Thoughts, comments, and opinions about visual education, visual culture, digital technology, photojournalism, and more.
Sunday, July 02, 2006
Monday, November 28, 2005
Something New: Hear Me Think
I am going to experiment with audio blogging a little.
I have been listening to other audio blogs and want to see how this could contribute to the work I am already doing with The Big Picture posts. I'll post something in a little while.
Saturday, March 19, 2005
Just in Case
Just in case you may be wondering where I've gone -- wander over to my new blog page.
Saturday, February 19, 2005
Thursday, February 17, 2005
The Big Picture? Has a new home: Come visit
After many months of regular posts to blogspot, I am moving the site to a new home, which will allow for a few new design features. Thanks to Jason Fithian for his help with the new banner and page set up for the blog. I will eventually repost the archives, but will now write to the new home.
A different perspective on the Omar Vega case
Up to this point, most of the press about Omar Vega, the San Francisco State University freshman arrested for photographing a burglary, has been fairly one-sided. It has been one-sided in the sense that we haven't really heard from the other students involved in the case or from the university all that much.
I have been reluctant to completely sign on to the "all or nothing" attitude promulgated by SFSU journalism faculty that Omar’s actions, as a journalist on the evening in question should be protected under the First Amendment no matter what. I have said that I do not waiver in my support of the First Amendment, but I also sensed in this case that there might have been more going on then we were being told.
Recently, a posting on Chronwatch offers a different perspective on Omar's situation. According to Chronwatch:,
Vega’s actions and multiple explanations for his behavior are not the most serious crimes here. The carefully orchestrated parroting of “serious danger of impeding the First Amendment” refrain, first trumpeted by Mayorga and dutifully blown in turn by Burks, Kobre, and Vega, mocks the intent of that important right.
Vega can be excused his youthful indiscretion. Burks, the University’s Journalism Department Chair and Kobre, have greater reason to be ashamed. By latching onto an obvious platform certain to provoke controversy, those professors abrogate their essential mission to help raise ethical journalists. By fostering the Vega saga, Burks and Kobre send perhaps the most damaging message of all, that the journalist has a duty not to the public, but to his own selfish interests.
What troubles me most about such assertions is that, if true, photojournalism will suffer yet another black eye in the public perception battle over the profession's credibility and ethical standards.
The Chronwatch article provides about aspects of the case that the mainstream media have yet to fully disclose.
Vega and the other SF State students were brought separately before the director of the college’s Housing and Residential Services, DJ Morales. Vega told Morales that he had come upon the group of people clustered around the car, had no prior knowledge the students intended to commit a crime, and didn’t know that money or CDs had been stolen. After Morales explained that she had spoken with other individuals involved in the events of that evening and that their stories were somewhat different, Vega changed his story and said that he had heard the others talking about finding the car keys and going to search the car.
In his revision, Vega told Morales that he then grabbed his camera and drove with the other individuals to look for the car. Vega continued to deny that the other students were his friends despite their statements to the contrary. He averred that he had only known them a few months and that they should have known that he was acting as an objective journalist and reporter, not as their friend and accomplice. According to a report in Friday’s San Francisco Chronicle however, another student told police “Omar was part of the group. We’re all friends, and he wanted to find the car just as bad as everyone else.”
I hope, for everyone's sake, that this information is wrong -- way wrong. I hope that for Omar's sake, and for the sake of journalistic integrity that the facts will show no complicity in the alledged misdeeds.
Omar will talk about his arrest and his first amendment rights as a photographer on Thursday March 3 at 7 p.m. in the San Francisco Exposure Gallery, 801 Howard (near the corner of 4th Street across from the Moscone Center).
As educators, journalists and students we have a vested interest in learning from trials and tribulations of this case. Stayed tuned.
Niche Blogs Rule the Blogoshpere
I am beginning to realize that the true power of blogging resides in the collaborative and democratizing potential of communication between the sources and the users of niche information. As Robert Scoble argues, "My readers are my editors. When I get something wrong you should see how they jump all over me. In fact, many take great glee pointing out when I get it wrong."
