12/26/2013

Old school journalism


Here are a few old school journalism things I hope our younger photojournalist find interesting or at least entertaining. There are printing processes, equipment and journalism terms that are no longer used while some are still among us but in different ways. I believe we need to know a little about where we came from in this unique profession.

Burn and Dodge
If you are a user of Adobe Photoshop you know about the “burn” and “dodge” tools. The burn tool, with an icon that looks like a hand giving the “A-OK,” darkens an area on a photo. The dodge tool, with an icon that looks like a lollypop, lightens an area. These are taken from dark room lab photo developing where light is shown through a negative onto photo-sensitive paper for a precise time to create the photo.

In days of yore, when a person in a photo lab wanted to lighten an area of a photo they held a little round piece of cardboard on a stick (the “lollypop”) and waved it over the developing paper, creating a momentary shadow and making that area lighter. If they wanted an area darker they would cup their hand leaving only a hole for a spot of light to get through (the “A-OK sign”) and the extra light would darken that particular area. It is cool that Adobe resurrected these terms when developing their famous photo manipulating software.

I never did dark room work and a predecessor of Photoshop was around when I got into journalism professionally, but printing was almost like Benjamin Franklin days when I was first learning journalism in high school.

Typesetting
My high school journalism by-line.
The term “typesetting” is used today when the appearance of a magazine, pamphlet, website page or newspaper is improved using various fonts, colors, type sizes, lines and photo placement. Typesetting, however, was a physical process of placing metal type by hand one line at a time. When I got into journalism in 1973 as a freshman in high school (Yes, Jennifer Retter, respected reporter and Ninja Journalism contributor, humans did walk the Earth back then), typesetting was already “modern” with a big machine called a Linotype. In journalism class, we typed our stories on a typewriter and made corrections and notations on the sheets of paper for the typesetter at the print shop. Such notations were to bold a word, enlarge headlines, make paragraph indentions and any corrections because there were no font selections and no spell checker on a typewriter.

The typesetter at the print shop re-typed the stories on the Linotype and metal letters and spaces fell from the type feeder snugly into a frame the size of the page. It was in this manner that a page was built and later “pressed” onto paper. Used type was melted down to be cast into new type. In another process, chemicals burned photo negatives onto metal and were placed in the frame to be part of the page. My journalism class took a field trip each year to the print shop to see this amazing machine and when I graduated my instructor gave me my “by-line” in metal type.

-15-
The term “15” and “30” are way old and few probably know about them. When typing a story to be sent to the print shop, every page had “-15-“ at the bottom if the story was continued on the following sheet and “-30-“ if it was the end. Even my old journalism teacher did not know how that came about as the way to signify to the typesetter when the story ended.

Feet Font
I can’t finish today without telling you why we use serif fonts. Serif means “feet” >and serif fonts looks like this< with slightly larger tips on the letters. This was used in those days of metal type and these tips on the letters insured the type would not wear down before the press was finished. We continue to use serif today as well as sans serif (“no feet”) because we are used to serif fonts like Times Roman and Century and find them easier to read in a body of text.

Here it is larger for you to see the little tips:
Serif Font, Sans Serif Font

You can watch a Linotype in action here.

I would love to read and share more journalism memories, old or new, from Ninja Journalism fans. Email me here.

12/18/2013

Jennifer Retter: Using introversion as a weapon


I always enjoyed Jennifer Retter’s pleasant and reserved personality. Now I marvel at it. I hope you too read, learn and marvel – and share Jennifer’s post.

 "People opened up to her in ways they didn't for other powerful figures."
-Susan Cain, Quiet

introversion (n):

Introverts are drained by social encounters and energized by solitary, often creative pursuits. Their disposition is frequently misconstrued as shyness, social phobia or even avoidant personality disorder, but many introverts socialize easily; they just strongly prefer not to. In fact, the self-styled introvert can be more empathic and interpersonally connected than his or her outgoing counterparts. – Psychology Today




Reporter and photojournalist Jennifer Retter.
People always guess I'm a teacher, for some reason. When I say I'm a reporter, the looks I get are priceless. As a soft-spoken, high-voiced young woman who routinely spends entire evenings reading and sipping coffee, people never guess I spend my 8-to-5s (and more) in a position they're used to seeing someone gutsy play TV.

Despite the lack that reserved and reporter don't go together in the media's perception of the world (and by this I mean fictional media), I've found that the two correlate quite well in the real world. It is highly possible to prefer smaller groups or alone, quiet time and be a successful reporter. Here’s how introversion actually aids the reporting process:

1. Finding the story in the mess

Introverts are listeners. Being introverted doesn't mean you avoid people entirely 24/7, it just means you draw energy from solitude. Being around people is fine, so long as it's not all day everyday and you have recharging time in between. When I'm in a conversation, I listen. I read people well. I'm not caught up in trying to get my point of view in or draw attention to myself. I'm just listening, listening for the important piece of information to catch my attention. That's how I find stories from listening to random people chatting with me about whatever to latching onto a subject's sentence mid-interview and using that as my angle.

