A LENS DIMLY
When you have been in this business for as long as I, you have to put up with changes in the way things are done, whether you agree with them or not. The changes will keep coming at you and if you resist, you are doomed to a life of misery and discontent. You may think that your "good old way" is the best way but you may find yourself with the minority opinion. I remember when I did a four year stint in the US Navy and I got tired of hearing the old salts complaining about the "Old Navy," and how much better things had been in those bygone days. I mentioned this to an old timer; a Chief Petty Officer who had been recalled for duty during the Korean War. His advice was, "Don't sweat it, kid. One day THIS will be the "Old Navy." He was right.
In spite of having been made aware of this phenomenon, I wasn't prepared for the massive changes that occurred when Newsday brought in a new man to be Chief Photo Editor and run the Photo Department. Since I had been hired by Harvey Weber (then known as the Director of Photography) in 1960, this new Chief was the fourth leader of our happy band of warriors. Harvey Weber had molded us into a very cohesive and innovative group of news photographers who were winning awards and becoming known throughout the industry as a department to watch. That was over 20 years ago and things were about to change. There were some problems when the second Chief took over but the problems were seriously exacerbated with the third leader. There were glimmers of hope when the fourth Chief was brought in but we soon learned otherwise.
One of the problems that came about with each new Chief was when they hired new photographers to the staff. Naturally, each Chief sought to salt the staff with his own hires who would swear allegiance to him. In order to prove that his choice of hires was beneficial to the company, each of the Chiefs made sure that his men got the best assignments. Of course, this policy ran to the detriment of the veteran staffers who felt, and rightly so, that they were being consigned to the dust heap of "Head Shot and Real Estate" photos. We had always had "Head Shot and Real Estate" assignments. It came with the territory. But, from time to time, we would get a "meaty" assignment that had some relevance and could produce some excellent photographic opportunities.
After enduring month after month of nothing but "head Shots and Real Estate," I knocked on the door to our New Chief's office.
"I've gotta get something off my mind," I told him. "I'll buy the coffee if you can spare me a couple of minutes."
He graciously accepted and we went down to the company cafeteria. It was a pleasant spring day so we took our coffee and Danish out to a table on the patio outside the cafeteria.
I got right to the point. "Look," I said. "I understand the politics involved here. And while I don't like it, I realize that I can't fight it."
The New Chief listened in silence as I spoke.
"It's like the late night tv talk shows. (At that time, Johhny Carson was the big guy.) Johnny introduces his first guest and they sit on the couch right next to his desk. The show breaks for a commercial and when they return, Carson introduces the next guest star and the first one slides over on the couch and the new star sits next to the desk. This is repeated throughout the show."
"Well," I said, "instead of commercial breaks, we have new department heads. And, every time we have a New Chief, the old photographer moves over one slot when the New Chief introduces his new star. Well, I gotta tell ya, Chief, I feel like I fell off the end of the couch."
I paused. He still looked at me without speaking, waiting for me to go on.
"I'm sure that you feel that it's a matter of loyalty; that your new people will be loyal to you and that we older staffers who were hired by previous Chief Photo Editors can't possibly be loyal to you. But," I continued, "if you take the time to notice, you will find that it isn't a matter of loyalty to whomever is the current Big Kahuna. You'll find that our loyalty is to Newsday. No matter who runs the department, you'll see that we"old timers" will consistently put forth our best effort."
"I think that I speak for all of us as a group when I tell you this. We are all getting tired of shooting nothing but "Head Shots and Real Estate" while your hand picked crew gets all of the decent assignments. I, for one, will willingly continue to shoot "Head Shots and Real Estate" without complaint if you will allow me to be a real photographer a couple of times a year. Just give me the opportunity to do something relevant with maybe some travel and I will endure the garbage jobs for the rest of the year and still try to make the best damned "Head Shots and Real Estate" photos imaginable."
I was done. I had nothing more to add. The New Chief finished his coffee and mumbled something unintelligible and walked back into the building.
His policy remained unchanged. At least as far as he was concerned. I did manage to get a few really good assignments over the course of the rest of my career. But, those were few and far between and were always the results of his Deputy Photo Editors slipping it past him. By the time he realized that I was on a good assignment, it was too late for him to recall me.
Another bone of contention came about when he decided to turn all of us into specialists. Harvey Weber's policy had been to create a department where every photographer had the talent and ability to shoot any assignment that came down the pike. Oh, there were some photographers who had a special flair for one thing or another; be it Sports or Fashion, Spot News or Studio assignments. And, the editors would try to steer those jobs to them. But, any of us could shoot just about anything and do a good job. This was good for the paper and it was good for the photographers. It allowed the Photo Editors to assign whatever photographer was available for the assignment without having to juggle starting times and/or days off. This also allowed each photographer to hone his/her skills and to have the opportunity to cover a diversity of stories.
The New Chief called me into his office one day.
"Dick, I'm changing the way we operate," he opened. "Some of the staff will cover news and some will cover features. And some will be assigned just to sports."
For quite awhile, we had one staffer cut loose to cover sports, exclusively. He covered major league sports. The scholastic sports were assigned to whomever was available.
He went on. "Because you are the senior man on the staff, I'm going to ask you to choose what you want to cover."
That was nice of him, but.....
"Gee, I dunno, Boss," I said. "One of the things that I've always liked best about this job was the fact that I got to cover everything and anything. The joy was in not knowing what your next assignment would be. You might have had two "Head Shots' in a row, but when you called in, your next job might be a major breaking news story or an interesting food page feature."
"That's all well and good," he said, "but, I'm changing all of that. Now, what do you choose?"
I thought long and hard. This was a tough decision to make. Like I said at the beginning, you can't always expect the "Old Navy" to last forever. The New Chief waited patiently.
"I like covering news," I said.
"OK, then," he responded, "you'll be on news."
"But," I moaned, "I love doing features. I enjoy the challenges of doing a food layout or a home interior. I enjoy fashion shoots and I especially love working in the studio; being creative and trying to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear."
"OK," he responded. "I'll put you on features."
I was almost sobbing. "But, not if it means never covering news, again."
For the rest of my career I worked news. I still tried to convince him that his plan was counter-productive. I explained that the time would come when we would have a feature photographer shooting a home interior out in East Hampton and a plane would crash in Southhampton. The feature photographer would be less than 20 minutes away. But, we would have to send a news photographer from the office in Melville which was nearly 2 hours away. Furthermore, they would probably pass each other as the feature photographer drove past the accident scene on his way back to the office.
It happened on several occasions; not quite that exact scenario, but it happened. What a colossal waste of manpower. But, he was the Chief; not I.
The Old Navy was dead.
READ PART II OF THE NEW
CHIEF/THE OLD NAVY IN NEXT MONTH'S
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