Excellent point, but I am still inclined to think that there is something else going on here--something clearly distinct between conventional journalistic practices and blogging.
First and foremost, I think there is a very big difference between general and niche audiences in print and on the Internet.
With the highest respect for Robert's work, he writes, for the most part, to a highly specialized niche audience. His readers, I presume, are heavily engaged in emerging technology. Conversations at this level tend to be geek-to-geek and not necessarily geek-to-average citizen. Through blogging Robert offers an expertise many people crave. Knowledge is power. Robert's niche is still a niche--a very smart niche--but all along it is about like-minded individuals talking at and to each other. It makes sense that Robert's readers feel comfortable pointing out mistakes to him--that's the beauty of a niche. However, in journalism the audience has traditionally been non-specific, i.e. the general public.
If blogging is going to change journalism, it is imperative that general audiences become increasingly more literate about the potential of emerging technologies as they relate to democratic civics and social responsibility. Blogging allows the average citizen to contribute to a larger conversation about the future of our world. But is blogging any better at this then any other channel of mass media? I think there is great hope in this communicative format. Whether specialized or mass, blogging's potential lies with the hope of empowering citizens to engage in community building.
My discussions with Robert Scoble exemplify the potential of this medium. With blogging, readers are no longer constrained to a hierarchy of what has been determined as "news" for them. Bloggers can either challenge the status quo or they can become a part of it.
I believe journalism plays an essential role in society by providing a context for understanding a wide array of issues relevant to a participatory democracy. Unfortunately niche blogs, like this one, take the reader only so far in this process. At the same time, couple these niche blogs together and a critical mass is formed.
Wednesday, February 16, 2005
Blogging and the Darker side of the Silver Lining
When it comes to the hype and euphoria over blogging's potential, there is a part of me that remains a bit skeptical. Although Robert Scoble's recent visit to campus was provocative in many ways, I am now a little more rational about the prospects. Blogging, as evidenced by recent revelations concerning the CBS "Memogate" episode or CNN executive Eason Jordan's resignation, may seem like playing poker with the cards turned face up, but there is a darker side to the silver lining. To see more about this check out Jay Rosen's Press Think, which offers a good perspective on the debate concern blogging vs. journalism.
The problem, if it is a problem, with blogging as a form of journalism, is that it may be decentralizing the fact-finding and fact-checking processes that come with solid reporting (Jayson Blair being the exception of course).
The speed and abandon in which information now spins through the world through blogging, dare I say without the eyes and common sense of a good editor, is a little like trying to read a book in a sandstorm. At the same time, with the ever-increasing corporatization, downsizing and monopolization of the news industry by Big Business blogging may be exactly what we need right now. In fact, I think Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream should name a flavor after this phenom. Give me a scoop of that "Bloggerbuzz" flavor over there. Put it on a waffle cone. Bloggerbuzz is made with 40 shots of espresso and two tons of sugar.
Similar to the potential digital shutterbugs have in circumventing conventional news channels like in the case of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, blogging runs the risk of outsourcing journalistic credibility to the unverifiable rumor mills of cyberspace. There is a reason why we have editors. I have never been especially fond of editors as a species but they do serve an important function in the food chain of information gathering. At the same time, bloggers, and the speed in which information can posted and repeatedly re-posted is a sort of editing in and of itself. Blogging, as the new bloodsport for the information age, has the amazing feature of instant feedbacks and trackbacks built into it. This is a feature that conventional news sources like radio, television and print journalism do not have. The ability to instantly comment, correct, sully or verify information on a blog across time-zones 24/7 may be blogging's saving grace. Duncan Riley's "Old media hypocrisy in the war on blogging" seems to have a good take on all of this.
Tuesday, February 15, 2005
Down the Drain?
Walking my son to school today he found a mylar heart on the sidewalk and promptly tossed it into the gutter. With the rain falling the stream carried the heart for about a block until it reached the storm drain which flows out to the sea. Could this be a metaphor for the day after St. Valentine's Day?
The death of everything: How emerging technologies change ways of knowing and being
With all the "death" and "killing" chatter going on lately over how emerging technologies are signaling the doom of older technologies, I am getting slightly anemic.
