NOTE: Before you read this commentary, I suggest that you first read Mark Neuling's journal, "Covering The iPhone," also in this month's Assignment Sheet.



By Dick Kraus
Newsday Staff Photographer (Retired)

Dirck Halstead, the Editor and Publisher of The Digital Journalist, proposed the Platypus Theory many years ago. He recognized, long before many of us, that the time would come when news still photographers would be called upon to shoot video for their publications. Perhaps it would be video for a tv station owned by the newspaper, or for streaming video on the paper's website. Dirck stongly suggested that if a still photographer wanted to stay employed, he/she had better learn to shoot good video and sound. To encourage that philosophy, he began running The Platypus Workshop every year where experienced news tv shooters would teach newspaper still photographers to shoot, record sound and edit news video.

I have always felt that having a newspaper photographer try to shoot stills and video at the same time would seriously impact on the quality and relevance of both the still and the video images.

Back then, this would have been a serious problem thus necessitating the photographer to shoot with a still camera and a video camera. In addition to adding to the already heavily burdened shooter's load, it also ensured that he/she would miss critical still shots or video frames because every time he/she made a still shot, a video shot was missed and vice versa.

I retired in 2002 and just missed having to deal with that situation. But, I have read in The Digital Journalist and in other news sources that more and more papers are making Platypuses out of their staff.

I ran into a former associate from Newsday a couple of days ago. He was covering an assignment about a local Indian Tribe Powow that I and my lady were attending. He bemoaned the fact that he had to shoot the assignment with still and video equipment. I have since spoken to a few more of my former co-workers and they aren't happy with the situation. They feel, as do I, that they can't devote the time to get quality coverage when they have to divide their attention like that.

Even with the announcement that new HD video cameras will enable a photographer to pull a frame grab from his/her video sequence that will reproduce well as a single still shot for the paper, I still feel strongly that the quality of both will be compromised.

In my 42 years as a newspaper photographer, I have covered countless stories in the company of other newspaper photographers and tv news cameramen/women. It didn't take me long to recognize that there were vastly different mind sets involved in each discipline.

A very simple scenario to prove my point is the typical "perp" walk. A "perp" is cop talk for perpatrator; someone who is accused of a crime and has been arrested. The walk comes when the "perp" is taken from the police precinct to be driven to court for arraignment. If it is a big story, it will be covered by the media, which will include newspaper and tv photographers and reporters, as well as news radio folks.

The newspaper photographer is looking for one shot; preferable an open shot where the "perp" doesn't have his/her hands over his/her face, or even a jacket covering the head. Often the "perp" stumbles along bent over at the waist in order to duck the cameras. Most still shooters will go to great lengths to try to get an open shot. This includes holding our cameras down around our ankles as the "perp" is led past us. Or, even laying on our bellies to get a low enough angle to get the one open shot. The video people can't risk that, because if they do get an open face, they can't jump up and pan with the moving subject to get enough of the sequence to allow a voice over by the reporter.They don't mind missing the face. A long sequence shot coming out of the precinct doors and walking past a mob of media and being shoved into the back of the police van will allow the reporter's voice over enough time to explain the situation to the viewers. Even if a photographer used the latest HD video camera, which discipline would the shooter follow; still or video?

In addition to writing my own journals for the Assignment Sheet feature on The Digital Journalist, I also edit and do the layout for submissions from other photographers. A frequent contributor is CNBC Staff Photographer Mark Neuling. He has a wonderful journal on Assignment Sheet this month. He had covered an assignment in Palo Alto, CA about the day the Apple iPhone went on sale, and wrote to ask if I was interested in running his experience. He said that he always has a digital still with him and he shot some stuff for his reporter's blog site so he had some still images to go along with his story. It sounded good, and it was.

But, as I was laying it out, I realized that he was missing some very important key shots. I e-Mailed him to let him know that his journal was posted on the server so he could see if there needed to be any changes. I also mentioned my observation about the missing photos. With his permission, I am including my comments as well as his answers. I believe that they will explain my position more than anything else that I have said.


Hey Mark,
Your journal is posted.

Please look it over and let me know if anything needs changing.

Ya did a nice job. But, I have some criticism. Please bear with me and read until the end before you form any judgement.

Your commentary, as usual, was flawless. And, the photos that you supplied were good and there were enough to offer me some choice in laying out. I couldn't use them all and I tried to place the ones that I did use in some sort of context with your story.

What was missing, however, were photos of the crowds surging through the doors when they opened. You mention in your story that there was a log jam created by some of the bloggers who rushed to get in to get shots. These are very important elements that aren't being shown. I would have gotten my ass chewed down to a nub if I missed these shots. Why did you miss them, Mark?

Of course I know why. At those moments you were taping the video action, as you were supposed to.

I hope that you understand that I am not being critical of your work. First and foremost, you are a videographer. You did what you are paid to do, and I am certain that you do it very well.

