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|| News Item: Posted 2011-12-12

And now for something completely different
By Gerry McCarthy, The Dallas Morning-News

Well, sort of.

A few years back several of our shooters were trained to sub on the night photo desk. Layoffs at our newspaper had led to some staff shortages in our department --- not just on the shooting side, but editing as well. There were holes to fill and fewer people to fill them.

It's something that's been happening at a lot of papers, big and small. Many of my friends at other organizations have been put in the same boat. Some like it, others don't, but we all agree on one thing -- it's how things are now, and it's gotta be done.

Photo by Gerry McCarthy

Photo by Gerry McCarthy

A pen, a pad and some snacks -- simple things that get you through the day when working as a picture editor.
Put me in the "like it" camp, as far as editing goes. I'm not real good at sitting still for hours, but hey, that's why God invented restless leg syndrome. What I am decent at is poring over scores -- if not hundreds -- of images over a daylong shift.

I've kind of always been that way. It's one of the reasons I've sort of stuck around, A Photo A Day and other online photo collectives. Good images, bad images, everything in between -- I get something out of looking at it all.

So we've established I don't mind working the night photo desk, which, here at the DMN, basically means I put out whatever small fires are left in Metro (Fireman/Metro photo editor Michael Hamtil does that pretty damn good all day) by the end of the night, and pull wire art for 1A and SportsDay, as well as handle live assignments for those sections as well. [Smash cut to the World Series]

Ah, the World Series. What a ride.

Because of the aforementioned staffing cuts, we were not going to be able to have one of our normal photo editors come out for on-site editing on the games, starting with the American League Division Series. We rotated out the editing duty to the shooters who were credentialed. So in other words, Photographer A would edit Game 1, Photographer B Game 2, etc.

I was up first for the task, and by the end of the night I pretty much decided that it would be easiest if one person tried to do all the games the whole way through. We all have different workflows, and rather than redo everything each game, why not keep it the same?

I volunteered. Well, it was more like me asking them, "Do you want to shoot the Rangers run to a possible franchise first championship, or would you rather edit?"

Guess what the overwhelming consensus was? "Have at it, dude."

Rather than bore you with a rehash, you can read about the experience over at our staff photo blog --

To summarize: It was a huge, often very challenging endeavor. I was bouncing back and forth over multiple computers, looking at play after play from every possible angle. Not wanting to inundate the photo editors back at the paper too badly, I tried to make sure I took time to find the best possible look at a play, but honestly, as the games got later and the deadlines tighter, I ending up just having to run and gun the edits.

The work I was looking at, though? Always top-notch; just look at who I was editing. Michael Ainsworth. Vernon Bryant. Louis DeLuca. Tom Fox. Brad Loper. Even current intern Patrick Fallon got to wet his beak a little.

All in all, it was a blast. I'd say Game Six was by far the biggest challenge. So many ups and downs --it made for great pictures but a lot of nerve-wracking moments in the photo work area. Myself and the other on-site editors took turns swearing and anxiously awaiting the next card run every time the leader changed. What a great game, though. One for the books, but a bummer for us in Texas. [Smash cut to a few weeks ago)

I knew before the series that myself and another staffer would be trained to sub on the Metro, Photo Assignments, Business, Lifestyles and Webphoto desks. Those four sections are handled by three editors. I spent one shift with each, going to meetings, learning their workflows, and in general getting a good sense of what their days are like.

Let me tell you, all these opportunities to learn more about editing have helped my shooting in many ways. It's also just given me more of an appreciation for their jobs, which at times can be thankless. At the least, they lack the "sexiness" that we photojournalists often take for granted. I'll explain.

Way back when I trained on the night desk, I tried a little experiment. Any time I was out and about and someone asked me what I did for a living (which happens a few times a month, at least), I'd say, "I'm a photo editor for the paper." Now, what I've always answered in the past -- "I'm a photojournalist for the paper." -- was met with things like, "I bet that's fun!" or, "Wow -- that's cool." and maybe a few times with "What's your number and when can I see you." [Only two of those are true]

Stating the former occupation (editor) generated everything from, "Oh, ok." to "What does that even mean?"

