers, time, indexed search,related content or category. This, I hope, will really drive the viewing numbers up on our videos and slideshows.

Now that the CMS is done, the fun stuff will begin to roll out over time. We’ll add geographic capabilities to Spokesman.com that will let you map the news – and see everything going on down to individual neighborhoods. We will increase the visual content with more photos built into a “big photo” format. Other specialized mini-sites are in development.

Check it out and let me know what you think. There are still some kinks to be ironed out, but I think you will be surprised at what you see.