The New York Times has an interesting series going now. Each week a different editor answers questions about the news operation at the Times, and some of those answers (and questions) can be enlightening and insightful about the production of news at the nation’s premier newspaper. This week (July 14, 2006) Michelle McNally, the assistant managing editor for photography, is on duty, and the following is part of the exchange she has had with readers:
Advice for Young Photographers
Q. Do you have any advice for young people who are about to start a career in photography?
— Matt Mills, Santa Fe, N.M.
A. The most important work a young photographer can do is existential. You must figure out what kind of photographer you want to be, what do you want to say and how are you going to do it better than others have done before you.
Recognize that the career of a photojournalist is a difficult one personally, so you must love what you are doing. Be certain of your mission, but be prepared to constantly grow. Work hard, very hard. Be forever curious, persistent and gracious. When people let you into their lives, realize that it is a gift.
Don’t let technical issues come between you and a great picture; make it second nature. Recognize the role of aesthetics in storytelling. And shoot, shoot and shoot some more.
Other editors who have participated so far include Bill Keller, the executive editor, and John Landman, deputy managing editor for digital journalism. His exchange begins with this explanation about how digital journalism developed at the Times:
Things are changing so fast that it’s hard to know where to start. So I’ll start with The Times. For us, these changes appeared on the horizon in the mid-1990’s when we started our Web edition. Immediately it became clear that we had a terrific Web site around 11 o’clock every night when the next day’s paper was posted. But it became a little less good with each passing hour as other Web sites put up breaking news from news agencies and other sources and news hungry readers made new demands.
So we had to find a way to move faster. That meant in some cases that reporters would file partial stories that we could post on the Web, then keep reporting for their newspaper articles. At first some of our people were reluctant to do this, thinking they would scoop themselves and thereby give readers less reason to absorb the more complete stories in the newspaper. That view has disappeared as reporters and editors realize that a) there are a lot of Web readers and news sources out there creating a lot of Web competition, and b) a well-timed Web story can flush out sources that produce a better story in the paper. But it did require a significant mental adjustment.
We (and others in our business) also created a new class of journalist, a “continuous news” reporter whose job it is to push the reporting forward aggressively for the Web. So sometimes one reporter writes several versions of a story. In other cases, two reporters work on different versions. Editors now have to decide which approach works better in a particular case.
New journalistic forms like blogs and podcasts, and old ones that are new for newspapers, like video, also impose new demands. We now have a video unit in our newsroom, and many of our still photographers have learned to shoot video. In a handful of cases, reporters themselves carry video cameras in some pretty challenging environments, like Iraq and the Shanghai city dump. That’s a brand new thing for newspaper reporters, changing the pace and sometimes approach to reporting a story.
(Posted July 14, 2006)
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