Real-life example: I interviewed a local artist with a collection of his works in his hilltop home, which I trudged to planning to ask about his work and leave. Straightforward. However, I observed the sweet way his wife, Rosemary, led him into the room. I saw the way he looked at her and listened to how his voice fluctuated when he spoke to her.

I asked how he met her, thrown into my string of questions about museums. He told me the most perfect love story I've ever heard, about how they met in a hospital and walked down the street together for supplies, only to be photographed by a street photographer. He bought the picture, knowing that very day he never wanted to be separated from that girl. I asked if he still had the photo. He did. I noticed young Rosemary looked not unlike the paintings of girls in his living room. His muse. My story angle.

When the story ran in the paper, I delivered a copy to his mailbox at the foot of the hill. Three days later, he appeared at the newspaper office, handwritten note in hand, asking for a subscription.

"Throughout the years I have been interviewed by [names of five local papers] and I think you did the best job," the note read.

"No one ever asked about Rosemary," he told me.

2. One-on-one

Introverts thrive in one-on-one settings. Imagine, for example, a conversation between two extroverts. Animated, energetic, competing constantly for the attention. Flowing, but surface level. An interview subject who is an extrovert is no problem for the introvert or extrovert reporter, assuming you can get them to shut up in time for your next interview.

Now, an introvert subject is a different story entirely. If you're an introvert, you know that talking to an extrovert can make you clam up and revert to listening. An introvert -- especially an introvert with information you need -- needs to be comforted into sharing their words.

An extrovert can interview an extrovert, sure. But can they interview an introvert with success?

Introverts understand what it's like to feel uncomfortable as the center of attention. An introvert is more likely to delve deeper with a fellow introvert, even if they don't know it. One only gets more uncomfortable to share information if they think the other person isn't listening.

Real-life example: As the city where I work is centered around the school district, I spend a ton of time in classrooms, lunchrooms, at field days, you name it. Introverted adults are tough enough to pull questions from, but introverts kids are notorious for simply not speaking.

At a Girl Scout event, I had to interview a first grader representing her troop at a cookie drop. She saw me, camera in hand, and immediately clammed up. While her mom egged her to talk, talk, talk, I pulled her aside, and had her show me the cookie pile. I asked non-threatening questions – “Which cookies are your favorite? I like Thin Mints… What do those boxes look like? Oh, what a pretty green.” Subtly conveying I was on her side helped, and she smiled for a photo shortly after.

3. Empathy 

When your heart aches, who do you call: the bar-hopper who can fill you on the latest Kardashian gossip or the listener who will wipe your tears and hear what you have to say for as long as it takes you to get it out?

Introverts – especially INFJs, my type (myersbriggs.org, if you don’t know your type) – are huge proponents of empathy. We’re OK with wiping away tears from a close friend for the whole night if it means we don’t have to socialize with strangers at a bar.

So in this respect, the tough stories are the ones an introvert can master. An extrovert’s charm is no match for a tragedy, a death, or anything that involves talking to someone upset. A kind, quiet soul comforts the needy, opening them up to talk.

Real-life example: One of my all-time favorite articles I wrote was also the saddest. I interviewed a family going through a terribly tough time – the mother had been diagnosed with a mental illness and the father had heart problems with medications the family could not afford. Their two children suffered through homelessness and constantly feared for their dad’s health.

I never knew these sources’ names. I simply sat down in a room with the family at a local charity and asked them to tell me their story. With every bump in the road, I felt it, too. When I left, I literally felt as if I had been the one to desperately search for employment from the streets or fear that the next heart attack would be the last. Writing the story, then, came naturally.


No matter what any professor, friend, boss, colleague, whoever tells you about the pitfalls of introverts in public image careers, know that introverts carry their own set of worthy skills that made the reporting process special in its own way. Introverts see the world in a different way; it’s time people start respecting that.

12/12/2013

Freedom of the Press

Many of us understand it, but a few journalists erroneously believe freedom of the press is the journalistic right to print whatever you want – a shield against retribution for slandering, printing incorrect information or stretching facts.

My favorite journalism teacher, Millie Thompson (bless you, Miss T), taught the First Amendment in a way that scared it into us. With hands on hips she leaned forward like a coach and gave the class a serious glare, “Freedom of the press, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy. Do you know what they all have in common? Anybody? Anybody?”

Freedom of the press is a myth if you believe it is a shield.

Here it is in the Constitution:

 
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

 
Congress shall make no law abridging (to cut short, hinder or curtail) the press. In other words, Amendment One means the reporting of, access to, the printing of, distribution and all the things that make up reporting news will not be hindered by law.