It's just one of those jobs I don't think your Everyday Joe or Joan thinks about. Like when you meet a guy who works in a factory that manufactures urinal cakes. You think to yourself (after you vomit a little in your mouth), "Oh ya --that's a job!"

And it's an important job at that (editing, not the urinal cakes … uh, well, maybe those too). We all get so caught up in the gathering of content, we forget about the tremendous amount of production work it takes to funnel that content into the newspaper and on the web. I only wish the public had a better understanding of how important the stuff you never see is.

While I wind things down, I'm going to take a minute to share some tricks I've learned while working on the desk. Maybe it'll help someone out who's about to be in the same situation.

Gerry's Must-Haves for editing:
- A good chair. I'm like Goldilocks in the newsroom, roaming around and looking for empty chairs, trying to find the perfect one. This one's too big, this one's too small. This one is stuck in the shortest position, this one smells like beer farts. I have bad enough posture as it is, constantly hunching over to shoot (why do we all do that!?), so it's critical that I take care of my back on the desk, where it's super easy to hunch over a keyboard and mouse.

Photo by Gerry McCarthy

Photo by Gerry McCarthy

"We all get so caught up in the gathering of content, we forget about the tremendous amount of production work it takes to funnel that content into the newspaper and on the web."
- Pen and a pad. Sounds so stupid, but ya need one. Throughout your shift countless colleagues will come up and ask you questions, etc. Don't know about you all, but if I don't write them down list style and cross off as I go, it would be chaos.

- Snacks, preferably healthy. One of these days I'll ask my GP why it is that I get hungrier just sitting in place than I do when I'm running around taking photos. Maybe it's because while I drive I check sunflower seeds to sooth my oral fixation with something other than nicotine. Anyway, ya gotta resist the temptation to buy those TGIFriday's Potato Skin chips from the vending machine. Nuts are good, but go easy -- depending on how old you are, ya don't wanna cause a breakout. I try to keep cans of soup and frozen Amy's meals around for something more substantial.

- Something to stick in your ears. I bounce back and forth between music and podcasts. If all I'm doing is looking through photos, it's the latter. Music is better for when I'm trying to write something, since I'll end up typing out whatever is being said on the podcast. Apparently I missed my calling as a court stenographer. Oh, but be careful on your musical choice, especially if you have the bad habit of singing along. You don't want the M.E. to walk by your desk while you're spouting off the lyrics to 2 Live Crew.

- A somewhat plausible reason to leave your desk for a few minutes at a time throughout your shift. You'll need breaks -- get away from all the people. My standbys are "I need to go feed the meter" (which is insane, because we have a parking garage) or "Uh oh -- the diarrhea's back again!"

- Patience. Seriously, you can't get worked up over stuff. I do some times, but ya gotta try to maintain at least the perception of togetherness. Your fellow editors smell weakness like sharks smell blood in the water. The first time they see you freaking out because you're in the weeds, they'll come up and say, "So, I know it's last minute, but I have a 3:00 p.m. I need shot [it's 2:40 when they walk up]. Do you want me to put in a request, or just tell you now?"

- A good, soft pillow. Something you can take into a bathroom stall with you to press against your face while you scream and/or sob loudly.

And that's that! I'm thankful for all the new opportunities I've gotten at this paper. It's been an interesting ride. While of course watching the industry suffer has been troubling, I try to just keep moving forward and take these new responsibilities on with as much enthusiasm and ability as I can muster.

It's still a fun job, and learning all these new roles just helps round me out a little more. For students thinking about entering the job market, just be aware that this is the reality -- the days of "just being a photographer" are long gone. Not just at large dailies, either; I see it happening everywhere. If you do want to give this job a try and help the transition happen to whatever makes us sustainable again, then just keep yourself open to new things and keep a positive attitude.

Huffing paint will help, too.

(Gerry McCarthy is a staff photographer with The Dallas Morning News. You can see sample of his work at his Sports Shooter member page: and at his personal Internet site: .)

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