The point that I am trying to make is the utter impossibilty of the Platypus theory to which everyone is now beginning to ascribe. One photographer wearing two hats.

I recently ran across a former associate of mine; a staff photographer at Newsday who was covering an event that Barbara and I attended. He told me that every photographer on the staff had been issued a small video camera and they are all mandated to take stills and video on every assignment they cover. The paper will no longer buy still cameras. When their old Nikon d-2x's wear out, they figure on having the new video HD cameras with improved resolution and they will take frame grabs for the paper and the paper's web site.

The powers that be just don't understand the concept that there are two diametrically opposed mindsets involved in shooting video and stills for news and when push comes to shove, as it did in your case with the iPhone, something is going to come off second best. How can it be anything else?

What do you think?



Ricardo -

Two little fixes.

The caption for the very last photos should be "It is".... as opposed to "Itis"

And the copyright at the end should be 2007.

Other than that looks fine to me.

Now about what do I think? I think you should write an article using that email to me as an outline for your story.

Good gawd - when they opened that store it was crazy, a true cluster if ever there was one. If my camera had of left my shoulder it would have been all over, and I would have had one very ticked off reporter to answer to. Once we were in the store I barely stopped rolling as we we had to shoot b-roll, get interviews, got Steve Jobs and get ushered out by PR. Time to shoot stills - ya gotta be kidding me.

Jack of all trades master of none. As the great rabbi said - "You can't serve 2 masters."

Can't say I wasn't surprised about your observation because I made the same one. Glad to see you still got that story-telling eye.

But TV pays the bills.

Wonder what these guys are going to do when they discover that a flash doesn't work too well on a TV camera. Holy crap batman, some of these newspaper folks can't even string together a good series of photos in a slide show, how on earth are they going to cut a video package?

Thanks for taken the time to make me look good.

And finally, I just received this from Mark...

Any way Dick, you asked for my 2 cents so I thought I’d give you your money’s worth.

As we waited outside the Apple store, the security guard who was almost as wide as he was tall asked Jim
(the CNBC Reporter) how tall he was. You see Jim isn’t very tall and he was standing right under my lens. With enough gel in his hair he’s just tall enough to be in the bottom of my frame when I’m zoomed all the way out. So I asked him to duck down with the microphone and get sound as the people streamed into the store. Jim was down to my right and pretty much out of my view. I remember that moments before the doors opened he was on his knees typing something into his Blackberry and that his cell phone was interfering with the transmitter on the microphone. Here we are seconds away from perhaps our biggest story of the year and I’m getting dirty sound.

Anyway the doors open and the stampede starts. Now remember, Jim is telling me this story on Monday morning, three days after the event and sometimes when we’re swapping war-stories things tend to get exaggerated. But he’d planned an escape route in case the dike burst completely. He was going to try and somersault under the hordes and roll right through the open door into the store. It was just that crazy of a scene.

Sure there was a lot of pushing and shoving especially as the doors opened, but the good moments happened as people came out of the store with their long awaited iPhones. There was some genuine emotion displayed by these folks. The young man who’d been first in line couldn’t have been any happier on Christmas morning. Compelling video –absolutely. Could I have shot both video and stills – maybe, but would I have gotten the decisive moment – forget it, maybe on one format, but certainly not on both.

David Leeson is a Pulitzer Prize winning photographer from the Dallas Morning News and one of the biggest advocates of video frame grabs. His paper, and I believe it was his son, has developed a software program that enhances a still frame of video so that the quality is nearly on par with that of a still frame from a good digital SLR. I have seen the results and they are impressive.

But what is going to happen the first time a photographer goes to a high school football game at a poorly lit field and tries to pull a frame from a pro-sumer camera that essentially shoots at 1/60th of a second with no fill flash? I’d imagine that the results would be less than impressive. I am an advocate of photographers knowing how and WHEN to use one format or the other. Still shooters are going to have to learn how to shoot and edit video, especially those working at the local level. But trying to do both at the same time is only going to result in missed moments, poor quality and frustrated photographers.

There will be some trial and error as newspapers transition from paper to pixels. I'll go out on a limb and say that the pendulum will swing from stills to video and then back again as editors come to the realization that video stories and video cameras are better left to an industry that already has a 60 year head start doing television.

Now you asked weather or not viewers or readers care about the quality? Some do, but most don’t. It’s kind of like our diets. We know what is good for us, but McDonald’s is easy, fast and filling and unfortunately American photojournalism is headed in that direction.

Something for you to chew on Dick.


OK, friends. I hope that all of this oratory didn't dissuade you from seeing the points that I was trying to make.

I hope that our readers and viewers will one day demand a return to quality coverage in our own particular medium. At the moment, these current changes are being driven by economics. Perhaps someday, someone will start up a newspaper and insist upon quality photos and clean layout and well written stories. Perhaps the public will take notice and appreciate all of this. And, perhaps people will say, "What a great idea."

I expect that I'll be long gone, but I'll bet that I'll be smiling in my grave.

Dick Kraus


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