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|| News Item: Posted 2007-06-28

The Shift
You might find you now work for a Web company that publishes a newspaper a few times a week.

By Kim Komenich

Photo by

Will newspapers like these be publishing seven days a week in the future?
┬ęCopyright 2007, Kim Komenich

Are you ready for the "shift"?

There could be a time in the near future when you show up at work and discover that you no longer work for a newspaper that produces a Web site. As you punch the clock, you might find you now work for a Web company that publishes a newspaper a few times a week.

I'm as much a romantic about newspapers as the next 25-year veteran, but think about it -- the concept of paying a guy to drive a logging truck into the woods (at $3 a gallon) to cut down a tree and drive the log to a paper mill (at $3 a gallon), then pay some other guy to drive a train or truck full of newsprint out of state to a newspaper's printing plant (at $3 a gallon), then to pay some other guys to drive big trucks full of printed newspapers (at $3 a gallon) to a distribution point where some other guys (some driving cars at $3 a gallon and some on foot or bicycle) deliver the newspaper to the reader -- wouldn't get you much venture capital for your 2007 startup.

People love their newspapers and magazines, but the idea of printing every bit of the day's news on paper might soon gain a reputation as one of the most costly and environmentally unfriendly business models around.

So it makes sense that there's a "shift" under way. This shift is as important to today's journalists as the invention of hot type and the halftone process were to the journalists at the turn of the previous century.

From Atoms to Bits
The idea of journalism's "shift" has its roots in the "Negroponte shift," a term coined in the 1990s to refer to MIT Media Lab Founding Director Nicholas Negroponte's observation that things that had traditionally gone through wires (telephone communication, for example) were now going through the air, and things that had traditionally gone through the air (like television) were arriving in our homes through a wire. Negroponte's theory about the ongoing shift from wired to wireless was part of his greater assertion that we are rapidly moving from "atoms to bits."

Newspapers and magazines are the leading suppliers of news-atoms.

Negroponte's "shift" and his other theories about how we communicate are collected in his 1995 book Being Digital. A collection of his Wired Magazine columns can be found at

Journalists, the test pilots of communication technology, went digital early -- first with words, then, as technology advanced, with progressively more complex bitmapped artwork, then with photos, finally with moving pictures. The publishing world's word-art-photo-movie progression dates back to the moveable type days and continues through the current era's text-to-bitmap-to-vector graphics advances.

AM and FM
Is there a patch of uncharted territory to be discovered somewhere between the web offset press and the World Wide Web, where 21st century town-crier storytelling can thrive? And could this hybrid be attractive enough to advertisers and useful enough to readers that it would continue to support the Fourth Estate in the manner to which it has become accustomed?

As we consider newspapering's shift from dots on paper to pixels on plasma, it's helpful to consider radio. National Public Radio represents the thoughtful, compelling "think piece" style of journalism we associate with the Sunday paper (Weekend Edition Sunday even has the Sunday Puzzle). AM radio news, on the other hand, deals with news by the hour (or by the minute, as need be) to get breaking information to listeners.

We know that if we want information about the big picture, we'll turn to NPR, and if it's about traffic jams or crime or sports or city hall tit-for-tat, we'll turn to AM.

In the near future, I think, the printed page will become more valuable to readers in the FM sense -- it will be reserved for the news that needs to be embraced and kept at hand. Newspaper Web sites are already taking on the AM radio role of delivering breaking information to readers as stories develop. On June 2 at the National Press Photographers Association's 2007 Photojournalism Summit, Digital Journalist founder Dirck Halstead said it's quite possible that some daily newspapers will soon go to a three-day-per week schedule.

What if it comes to the point where we're no longer publishing a broadsheet newspaper, but a twice- or thrice-weekly tabloid or magazine that contains no daily news?

From Synthesis to Synthesis?
Soon after its invention in 1839, photography was the next new thing in a world dominated by painted imagery. In the introduction to his 1966 book "The Photographer's Eye", New York Museum of Modern Art Photography Curator John Szarkowski wrote that "the invention of photography provided a radically new picture making process -- a process based not on synthesis, but on selection. The difference was a basic one. Paintings were made -- constructed from a storehouse of traditional schemes and skills and attitudes -- but photographs, as the man on the street put it, were taken."

The camera represented a technological threat to those with a stake in the status quo. Fine-art photographers, many of whom were painters, "repurposed" the sharp-focus cameras of the day in order to create soft-focus, romanticized, "painterly" renditions of their subjects, and soon the "pictorialist" school was born. To get the desired effects they would purposely choose uncorrected lenses, place softening materials over their lens or perform similar tricks in the darkroom.

After the turn of the 20th century, at about the same time as the rise of the modern art movement, some photographers began to celebrate the camera's ability to portray the world in precise detail and the "straight" photography movement was born. The "Photo Secession" marked a fork in the road where realism and pictorialism went separate ways.

There's a modern-day secession movement under way today, and as journalists we're all participating in it. Nearly a generation ago, with the invention of Apple Script, the QuickTime movie and early non-linear editing programs, photographers began to gain the ability to put pictures in motion on an interactive computer screen. Newspapers and magazines were not early adopters. They invested in "repurposing" emerging digital photographic technologies to find faster and more economical ways to generate still images with the goal of putting dots on paper.

To extend Szarkowski's idea to the present day, I think we're moving from selection back to synthesis. Today's journalist is (or soon will be) a "field producer" who is trusted as the person on location who will decide how the story will best be told (be it in stills and words, or stills only, or words only, or audio and stills, or audio only, or video -- the possibilities are endless). This journalist then sets about to tell the story by applying the curiosity, empathy and originality learned in their core skill as a photographer, reporter or videographer to the new tools in their bag. founder Richard Koci-Hernandez likens the equipment and storytelling choices we make to the painter's use of the brushes and palette.