Amendment One is one of the reasons every AP Stylebook has a section on how to execute a Freedom of Information Act request, so if a company, government entity, police department or institution withholds information from you, you have the legal means of forcing the release of that information.

You have the Constitutional right to report the news. However, you or your company may be held responsible in a civil court if you slander or stretch facts, and no amendment is going to protect you then.

That includes printing an advertisement with false information that slanders a company or an individual. Yes, in a paid advertisement. It also includes quoting a source giving false information without you also reporting the opposing side. I attended an informative seminar by the Texas Press Association featuring an attorney who specialized in press law and he put to rest many misconceptions about what some reporters, including myself at the time, thought they could do.

I worked with a young reporter at a daily that believed she and the paper were shielded from the consequences of what she wrote because of freedom of the press, even when she stretched the truth for the sake of a good story. When I prevented her from doing such things she would say “Freedom of the press!” like it was “Shazam!” and would make me allow her to slander. She claimed she was a journalism major, but how do you go through journalism school and not know the First Amendment to the Constitution? She needed someone like Miss T to scare it into her.

I covered another aspect of Amendment One in an earlier post HERE.

 

12/05/2013

Jennifer Retter - The Hardest Story

Jennifer Retter is the primary reporter and photojournalist for The Community News in Parker County, Texas. The TCU Scheiffer School of Journalism graduate is a talented newswriter. However, her gift for speaking with and interacting with the people of her subjects makes her feature stories simply brilliant.

 

Jennifer Retter
I felt the story developing months before I had the nerve to tackle it. When the time came to tackle it, I gave it my all.

 
Background
Over the summer, word came through that a well-known teacher in the community had passed away after a short, aggressive bout of cancer. She left behind a husband and four children: three girls and a boy, the youngest. Worst yet, she passed away on the boy’s eighth birthday.

 
While it was certainly a “newsmaker” in the community at the time, we simply did nothing besides run the obituary and a photo. The reasoning: the last thing a newly widowed husband and now sole parent of four children, we figured, had more important items to take care of then field calls from reporters.

 
A few months down the road, Homecoming festivities were underway at the local high school and the obvious feature story revealed itself: two of the daughters were nominated for the Homecoming Court.

 
Here are my tips on how I turned my hardest story into one of my most rewarding stories:

 1. Let your subject ease into the tough topics

Interviewing two daughters about their mother’s recent passing is certainly going to be no walk in the park, but you can at least make tough situations doable by letting your interview subject(s) decide how deep to take the conversation.

For example, instead of drilling in with a mom-centered question from the get-go, I asked about how they received their nominations, then eased into shopping for Homecoming dresses when they appeared comfortable, which naturally lent itself to a comment from them about their mother not being able to help. I let them mention her first, and my follow-up questions only probed so slightly.

 
2. Come as prepared as possible

After knocking out story after story, I got in the habit of never scripting interview questions. There simply wasn’t the time, and I felt experienced enough to wing most interviews. In fact, I even had a college professor who suggested we NEVER script interview questions; just let the conversation flow.

For a tough or emotionally difficult interview, however, it’s easier to over-prepare. Knowing that tears could flow at any time should be enough to remind you that you don’t want to sit there stumbling if your interview subject gets thrown off by emotion and your follow-up questions may no longer be appropriate. Prep enough soft, underhand toss questions to fill awkward breaks and get your subject feeling comfortable again.

 
3. Don’t get emotional; this is your job

As journalists, we often face emotionally difficult situations. In my short time as a news reporter, I watched a family sob as their home burned down – while I took pictures of the flames. But doing our jobs means putting that emotion into understanding your sources, not losing it in a breakdown of tears.

In my case, interviewing the two daughters wasn’t what got me first. It was the way the little boy, with the fresh memory of his mother’s death on his birthday, jumped up to shake my hand like a miniature gentleman when I came by.

 
4. Do the story justice

Unless a family member is a celebrity, it’s unlikely a family like the one in my story would ever see a mass-produced non-fiction account of a dear one’s passing. This is their one shot, and you better do it right.

When I wrote my story about the daughters on the Homecoming Court, I aimed for touching. After meeting the family, I saw their quiet strength and excitement for life during their darkest days. I knew it needed to be a story highlighting how the girls lived on in honor of their mother, who would have been thrilled to see them shine at Homecoming.

 
We ran with the story the week of Homecoming on the front page. I spent more time writing that story, tweaking every last word, to make sure it stayed true to its mission. After its publication, I was met with community members telling me the piece moved them to tears and a short, incredibly kind note from the father thanking me for making his daughters feel special.

 
P.S. The elder daughter won Homecoming Queen. We had the privilege of printing her photo again the following week on the front page under the title “All Hail the Queen.” She was pictured receiving her crown with a huge smile on her face as her proud father looked on.

