Saturday, June 21, 2008

Windows on the news

Simple. Brilliant. Irresistible.

Those are some of the ways admirers describe The Big Picture, a new photo weblog at that I think should become a staple of every news website as quickly as possible. It's by far the best online use of the power of documentary photojournalism I have seen.

Have a look at this interview with creator Alan Taylor for some more insight into this deceptively simple but potent idea.


  1. The “Big Picture” is a well-worn concept. If you have enough gray hairs you can remember Life Magazine’s last page showing one great photograph. Several magazines still use the idea: Sports Illustrated (Leading Off), Outside (Exposure and Parting Shot) and National Geographic (Photo Journal and Visions of Earth). Many newspapers have a “photo column,” a large photo with a small copy block that highlights a person or situation within the local community. I proposed a photo column when I worked at the Bee and was denied the opportunity. It was “grandstanding” I was told. After I left the Bee I produced “China En Pointe,” a photo and copy blog documenting the first-ever foreign tour of the Sacramento Ballet. It was highly praised. Thankfully, attitudes change over time.

    Photojournalists worldwide are recording history every day. Finding the photos and assembling the blog would be a major task yet very rewarding for the person who recognizes the communicative power of photojournalism. Alan Taylor understands that.

    This brings me to a concern I have about the current situation within McClatchy and in particular, the Bee. The dynamic use of photojournalism must be the cornerstone of a “reinvented” newspaper. Will the predominant use of photographs from the Sacramento region bring back readers? Perhaps not on it’s own, nor will any other single component but it can show readers that the newspaper is serious about journalism in visually compelling way.

    Harold Evans, the distinguished British journalist and editor, said, “the value of photojournalism is measured by its absence.”

    Photojournalism, the effective combination of documentation and aesthetics, transcends both the print and on-line venues. Add to that the use of video journalism, an entirely different way of story telling, and the reinvented Bee gets better. There are two problems that must be addressed: reproduction on the print side and appearance on the web side. Mushy, out-of-register printed photos or galleries on the web that no one can find defeat the cause.

    Effective use of photography is not simply making pictures bigger. It must be an across-the-board commitment from the editors, designers and photographers and reporters to make it happen. The obligation is now squarely on the photographers to come to the table with original ideas and images as well as continued excellence from regular assignments. This opportunity is the best ever for photojournalism in the Bee.

  2. Anonymous6:04 PM

    Oh wow, a blog that shows photos??? OMG!!!! This has been an idea that's been pitched across the various McClatchy papers for a long goddamned time (as Jay mentions above), and you know what, it never gets done because there is an institutional lack of will and basic internet knowhow from the top of the chain of command, to get this amazingly simple pre-2003 concept done.

    If you think it's such a great idea, why don't you, instead of just blogging about it, get your fellow leaders to allow your newspaper content developers to have the leeway to create something like this, and order your online divison to provide whatever minimal support is needed for it. An eighth grader who maintains her own myspace page has the technical knowledge needed to create and maintain this kind of blog.

    No disrespect to Alan Taylor, who keeps a good blog and has other great developer achievements. But this is not some revolutionary oh-I-wish-we-thought-about-it-first idea idea. It's embarrassing that other papers haven't done it sooner.