I'm starting a new adventure in words and pictures with readers of The Digital Journalist, after two and a half years as a member of the Behind the Viewfinder (BTV) web project.
There are a half dozen pieces to the puzzle that make up The Assignment Sheet, and I'm an anomaly in terms of the puzzle. I'm a photo director who also shoots pictures, and who also writes a column for his newspaper. That's the beauty of this puzzle, though, it's a diverse group of people with diverse experiences and job responsibilities.
Racine is an interesting area to cover, and I enjoy the opportunity to be directly involved in many areas of our newspaper.
We're on the shore of Lake Michigan, with marinas and areas that remind some of New England. We are just south of Milwaukee, and a bit north of Chicago.
We cover agriculture, industry (we have the headquarters of Johnson Wax with its famed Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Administration Building and Research Tower; and of CMH Global, manufacturers of Case Corp. tractors and construction equipment); and the land-use clash between growing suburbs taking over century-old farm land.
We cover education, of course, but that coverage sadlyincludes legendary labor problems. I have had a close enough relationship with both union leadership and the administration that I was able to take BTV viewers inside private negotiating sessions for several weeks of an ugly labor dispute two years ago after a widespread teacher sick-in and subsequent lock-out of the teachers.
We have excellent access to the courts in Racine, and many of my journals have dealt with my love for covering the courts.
Our population is diverse. In fact, our paper is working on a major series about race relations. We try to also diversify our definition of diversity, recognizing that diversity can be a story about a male elementary school teacher, and not just about people of color.
We have news stories that you wouldn't believe. We make national and international news with stories that are not exactly at the top of the list of the chamber of commerce. Just when we think we've seen and heard it all, someone pops into our evening page one news meeting with something that reshapes our front page for the next day and for days to come.
I've taken readers to countless different corners, stories, and tales of joy and sadness through some 60 or so journals for Behind the Viewfinder. However, I'll be writing for you only once a month, maximum.
I don't know where this project will take us. It'll be a different kind of writing because rather than spinning out journals at will, I'm limited to no more than one a month. If I can't tie things together, than I'll elect to skip that month.
I look forward to seeing where we go together.
Hear that whistle in the distance? It's the digital express, and the train /slash/ bandwagon is leaving without me, at least for now.
I'm in no hurry to jump on the bandwagon, and I'll tell you why, as a follow-up to Dick Kraus' essay about moving from 4x5 to digital.
Go to a photo convention, and before you get a "howyadoin,howzawife'n'kids?" you get peppered with, "goneDITyet,whenyagoin'godigital?" I look them in the eye, and tell them "eventually, when it feels like the right thing to do," and they look at me like I'm out to lunch.
It's a bandwagon, and jumping on the bandwagon isn't necessarily the best thing to do. Just ask all the people who bought Chevy Vegas or Ford Pintos, America's supposed answer to the energy crisis some 25 years ago.
Will DIT (digital) mean our staff will take better pictures? Nope.
Will DIT mean more technical challenges, like the days of shooting slides, when technology ruled the photographer more than photographer could be in charge? Yup.
Will DIT mean significantly, really significantly, higher repair costs for us? Yup.
Will DIT mean that we are saddled with today's computer with a lens stuck on the end of it, a computer that will soon be outdated. Yup.
It does mean faster turnaround time on pictures, but that is not a significant issue at our paper. It also means some more efficiency in the field, because photographers can see their take right away. And, of course, it means savings in film and chemistry, which can be partially offset by repair costs. On balance, though, my editor agrees that we should hold off another year.
Let me tell you two stories:
Archiving is a significant issue with DIT. We save many out takes for possible future use. DIT users should do the same, but they have more of a challenge because there is a difference between creating an intelligent computer archive that can be followed in five, 10, or 50 years and saving negatives in an envelope with the first date of publication on them.
Just ask Dirck Halstead, producer of The Digital Journalist, who got THE photo of Monica Lewinsky and President Clinton making goo-goo eyes at each other at a White House reception. His photo was in his film archives; he is sure that fellow photographers shooting DIT may have had the same photo, but had erased it from their memory cards that night.
Last fall I was at the National Press Photographers Association Flying Short Course and talked to vendors about DIT. One significant manufacturer asked why I was holding off. "It's still an evolving technology," I said. "It isn't," he replied. I was incredulous, and asked if the camera he was showing today was literally the last one that his company intended to develop. He didn't answer.
He then showed me a stack of tearsheets, and asked me to pick the DIT photos out. Some DIT photos look as good as film ones, but not all. I quickly showed him a six-column football photo and told him how bad it looked, and how much worse it would look on our flexo press. "Well, you aren't going to run six-column pictures often," he said. That was another ringing endorsement of the new technology.
We have limited budgets at our newspaper. I can't in good conscience recommend a conversion to DIT just to get on the bandwagon when I think we'll do better to wait just a DITbit longer. Remember the Vega and the Pinto, if you will, and hold off for the Honda or Toyota which is almost here in terms of image quality, and then we'll look at the repair costs and other issues.
I've felt like the Lone Ranger at times,
but I'm glad to say I've talked to other photo editors who feel the same
way, even as the cacophony of "go DIT, young man," threatens to envelope
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