11/26/2013

Stuck in the Middle


I was on the fringe of a discussion on one of the hot-button topics when the guy dominating the gathering suddenly asked me, "Are you a conservative or a liberal?" I explained that I study and consider different sides of an issue before drawing a conclusion. He shot back, "So, you're a liberal!"

Eric Jackson
Some people believe being an informed and objective reporter is a character flaw. Eric Jackson says it best with his piece, “Stuck in the Middle” in his blog An Old Cop’s Place. Eric is interesting on many levels; a former chief of police with three decades of law enforcement, a public speaker, former college professor and dedicated church volunteer, not to mention one of the most pleasant people I have had the opportunity to speak with.

Read “Stuck in the Middle” by Eric Jackson HERE.

11/20/2013

The hardest story

I have often been asked, “What is the hardest story you have done?”

That is a tougher question than it appears because there are different kinds of hard stories. When it comes to tedious reporting and government leaders trying keep me from digging up their filth, I have one at the top of my list that I will share in a future post. Today, I expound on another kind of hard story and how I handled them when they occur.

When one of the community’s students or children are critically hurt, fall gravely ill or die, these are among the hardest stories I have done. Unlike metropolitan reporters, as a community photojournalist I become endearingly attached to the community I serve. I treat these stories differently than other news stories.

One example is an incident involving two middle school friends. While at a lake, one became endangered in the water and the other went to save his friend. The first survived but the friend that went to the rescue drowned. I got the report and a quote from the sheriff’s department and after much thought phoned the parents of the surviving boy. I explained I already had enough information for the story but wanted to give them an opportunity to add their thoughts if they wanted. They appreciated the chance to tell the community how thankful they were to “our hero” and how saddened they were for the other family’s loss.

When I understood the two families were close, I asked the mother if she would phone her friend for me and ask if they wanted to add their thoughts as well. It was uncomfortable for me, but the result was an emotional and fruitful meeting at one of the homes with both families and the surviving boy. During the meeting I also asked if it were OK to take pictures. They agreed and I used a pocket camera to photograph the parents hugging at the close of the meeting. It could have been just a news report but it became an inspirational story, although the hardest kind to do.

For suicides, I do not lead off the story with that fact. For students, I report the untimely death, highlight the student’s activities and accomplishments, include a positive quote from a teacher or administrator and end with, “The Sheriff’s department reports that (name) took his/her life at (location).” I don’t report how it was done or anything about a note. I was once criticized by another editor for not using a paper-selling suicide headline, but that’s just too bad because I don't sell drama and I think about the families when I cover these things.

It was the first student suicide for a particular high school and the district superintendent would not return my phone calls and instructed the school’s public information officer, administrators and teachers not to speak with any media, which hurt because I was the local paper and the others were metropolitan media. All I wanted was “He was very friendly and he will be missed by all,” but I had nothing. In desperation, I pleaded my case with the public information officer, telling him “I have to print the story. There might as well be something positive for the kid’s last time in the paper.” I begged the PIO to talk to the superintendent and explain my intentions and please get any statement for me. The superintendent personally called me and gave me what I wanted. I was pleased to later receive an email of thanks from the super for my handling of the story and it opened doors of trust for me with the school district.

Reporting about adults seem easier for me, but I have done too many stories like this about kids over the years – two student suicides, four traffic deaths, one drug overdose death, one drowning and three terminal illnesses. However, I am going to stop here and tell you my teaching point is leave the family and fellow students alone and be delicate, yet tactful, at gathering quotes from appropriate sources. Your readers won’t miss the drama. Above all, handle the story respectfully.

Sorry for the bummer post this week, but this is an unfortunate subject that journalists have to deal with. I hope it helps.

11/13/2013

AP Stylebook: More stupid rules


More stupid things from the AP Stylebook

Before I take more shots at the Associated Press book of style referenced by journalist around the world, you must first read my earlier post "AP Style" about how the book is an important tool here you have not already. I throw a few stones at the book then as well.

Go ahead. Read the earlier post and come back…

AP Stylebook wants you to add the word “diploma” after "GED." Such as, “She earned her GED diploma” and not simply "She earned her GED." Oh really? Since GED stands for General Equivalency Diploma, you would in fact be saying “She earned her General Equivalency Diploma diploma,” and that would be redundantly redundant.

In dates where A.D. or B.C. are needed, AP Stylebook wants you to put “A.D.” before the number but put “B.C.” after the number. So it would be "Carriages and coaches were first used around AD 750 but in 400 BC people just walked or rode the family yak." This rule must be based on the same logic we use our left hand to open doors on Tuesdays and Thursdays but our right hand Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
The AP Stylebook wants you to capitalize the word "adrenaline" for no particular reason. The adrenaline produced in your body. No fooling.
AP Style book: Buy one, read it, use it, but don’t be a slave to it. If you alter from it, have a darned good reason for doing so, keep your alteration consistent and make the rest of the office do so as well so readers never see variations in your publication.

