The Digital Journalist
The Old Versus the New Photojournalism at
The Dallas Morning News
April 2007

by Leslie White

There is a battle raging in newspaper photojournalism. At its heart are the differences between traditional still photography and video photojournalism.

Yet I wonder how the debate came down to fervor for one camera or the other. Why not both? Photojournalists are a passionate bunch by nature, so maybe this zeal is natural in a sense, but as a storyteller and a reader, I know that they both have power.

That knowledge is what fuels our philosophy for visual journalism at The Dallas Morning News.

The idea of the Web as the "next big thing" in the industry is now regarded as a foregone conclusion, but the preponderance of broadband Internet was the tipping point for newspaper photo departments. For 10 years, stories alone were enough to grow Web audiences as the technology exploded. When the pipe grew larger with broadband, the rush was on to fill it with content that previously seemed so unwieldy. Those pesky large file sizes of images were no longer an issue. Shooters rejoiced. Finally, visual journalists would have their day on the Web.

Unfortunately for shooters deeply attached to still cameras, it was one heck of a short day. It wasn't long before video was deemed the savior that would rescue the newspaper industry. The explosion in popularity of YouTube and the ability to monetize the news with pre-roll advertising made photographers a bridge to capturing revenue. It was a new and uncomfortable spot for any journalist.

Photographers loathe the suggestion that if you just give them a video camera, they should be able to "figure it out." Get a group of hard-core still shooters together and they'll give you at least a hundred excellent reasons why this is a bad idea. In many ways, they're right. Videography is complicated, time-consuming and unbelievably technical. And it's not what any of them signed on for.

But I believe we'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who stayed in this business solely because of how much he or she loves still cameras. Fact is, none of what we do is really about the tool we hold up to our eyes or the way it feels in our hands. Focusing on the technology that allows us to share these stories feels artificial. We're going down a path in Dallas where the story is more important than the tools used to tell it.

I get asked, "How many staffers do you have shooting video?" more times than I care to count. We have a staff of visual journalists who are learning how to tell stories in a new way. The still photograph is as sacrosanct as it ever was. That won't change.

Still, we've set up an extensive training program using our staff expert that will require all photographers to be skilled in the use of the video camera by the end of 2007. It's risky – asking experienced, award-winning photographers basically to start their careers over in a sense. And it's expensive – cameras and training are by no means cheap.

But the key to remaining storytellers is to identify the best way to tell a specific story. Is it video? Stills? A multimedia presentation? What the Web has brought us is new ways to challenge ourselves. The biggest challenge is to accept the fact that more changes are ahead. Our old comfort zone is in the rear-view mirror.

I've heard it said – even from my own staff – that video will kill the still camera. I don't agree. Diverse ways of providing news will take us further faster. The way news is delivered in the world has changed so much in recent years, it's nothing short of mind-bending. We can barely imagine the future of information delivery. In the newspaper culture, we look at video as something news.

It's not. It's just new to us.

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© Leslie White

Director of Photography
The Dallas Morning News