Wash. My fascination with photojournalism's role in new media
started in 1993 during graduate work at the University of Missouri.
The Web as we know it today didn't exist and the "standard"
in new media was CD-ROM. Pedro Meyer and Rick Smolan had produced their
pioneering CDs "I Photograph to Remember" and "From Alice
The idea of combining the depth of documentary photography with National
Public Radio-style audio reporting in an interactive format kept me
awake at night.
I was totally absorbed with the possibilities.
Over the next two years I learned to write code and produced four CD-ROMs.
Writing a string of text that actually did something when compiled was
as magical to me as dropping a print in developer.
Through it all, my overarching goal has always been to expand photojournalism's
role in new media storytelling. In many ways, the foundation of our
visual philosophy at MSNBC.com evolved from those early days at Missouri.
opening screen of the 1995 Pictures of the Year CD-ROM project.
Finding an audience
At Missouri, we spent 10 months on the first Pictures of the Year CD-ROM
and only pressed 1,000 copies. I was proud of the end product and excited
about everything I learned in the process, but I was dissatisfied with
the limited audience.
I remember thinking about the 10 million people who read National Geographic
each month. I was in awe of quality of photography in the magazine and
of its mass audience.
I wanted to be a part of something on that scale.
In 1994 I was at the Pictures of the Year awards ceremony watching one
of the best photojournalists in the business discuss his award-winning
portfolio. My professional purpose crystallized when someone asked the
photojournalist how many of his 80 portfolio images had actually been
published. The answer was only one, and that was overseas in Stern magazine.
How could it be that one of the best photojournalists in the world wasn't
getting his work to the public? I felt this was a perfect example of
what was wrong with photojournalism.
I decided that day to put down my camera and focus on publishing.
Working in the
In 1995 I was finishing my degree at the University of Missouri while
teaching Electronic Photojournalism and working in the New Media Lab
on the second version of the POY CD-ROM. I was surrounded by great photojournalism
students and passionate leaders like Bill Kuykendall, David Rees and
Keith Mays. It was the ideal place to work with great photography and
experiment with new ways of telling stories.
from Torsten Kjellstrand's "Black
Farmers in Missouri's Bootheel."
I wanted to take
advantage of the talented students at Missouri. I spent hours interviewing
them about their images and about their passion for telling stories.
I was the weird guy from photo floating around in the broadcast department's
As I interviewed my friends about the nuances they aspired to communicate
with their pictures, the power of audio to improve photojournalism hit
me like a sonic boom.
Working with Torsten Kjellstrand (who later was named the 1995 Newspaper
Photographer of the Year) during his master's project on "Black
Farmers in Missouri's Bootheel" was a pivotal, ear-opening experience.
Torsten told me that he learned more about his story during an afternoon
of interviewing farmers than he had in the first three weeks of shooting.
Once I heard his audio track, I knew audio had to be central to new
of MSNBC's first cover on July 15, 1996.
A software company
invests in journalism
On July 15, 1995 I joined what was
then an 11-person team at MSN News. We had the opportunity to start
the publication from the ground up. A year later to the day we partnered
with NBC and became MSNBC.com.
and Microsoft weren't exactly synonymous in 1995. Microsoft was
working to create an online news service called MSN News and came to
the University of Missouri's School of Journalism looking for editors.
The opportunity to direct picture usage at an online publication capable
of reaching millions of people was a perfect fit with my professional
Prior to Sept. 11, 2001, MSNBC.com was reaching 25 million unique readers
a month. In September we served almost 50 million.
Our "circulation" is larger than any print publication. That's
pretty amazing for a medium that's still in its infancy -- and
for a publication that's not quite 6 years old. When you consider
the fact that only half of all Americans have Internet access
and that even fewer people abroad are online -- the future growth potential
Reaching an audience five times that of National Geographic was always
an aspiration, but I never thought MSNBC.com would grow as fast as it
did. Unlike my experiences at Missouri, MSNBC.com has the ability to
showcase photojournalism to a mass audience.