11/06/2013

Separation of church and state


Today, there is another story concerning separation of church and state in the news. City council members of a small New York town are considering banning prayer before their public meetings saying it violates separation of church and state. Many city councils, government boards, schools and chambers of commerce have considered the same matter, but the New York case is going to court.

It is approaching that time of year where my county courthouse erects a lighted Nativity scene on the east side of the courthouse square and self proclaimed atheists write letters to the editor in the newspapers saying it violates the constitution and separation of church and state.

So, what is this "separation of church and state" that keeps coming up? One side interprets the First Amendment as meaning there should be no religion in state, public and government. Another side believes separation of church and state is for government to ban religion in public and government places.

Both sides are wrong.

Here it is in the U.S. Constitution:

Amendment I
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Once again: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

The Constitution states laws should not be based on a religion or favor a religion. Laws can be created for good, wholesome, moral, just and beneficial reasons, but not religious interpretation or to favor a particular religion.  Furthermore, Congress should not pass laws to hinder the free practice of religion. That's it.

Sound simple? Not so. With the most controversial legal battles right now - abortion and gay marriage - argument from some of our government leaders is based on religious interpretation.

Do you still think laws should be based on religion? Consider countries whose religious laws are the laws of the country. Think about what human rights are violated in the execution of these laws and you may begin to think our founding fathers knew what they were doing when they wrote Amendment I in the Constitution.

Amendment One came into spotlight in my area school district when morning announcements that once began with a reading from the Bible were reduced to a student reading a generic prayer and further reduced to a moment of silent prayer. When that moment of silent prayer was challenged, some parents protested sternly in school board meetings and the moment of silence stayed. My thought at the time was if you want to see parents get really angry, wait till a student faces east and kneels on a prayer rug during the silent prayer and the poop would really hit the fan!

The First Amendment has nothing to do with banning prayer. Neither does it give leaders the right to use religion to justify laws.

PS. Because the holidays are upon us I want to mention a 1984 Supreme Court decision, Lynch v Donnelly, provides for publicly sponsored holiday religious displays on public and government property as long as it contains secular holiday symbols along with the nativity scene.
Coming soon: Another part of the First Amendment, freedom of the press, and why what some journalists believe about it is false. Hint: My Ninja Journalism master, teacher Millie Thompson, used to say, "What do the Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny and Freedom of the Press have in common? Anybody? Anybody?"

Thanks for reading. Follow this blog by using the email window at the top.

#Constitution
#churchandstate

10/31/2013

Photo manipulating

Do it in ads, but don't screw up. Look
close and see the reflection of a lower
capacity card (8 on top, 4 on bottom).
When it comes to photo manipulation, in advertisements, features, pretty landscapes and portraits, almost anything is acceptable. Photoshop all you want, take wrinkles out, add more people, put a halo on a head and add birds in the trees, but just don’t screw up (which is done more often than you may notice).

However, in journalism, don’t even think about it.

The end. See you next week.

The long discussion is that some photography manipulation in journalism is acceptable and understandable, such as contrast, cropping and sharpening, but the fine line is crossed when an editor or photographer fudges information because they either believe it is necessary, doesn’t matter or that they won’t get caught.

I have fudged the rules a little and justified it (gasp!). I have had indoor news photographs where my flash caught glass in the background and made a glare and I Photoshopped the glare out. Call me a sinner, I don’t care because I was not changing the information. I have also printed photos that the lighting above was too bright to raise the contrast of the whole photo without burning in, so I selected the glaring light, added grey, and then raised the contrast of the whole picture. Bad me.

I once Photoshopped a news photo where one of the people covertly flipped the bird on his sleeve. I should have Photoshopped his stinking face too, but I resisted.

When I think of my minor photo transgressions I remember a photojournalism class I took at TCU sponsored by the Texas Press Association. During a class discussion I disclosed my glare eliminating techniques and my flipping the bird story and the guest speaker, a photo editor from the Fort Worth Star Telegram, completely freaked, condemning my actions saying only cropping, contrast and sharpening are acceptable and nothing more. My response was, “but it is OK when you crop someone completely out of a photo, and that is manipulating the information. Right?” He had no response.

I attribute his Photoshop paranoia to the fact that his paper got in trouble for photo manipulating earlier that same year. It happened during the internationally famous America’s Cup boat race when a boat sank and another team abandoned the race to go to the rescue. The neighboring Dallas Morning News printed the only photo available to the media, which was a frame from the television broadcast, and the Star Telegram printed the same picture but Photoshopped out the network emblem on the television screen and gave no credit to the contributing network, making it appear it was a Star Telegram photograph.