Within the past few years these discussions include, but are in no way limited to the following:
Corporate media giants are "killing" photojournalism;
Digital audio signals the "death" of analog audio.
Citizen shutterbugs with digital happy snap cameras signal the "death" of news photography;
Digital video signals the "death" of film;
iPods signal the "death" of CDs;
The Internet and Online journalism is "killing" traditional print journalism;
Blogging is killing public relations;
High definition television signals the "death" of conventional television;
Voice over Internet Protocal (VoIP) signals the "death" of phone carriers;
Cam-phones represent the downfall of conventional cameras;
Information Technology is replacing teachers.
All this talk about emerging technology "killing" everything else is going to be the "death" of us.
What does any of this mean to the future of civilization as we know it?
How can emerging technologies make us better communicators and thinkers?
How can I be a more efficient, effective, and compassionate teacher using the latest and greatest new technology?
The first thing I would like to suggest about all of this is that emerging technologies signify opportunities for us to reflect upon how communicative processes may or not be changing in the world. In fact, just sitting here publishing to my blog about things I care about may help answer my own questions. Sort of, maybe, whatever.
The danger of all this is that it is so easy to get caught up in the hype of the latest and greatest technology that we forget about the qualitative aspects of communication. Speed is cool. Speed is sexy. Speed sells. I want speed. Give me speed.....
If I don't "get it", will getting more of it, in less time, really help me "get it"?
I think about rituals and habits a lot when I observe how students appear so "plugged" into new technologies in the classroom that they seem to "tune out" to learning and listening. I think about how the laptop computer, wireless internet, text messaging, cellular phones, camera phones, iPods, and instant messaging changes how I communicate with students in the classroom.
Here's an example:
I love the digital camera as a teaching tool, but I am not completely comfortable with it as a "camera" yet. I love that I can go out with a student and we can try and fail or try and succeed on-the-spot. I love that the immediacy of the digital camera with the possibility of reviewing images right after capture presents more opportunities for trial and error. At the same time, this immediacy may also lull the photographer/student into a false sense of accomplishment. The photographer might think that since they have an image on the back of their camera that they do not need to work as hard to visually communicate a story has they had to with film.
I hate technology for giving me the false impression that immediacy means intimacy.
Today I looked over a terrific student's shoulder has he downloaded his digital images on to the desktop. Working in PhotoMechanic he was able to edit his take down to a few promising pictures in a matter of seconds. I looked over the take and suggested that we take a walk back to where he had made the images he just edited. I thought there was something missing in the visuals and enjoy teaching on-the-spot when there is time.
We walked over to the student union in the rain and observed that the scene he had photographed 30 minutes earlier had not changed at all. Students were still lining up to sell back books they purchased on the last day to drop classes. There were a lot of students but the line was moving along smoothly. After making a few suggestions about what he had already tried, we got in a little closer and started photographing again. After a few shots, the student would hold up the back of his camera to show me what he was doing.
This is when the real teaching moment happened for us. Not in reviewing the pictures immediately but in the interpersonal exchange brought about by the technology's immediacy.
Something else also happened. Just as the student was continuing to make more pictures, an older man sitting off to the side came up and started shouting at him to stop. The man was yelling at the student that he had no right to take pictures of the line of people waiting to sell their books back. Maybe I should not have stepped in when I did, but I confronted the man and noticed the very strong smell of booze on him. I am not that comfortable with people who have had a little too much to drink, especially when they are threatening students.
I think I may have scared my student more than the man shouting at him, because I insisted (in my very best New Yorker sort of way) that the man either sit down or leave the building. I believed I was doing the right thing at the time. I was trying to protect my student and others by challenging the man's behavior. I believed the man had been drinking and that he should not have been on campus in that condition.
Although the situation presented some risk, I could never teach the lessons we learned from this experience in a class powerpoint presentation or even Online. There is no substitute for in-the-moment interaction between a student and a teacher. The incident presented all sorts of questions for us. What would the student have done if the man attacked me? I asked my student if he would have taken pictures? What would the ethical, moral and legal implications of a scuffle be for me as a teacher and for the student/photojournalist? This is how we learn, (like that TV commercial for Smith-Barney says) the old-fashioned way.