So today, nearly 170 years after the invention of photography, are we back to synthesis? As we sit down to edit with Photoshop, Final Cut and Flash, our images and audio and video clips are there waiting for us--on the canvas.

Repurpose This
Since the invention of the World Wide Web in 1992, newspapers have tried just about everything to "look interactive". The truth of the matter is that a newspaper can't be interactive. It can be random access, but it can't be interactive. Good picture editors and page designers have used the concepts of juxtaposition and the "third effect" to play words, pictures, captions and graphics off each other in ways that heighten the effect of the storytelling.

Where we've fallen short is in thinking that the "repurposing" of our print stories for the Web is Web storytelling. We've only scratched the surface.

The first steps most newspapers took in the early days on the Web were limited by bandwidth and the inability of existing technologies to deliver Web multimedia to their readers. In the mid-90s it made sense to "repurpose" a few stills in a non-interactive virtual file cabinet connected by links because nobody could download them anyway. Sadly, the "file cabinet" and its separate drawers for pictures, video, audio and words is still the predominant way newspapers tell stories on the Web.

Slide shows are a good entry point for timeline-based newspaper Web site storytelling. However, in all but a few beautiful cases, slide shows are not optimal web storytelling.

The AM/FM radio analogy works here. Magnum in Motion succeeds because Magnum's got a fat library and an agency full of photographers who go deep. Magnum is in an excellent position to produce great "FM" slideshows.

Same-day newspaper Web slide shows are fun, but they are too often filled with mediocre, redundant images that are being used to cover the lengthy audio. Sometimes they do not reach the journalistic standards the newspaper sets for itself in other areas.

Newspaper Web storytelling will head down a slippery (and familiar) slope when the editors in the morning meeting begin to assign the slide shows. Multimedia is based on complex situational choices which need to be made in the field. If the situation has enough "decisive sequences" for a slide show, then it's time to shoot a slide show. Just don't lower your (or your paper's) standards.

And why do you think Ken Burns uses the Ken Burns effect? It's because all of the people in his pictures are dead! He has no choice. He only gets to work with nouns. In the field, our world is full of verbs. Life is rich with the sounds and movements of the living, walking, talking paradoxes we get to meet every day. As Burns' live subjects show us, the best tool for some situations will be video.

Core Competency
Learning multimedia is a lot like learning music. You have to get your "chops" on one instrument. All but the rare prodigy would become frustrated if they tried to learn the piano, the saxophone and the double bass at the same time. Once musicians begin to succeed in the technical aspects of an instrument and gain confidence, they can begin to make the necessary connection between heart and mind and find their "sound."

Photojournalists begin learning multimedia with their core competency in decisive moment-based still photography, and then apply their stills "chops" and original point of view to video, which is hungry for the "decisive sequence." In addition, thanks to the "theater of the mind" possible through written and audio interviews, the photojournalist for the first time gets to time-trip and include the past, the future and abstract concepts where one perfect word might be worth a thousand pictures.

Here's the best part -- the other media we use will inform the way we shoot our stills. The sequence anticipation necessary for good video shooting will lead us to appreciate the anticipatory, peak and consequential moments that are available to us when we are shooting stills.

From Space to Time
I first heard the idea that journalism is moving from "space" (the printed page) to "time" (Web-based timeline and interactive multimedia) during a speech by San Jose Mercury News Director of Photography Geri Migielicz at the 2006 Missouri Photo Workshop in Moberly, Missouri. It helps explain the coming shift in American photojournalism.

In fact, I chose "From Space to Time: Interviews with Multimedia Photojournalism Pioneers" as the working title of video interviews I conducted while working on my master's degree at the University of Missouri. (I hope to have them ready for release as a short educational film in mid-August. See for details.)

In the film, multimedia pioneers Dirck Halstead, Brian Storm, Andrew DeVigal, Sandra Eisert, Rick Smolan, David Leeson, Richard Koci-Hernandez, Rich Beckman, Terry Schwadron, Hal Buell, Tom Kennedy and others discuss their role in the development of Web-based multimedia journalism and offer advice on what they think makes for good Web storytelling. Next month Sportsshooter and Digital Journalist will be posting some of the clips and written excerpts from the interviews.

A Different Set of Lenses
There remains the problem of how to decide which tool to use when gathering multimedia and print assets. This is the professional leap of faith that is required to feel comfortable in the "shift."

In the movie, MediaStorm Founder and CEO Brian Storm talks about the concept of trust. "Editors don't have a problem trusting photographers in the field when it comes to choosing between a wide angle or a telephoto (lens)," Storm said in Portland on June 2. "Now they'll have to get comfortable letting photographers decide whether it's video or audio, or audio and stills."

How will the "shift" take hold? Editors will need to trust journalists to be "field producers" who assess each story situation for its print and multimedia possibilities. In addition, the newspaper will need to establish a print and Web infrastructure flexible enough for stories to be told in the medium (or mix of media) for which they are best suited.

In the coming years photojournalists are in a unique position to help recast the foundation of American journalism. If we learn the technology and begin to make never-before made connections between storytelling media, newspapers will survive and even thrive as their communities' trusted town crier.

There has never been a better time for the photographer's vision to help a newspaper survive. Be a visionary. Create for the Web. Take no prisoners.

(Kim Komenich is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize recipient for photos of the "Fall of Ferdinand Marcos" he made for Hearst's San Francisco Examiner. In May he received a Masters degree in Journalism from the University of Missouri. He is currently an Ochberg Fellow at the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma. He is a 2006 recipient of the Military Reporters and Editors Photography Award for his work in Iraq in 2005. He received the 2005 Clifton C. Edom Education Award from the National Press Photographers Association. He was a 1993-94 John S. Knight Fellow at Stanford University.)

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