Contrast, although acceptavle, can also be a transgression, as Time Magazine learned. Former football star O.J. Simpson was arrested and accused of murder and the front page of Newsweek featured Simpson’s arrest mugshot, and the cover of Time had the same photo but darkened with sinister, evil looking shadows. Time was ridiculed in journalism circles for the biased blunder (see Simpson covers here).
In the early years of the Iraq War, a couple of Associated Press photographers were fired for different incidents of manipulating to make their photos look more dramatic in hopes of getting their work chosen for release. A stoic soldier was photographed looking over a valley but smoke was added to bombed out trucks, and another altered a picture to bring frightened citizens closer to a soldier.

In media, manipulation feature photographs is acceptable if you are trying to be artsy and not altering information, like the Time/OJ Simpson incident. For instance, I took a normally dull posed group photo of marching band members for an award they won and swirled the background with the school’s colors and it looked very cool in the newspaper.

There are transgressions outside journalism that have little consequences. In a photograph of President George Bush at a table signing a bill, corporate bigwigs who financially supported the bill are standing to the president’s left and right. One company took that photograph and moved their company big cheese from the end to just over the president’s shoulder and printed it in their company newsletter. No harm no foul, but it was embarrassing for the company when the photos went viral in photography and journalism circles.

In journalism, the acceptation is feature photos in some cases, but don’t go too far and don't alter information. In news, if you can't get the perfect shot just try harder next time. That is part of the challenge of being a Ninja photojournalist.

10/23/2013

Expose yourself

One of the best ways to become a better photographer is to expose yourself to a lot of good photography.

In this post I share some of the people and websites I look to for inspiration. Click on the highlighted name to access the website. I hope you expose yourself to as much photography as you can and ask yourself these questions:

How did they do that?
How can I do that?
What would I do different?

Something I do when I study a photograph is to look all over the work and imagine I am that photographer looking through the lens at that moment. What am I seeing? What is the “right now” moment the photographer was waiting for?

Someone who continues to influence me is landscape and humanist photographer Tim Sutherland. Tim is an amazing person who has helped me morph from being a good news photographer to a photographer who can capture beauty and feeling and not just a story. Just being around Tim is an experience.

During a show at his gallery I examined each piece the way I described earlier and when I had a moment with Tim I took him to my favorite piece in the show. It was Tuskany Trees, a black and white of tall trees, which we now have hanging in our home. Knowing Tim meticulously hunts, frames and waits for the perfect shot, I told him how impressed I was at his alignment of the trees and the perfect angle of the light source. He grinned and said “Oh, Yeah. I took that one out the window of a moving bus while traveling in Italy.” I wanted to bow and back away.

Another photographer I love is Chrystaline Randazzo. Chrystal photographs nature and landscapes beautifully. However, her skill in capturing emotion in portraits is startling. She is of the Tim Sutherland School of Awesome and her mentor shows in much of her work.

Daily Dose of Imagery is a photoblog project by award winning photographer Sam Javanrouh, who posted a photograph every day for 10 years until he suspended the project July 2013. This is a good way to study a lot of work on different themes from one artist. From his main page you can subscribe to receive a photo each day by email or, if you dare, access the massive archive.

Subscribe by email or Face Book to Frameplay and you will receive an email each day featuring a fantastic photograph and a brief description of the photographer. This is a good way to expose yourself to a lot of different photographers and themes. Frameplay will sometimes post "Three On a Theme," which is one photograph from three different photographers on the same theme.

And finally, Mark Hirsch created That Tree, a collection of photographs of the same, single tree taken every day for 365 days but from different perspectives. That Tree is not only beautiful and insightful, but a useful project to show how the same subject can be photographed in a kaleidoscope of ways.

Get your imaginations cranking, Ninjas, and shoot something cool today. And let me know if you have favorite photography sites you would like to share.

10/17/2013

One hour with Fox News

I had to watch Fox News today while waiting for my car to get an oil change and an inspection. I want my hour back.

Writing and reporting must be thorough, fair and balanced with no slanting of facts. Hard news, in contrast to editorials and feature stories where you have editorial freedom, are to be reported dry, unbiased and without manipulating the audience’s emotions.

My ignorance of the way Fox News operates is because normally I get my news by listening to NPR, watching PBS news, reading the AP wire or watching local network news. When National Public Radio and Public Broadcast Service report news they have multiple persons directly involved with the stories presenting different perspectives. If there are opposing views, NPR and PBS have persons from each side present their information. This umbiased type of reporting irritates some, but that is another story for another post. In contrast, Fox News has multiple Fox commentators and Fox reporters readings stories from Fox writers and often sprinkled with comments to exaggerate the facts. During my hour in the waiting lounge I cringed every time a Fox reporter or anchor tried to make a story more horrific, drastic or pathetic than it actually was. This was done with stories large and small.

There was a story of an engine blowing on a Spirit Airlines jet leaving DFW airport and returning to the airport. One of two engines blew, smoke came into the cabin and the plane returned and landed.