I am now thinking about how during Robert Scoble's visit here the other day someone couldn't help but notice how so many students were still taking notes with pen and paper. Interesting observation. Now what?
Monday, February 14, 2005
Don't believe what everybody thinks: The term ethical journalist may not be an oxymoron
David Shaw writes in his column "Media Matters" about the results of a two-year study investigating just how ethical journalists really are. In the article, Ethical journalists? Hey, it turns out we really are Shaw discusses the fact that public perception polls measuring journalistic ethics may be far off base.
Shaw notes that the "2004 edition of Gallup's annual survey of what Americans think of the honesty and ethical standards of various professions found that journalists ranked behind not only nurses, grade school teachers, clergy and judges but behind auto mechanics, state and local officeholders and seven other professions as well (but slightly ahead of business executives, congressmen, lawyers, advertising practitioners and car salesmen)."
Fortunately, there is now an empirical study to counter the bad news coming out of public opinion polling. Thanks to the hard work of academics such as Lee Wilkins of the University of Missouri School of Journalism and Renita Coleman of the School of Mass Communications at Louisiana State University a sampling of 249 journalists nationwide were given tests used by sociologists and psychologists to evaluate "ethics and moral development." As Shaw points out, Wilkins and Coleman ultimately discovered that "Thinking like a journalist involves moral reflection, done at a level that in most instances equals or exceeds members of other learned professions."
This was the first time the test was given to journalists, and their average ethics score — while lower than those for practicing physicians, seminarians, philosophers and medical students — was higher than those for the practitioners of hundreds of other professions and academic pursuits previously tested, including nurses, business professionals, orthopedic surgeons, Navy enlisted men, graduate and undergraduate students and adults in general.
According to Brian Orloff The Defining Issues Test is the most accepted quantitative test measuring moral development. The test employs six ethical dilemmas and requires participants to select a course of action and rank how important actions are in making their choices. In this particular study, Wilkins and Coleman were the first scholars to include visual information in the scenarios, using a prize-winning photograph." Wilkins and Coleman use a test that is widely accepted in sociology and psychology. See also "Kohlberg's stages of moral development" in W.C. Crain. (1985). Theories of Development. Prentice-Hall. pp. 118-136.
"The Defining Issues Test is the most accepted quantitative test measuring moral development. The test employs six ethical dilemmas and requires participants to select a course of action and rank how important actions are in making their choices. In this particular study, Wilkins and Coleman were the first scholars to include visual information in the scenarios, using a prize-winning photograph.
Opportunities for Students and Professionals
Kalish Workshop accepting applications now
is accepting applications for two sessions in June. Since early applications are given greater consideration, now is the best time to apply for you or your staff.
Last year, high interest in the workshop resulted in a waiting list.
The workshop accepts only 25 participants per session in order to keep the ratio of faculty to students at an optimum level.
Go to www.kalishworkshop.org to download an application form.
This year's workshops run from Friday, June 3, to Wednesday, June 8, 2005, and from Friday, June 10, to Wednesday, June 15, 2005. Both are held at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind.
The Kalish Workshop enters its 16th year in 2005 and is the premiere picture editing workshop in the country. It is also the most affordable. It continues to get rave reviews from those who attend and from editors whose staffers return recharged and filled with new ideas and approaches. For those unfamiliar with this one-of-a-kind workshop, here are the details:
THE WORKSHOP. The Kalish is aimed at developing the integrated journalist with a strong emphasis on visual presentation. All editors with picture responsibilities need a broad understanding of ethics and newsroom relationships and to have a better management grasp of putting changing elements together.
WHO SHOULD ATTEND: Picture editors, desk editors, designers, section editors, managing editors and anyone who handles visuals. The Kalish has been directed at those mid-career professionals who are coming new to the picture desk. But increasingly it is attracting other newsroom staffers.
