WORLD OF NEWSPAPERS
by Ben Woodruff
Photo Editor- Rocky Mountain Collegian
Fort Collins, CO.
Scribes rule the world.
Yes, a generalization,
but at least in my little corner, this seems to be true.
Ben Woodruff/The Rocky Mountain Collegian
State University's automated daily email system seems to
be a source for the majority of our stories.
|I realize I’m
in early in the game, before most people start to figure this
stuff out, but I’m still trying hard to get the editors
of my newspaper to realize that good photos and design make our
The entire newsroom seems to be polarized against the photo staff.
From best I can tell, this came from years of unprofessional photo
staffs that bent over backwards for the reporting staff.
Now that I’m the photo editor, it seems to be nearly impossible
to get anything done from a photojournalism standpoint, outside
the standard ideas of the photo staff serving as a way to illustrate
stories and break up the copy.
On a photo staff of five,
there are two photojournalists and three photographers. There
is a major difference between the two. Photojournalists can
and do tell a story in an image, photographers seem to be able to
shoot properly exposed, focused photos that do nothing more than illustrate
the reporters story. All I ask of photographers is to cover
the assignments at the correct time and to write a complete cutline.
I won’t like every photo they shoot, but complete accurate cutlines
are absolutely essential in the photojournalism process. For
a long time I had problems getting photographers to shoot assignments,
much less write good cutlines. Why should college age photographers
be so reluctant to work hard and make themselves better? Is
there a time in your career that you should be more fired-up and hungry
than in college? I am not a manager that is willing to drag
people along, as I would much rather lead by example.
The problems in the newsroom start at the top with the managing editors.
During a planning session for a September 11 anniversary issue, I
was discussing stories that we should have, and pointed out that the
current recession wasn’t a result of the terrorist attacks,
rather that the attacks only compounded the problem. The News Managing
Editor said we just finished that recession and were in a new one
that was a result of the attacks. I replied that at least from
an economics standpoint, having another recession would indicate a
period of growth between the two, to which the ME responded, “How
would you know? You’re just a photographer.” I regularly
read the Wall Street Journal and have more than a basic understanding
of economics. I have as much or more professional experience
as anyone in the newsroom, and have proven that I have a good news
sense, so why the attitude towards photographers?
The entire newsroom
and photo assignment system is setup around reporters and word
editors. One of the first things I did as Photo Editor
was to allow only editors to assign photos, thinking this would
create more complete, well-thought out assignments. In
theory; great idea - in practice; horrible execution.
Typically reporters don’t give the editors enough information
to fill out an assignment, thus defeating the whole system.
Case in point, the
entertainment staff was working on a story about homosexual
dating and marriage for their weekly section. Rather than
give the photo staff a couple weeks to work on such a sensitive
story, the lesbian couple came in to the newsroom on the day
before we publish, and had what amounted to a mug shot taken.
To use a baseball analogy, we end up with a sacrifice bunt photo
on what should have been a double or triple photo assignment.
Josh Hardin/The Rocky Mountain Collegian
This is the photo we ended up with out of the lesbian
dating and marriage story. This really doesn't tell me anything
about them, the challenges they face as a married couple,
or the aspects of life as a homosexual.
In an effort to create
a better synergy between words, visuals and design, I advocated the
institution of a Maestro system, an industry standard for planning
stories. I figure that if I lead a majority of the Maestros,
photo will have more of a say in the subjects we shoot for stories.
I suggested this during our first editors meetings, before we even
started publication. 3 months and 60 newspapers later, not one
Maestro, not one preplanned, in-depth story. We represent ourselves
as a liberal newspaper, endorse liberal candidates for office, and
yet won’t do anything outside of the status quo for the structure
and planning of the newspaper. Protecting the status quo, seems
to be a conservative ideal to me.
Ben Woodruff/The Rocky Mountain Collegian
"It's more effective than yelling...treating people
with respect and decency," says Adam Fedock, a freshman
mechanical engineering student from Bozeman, Mont. Fedock
and two other CSU students spend afternoons on the Lory
Student Center Plaza holding a large peace sign and wishing
In the 10 minutes it took me to do this assignment, I did
a more complete job of journalism than the reporter did
with an hour. A better quote for my cutline and a complete
story between the photo and caption.
I’m being hypercritical, but I am compelled to do so.
I feel that since no one else in an editor’s position
will push people outside their comfort zones, that I must.
The journalist in me won’t just go along without asking
questions, and the perfectionist in me has to push for higher
I realize that I
am trying to take a little power from the word people.
I’m not asking too much, I’m trying to do my part
to help the newspaper. But for whatever reason, they are
unable or unwilling to change. Remember that at the end
of the day, we are only be judged by our output. It may
seem close-minded but the only thing I have learned from working
at the Collegian is that management isn’t for me.
It takes too much time away from shooting, requires too much
time of seeing the same long faces in the newsroom, and is way
The scariest part of the
whole mess though, is the incredible feeling of uncertainty I get
about my future in photojournalism. When I was freelancing,
working in professional newspapers, I knew I could do this.
Now with the squabble over little stuff and the amount of stress it
causes me, I’m beginning to doubt my future. How am I
supposed to make it in the real world, if I burn out of a college
newspaper in 4 months?