The anchor read her introduction “…The Airline exploded shortly after take-off…” which is an exaggeration to paint a picture of a disaster in the sky. Then, a reporter read a statement from the airline that they and the FAA are investigating the incident and planes are designed to fly with one engine if needed and …"the plane landed normally.” The Fox reporter followed that with an enthusiastic, “I tell you what! That was no normal landing!” Oh really? The plane did not land on foam or crash land, the passengers walked out through the exits and did not hop out on a slide and none were hurt, but the Fox reporter made it sound like something terrible happened.

There was a story of people who videoed a large shark beside their boat offshore. The people said it was exciting and I know I would have been awed to see the animal up close in the wild like that. However, the Fox anchor ended the story reading her script, “They saw the shark kill a seal before it tried to kill them.” Really? It tried to kill them? Shame on you, Fox News, for lying and sensationalizing.

These little things go right past some people, but to me they are like a car horn.

A major story today is the re-opening of the government after political blah that shut the government down. Unlike NPR and PBS news, who have been reporting the subject with multiple persons from both sides including congressmen, senators, Washington-based reporters, The Washington Post and The New York Times, Fox reported the stories with Fox commentators, Fox reporters and several video clips of senators from one of the parties. At no time in the hour did Fox News play a clip of someone from the other party, nor did they have an opposing commentary.

No matter what your views are, if you chose not to hear all sides of an issue you chose to be stupid. This is true with education, abortion, religion (all of them), gay rights, race, alternative languages in public schools, poverty, taxes, the wars, Obamacare, immigration, or anything. Have a strong conviction, but if you plug your ears every time you hear an opposing view, you are a puppet waiting someone to gather your strings.

I put Fox News in the same category of other shows that are distortions of reality for for the sake of entertainment, like Real Housewives, Keeping Up With the Kardashians and Honey Boo Boo.

10/09/2013

Take My Picture

This post has little to do with journalism, but it is a fun story and this is my blog, so here it is.

Some of the most memorable incidents that have happened to me in photojournalism have nothing to do with reporting or photography.

Many years ago I was covering the Moritz Basketball Classic and dozens of high school teams were converging on all the gyms of an area campus. A typical occurrence when you are carrying a bigass camera in a school is to hear “Hey, take my picture!” from some of the little kids. I usually at least quickly pretend to take a picture so as to not disappoint the youngsters, but one round face kid with a big grin kept showing up wherever I went that day. I believe he was the son of one of the volunteers because when I went from the high school gyms to the middle school gyms a few blocks away he would be there playing in the lobby or laying upside-down in the bleachers, “Hey man, take my picture!” It got to be a joke all day to see who could say it first.

When I had to do other stories on the campuses I would occasionally see him in middle school and later in high school and we would give each other a smile and a “Hey! Take my picture!” as we saw each other. I did not know his name and it was just “Hey! Take my picture!” for years.

Fast forward more years and I am getting out of my truck at a store and I hear this deep voice, “Hey, man. Take my picture,” behind me. I turned around to see this same round face leaning out the window of a pickup. It was Dan Pennington, the “Hey, man!” kid. We talked for a while about work he was doing with area kids and it sounded interesting enough to finally take his picture and do a story about him in the paper.


Hey, Dan. Take our picture!
Fast-forward even more years to last week. I was hanging out on a couch in a church and I hear (drum roll) “Hey man…..” Yes, it is Dan Pennington again, and he attends the church where I work (cue spooky music and fade to black).

10/02/2013

Photography: Field Angle

Today I share two examples of how I use “field angle” or “field composition” to compose a picture. If you are shooting still life you simply reach down and move the apple closer to the pear, but field angle is simply moving yourself to align objects in the foreground and background where you want them. You can use field angle with portrait, landscape, sports to an extent and any kind of photography, but today’s examples are photojournalism.

In this picture, I came upon an accident on I-35 south of Fort Worth right when paramedics arrived on the scene. As usual, I was using my long lens to stay out of the way. I took maybe 15 shots while moving down the embankment until I aligned the car in the foreground and the subject behind and facing the camera. I popped off five of my last shots at this angle while the first responders and a concerned citizen in military uniform raised the woman on a backboard and the photo I chose to print won a first place news photography award from the North and East Texas Press Association.

Depending on the competition, judges are fellow journalists from other parts of the state or from another state and are asked to write brief reviews of the first place winners or sometimes the top three winners. Here is the note from the judge.

Division 4
Semiweeklies 5,001 or More
1. Burleson Star — Christopher Amos. Car Accident: Very nice job. You showed enough of the car for us to understand what happened and you were in the right spot to show her emotion. An excellent news picture that has it all in one frame.

The second example is one of my favorite photographs. I call it “Teach Your Children Well.” I entered it in the feature photo category of the Texas Press Association newspaper contest and earned a second place award.


I was at a local cemetery photographing Cub Scouts placing flowers on the graves of veterans the morning of Memorial Day, 2010. While taking the usual pictures and writing names I noticed a man and his son walking away to another part of the cemetery where a color guard troup was rehearsing for the graveside service of a WWII veteran. I had my short lens on photographing the Scouts, but fortunately had my long lens in my fanny pack. As the pair stood respectfully, I began shooting pictures while stepping to my left to align the picture. I spoke with the man as they walked away to get their name and permission and learned the man lost his brother in Iraq and was using the moment to teach his son respect.
 
Of the many photos I took here I chose this one that was not framed too close and I believe it makes the viewer feel distanced from the subject, like you are standing back in respect and not looking over their shoulder.

When I see this picture I think of teaching children respect and honor.
Notice in both of these examples I did not get in place and then start shooting, but I began shooting as soon as I could and continued to shot while I moved into position.

9/25/2013

Its/It's, your/you're, there/their/they're

I have waited a long time to say this, but I can’t hold back any longer. I have a pet peeve about people who misuse words. Specifically, its and it’s, your and you’re, and there, their and they’re.

I don’t see these words used incorrectly in professional writing, but I see these words misused in casual writing, social media, advertising and even business correspondents.

A simple way to check yourself is to simply take a moment and think about the use of the word. Is it a contraction? Is it possessive? If it is a contraction you will be able to substitute, in your head, the two seperate words.

For instance, “your” is possessive. Your nose on your face belongs to you, therefore it is your nose. “You’re” is a contraction, the combining of “you” and “are.” I believe you’re cool because you read this blog.

I was chatting online with my younger brother on Facebook and I responded with a crazy, funny statement. My brother typed back, “Your nuts.” So I responded, “What about my nuts?” He didn’t get it.

I admit I am a poor speller and sometimes a careless writer and I have to proof the heck out of my stuff (see Editing and Proofing), but I always get its and it’s, your and you’re, and there, their and they’re correct. I even pronounce them correctly, and you didn’t know there was a difference, did you?

For a humorous look at 10 commonly misused words with visuals that may help you remember how to use them correctly, visit this post by The Oatmeal, a clever and funny artist.

9/19/2013

How I Got Started

This is a simple note about how I got started. I hope it shows that enthusiasm, imagination and being around the right people can take you a long way.

Journalism class was the only thing I excelled at in high school, but I was steered away from that field by a lousy high school “counselor” (big emphasis on the quotation marks). All seniors had to make an appointment to see a counselor for directive on going to college and this guy looked at my grades, asked me what I would like to major in and said (I am not making this up) “You’re not smart enough for journalism. You better try of something easier, like P.E.”

After stints at three colleges, retail stores, construction and my own tractor business, I kind of wandered into a newspaper career with childlike enthusiasm and the help of key people who coached and influenced me.

The end.
See you next week.

Here is the longer version:

Millie Thompson, long-time journalism teacher at Arlington Heights High School, Fort Worth, ran journalism class and our bi-weekly school newspaper like a business. I graduated in the mid 70s and by the time I got into a newspaper career she had passed away before I could find her and tell her that I, one of her troublesome students, became an award winning newspaper journalist and photographer.

In her class, editors were responsible for reporters and all were responsible for themselves. Corny stories were not allowed and we did important reporting on students, community, sports and the school district. It would horrify most college and high school journalism instructors, but Miss T did not read much of our work until after it was printed.  After papers were distributed she read the paper silently in front of class from cover to cover, occasionally making a note with a large red marker and shaming anyone who made a slight mistake. “Explain to me, Mr. Amos, why you did not attribute that information…. I am waiting for your answer.”

She was not mean, but she was serious about good journalism. If you made a bad error, she pointed right at you with that red marker and chewed your ass out sternly in front of your peers and then turned and chewed the ass of the department editor and the chief editor, who would both chew your ass out again in the hall after class. Needless to say, we put out an extraordinary high school paper. Thank you, Miss T for planting in me a love for media and journalism.

Years later as president of my community library I began contributing library news to the local paper. I struck up a friendship with the owner and publisher, Randy Keck, and occasionally contributed other news and photos I came across.



Randy Keck is the longtime owner and publisher of The Community News in Parker County who saw my enthusiasm and hired me part time as a reporter. As the paper grew he hired me full time and it was with his coaching and encouragement that I won my first Texas Press and North and East Texas Press Association awards.

After a year at a daily paper I really cranked up my talents and moved into Ninja gear when I went to a community newspaper group in another county. I embedded myself into the community and dug not only covering news, but finding news. I was first hired there as a photographer and was writing features three months later. I soon became business page editor and then main reporter.  After two years I became editor of one of the company's papers and I put a lot of effort into having a rocking front page and relevant content. My goal each issue was to have the absolute best newspaper of all six of our publications, and I racked up more Texas Press and North and East Texas Press Association awards, which in turn sparked me to work even harder.

I met a lot of wonderful people with amazing stories. Thanks, Miss T, Randy and all the co-workers who put up with me over the years.

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