WHAT CAN YOU EXPECT: The Kalish offers five days of hands-on assignments, discussions, interactive presentations and critiques. Segments include: Generating the pictures your publication needs; selecting pictures; photo captions; legal issues; the two-picture combo; the news page; the picture page; ethical considerations; managing the photo department; hiring; motivating photographers and building bridges with other editors. The curriculum is designed so that individual segments build on one another. Unlike other workshops, faculty members work closely together and participate in most sessions so that the workshop develops common themes.
WHO ARE THE FACULTY: Eight are scheduled for each session. They're the nation's top prize-winning picture editors and skilled administrators. There is ample time for all students to interact with faculty members. Past faculty have included: Bob Lynn, Kenny Irby, J. Bruce Baumann, Randy Cox, Joany Carlin, Mark Edelson, Patty Rekston, Scott Sines, Bill Blanton, Eric Strachan, Sue Morrow, Geri Migielicz, Jan Carroll, Bryan Moss, John Ahlhauser, John Rumbach and Bill Gugliotta.
OPTIONAL INDESIGN INTRODUCTORY DAY: It's critical to be proficient in the basics of Adobe InDesign to participate in the workshop. Applicants who don't know enough about this software program to design a page should sign up for the InDesign introductory session. We ask this so that you don't spend more time fumbling with the computer than with thoughtful picture selection and creative design. The introductory session runs from 9 am to 4 pm on Friday. The regular workshop begins at 6 p.m. on Friday.
WORKSHOP COSTS: The registration fee is $650. The optional InDesign day is an additional $150. Applications require a deposit ($100 for the workshop; $25 for the InDesign session). The balance is due on May 1 and no refunds can be made after that date. The workshop provides continental breakfast each morning and three dinners. Transportation to and from the Indianapolis airport is offered.
WORKSHOP LODGING: Students may elect to stay in one of the Ball State dorm rooms. The current rate for air-conditioned dorm rooms is $22.50 each, double occupancy and $27 single per day. These have a shared bath. The university may raise these rates before next June, but the price hike should not be significant. A limited number of hotel rooms are available at Ball State's Pittenger Student Center. A single room costs between $47 and $54. Reservations can be made by calling 765-285-1555. Other hotels are located near the Ball State campus, but students would need to provide their own transportation to and from the hotel.
DEADLINE: The application deadline is Feb. 28, 2005. Those accepted into the workshop will be notified by March 14.
UNIVERSITY CREDIT: Ball State University offers graduate level credit to Kalish participants. For information, contact Tom Price, photojournalism sequence coordinator, at: firstname.lastname@example.org://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gifdu.
QUESTIONS. Call J. Bruce Baumann at 812-461-0799 or e-mail
Spring Training,' military-civilian photojournalism workshop
Students attending a public college or university in California are invited to apply for a chance to participate in the West Coast, 'Spring Training,' military-civilian photojournalism workshop. The workshop will take place on April 7 to 11 at Camp Pendleton, a large U.S. Marine Corps training base located in Southern California between Los Angeles and San Diego.
Students from California universities and military photojournalists from all five branches of the service will take pictures of military culture (and related issues) for three days both at Camp Pendleton and off base in the surrounding communities of Southern California.
There are no fees for the students other than their transportation costs and meals. Students will sleep on military-provided cots under large military group tents. Matt is trying to arrange for a supply of MREs (meals ready to eat or field rats).
Both civilian and military will be divided into groups to cover assignments during the four-day workshop under the guidance of both civilian and military photojournalists.
Some of the civilian working pros at the workshop will include:
Bill Eppridge, Sports Illustrated;
David Gatley; former LA Times SD Bureau Photo Chief;
Bill Auth, U.S. News & World Report;
Nick Ut, Associated Press Los Angeles;
Scott McKiernan, Zuma Press;
Les Stone, Zuma Press;
Jay Dickman, National Geographic;
David Hume Kennerly, freelance;
Rick Rickman, freelance;
Authur Grace former U.S. Marine,
Ken Hackman, former Air Force PJ Chief.
Students can use either a digital or film camera. They will need a sleeping bag. Wide-angle and telephoto Nikon lenses will be available on loan at the workshop.
Possible assignments include: Bikers for War Vets, Barracks Culture, Military Beach Culture, MP Patrol, Combat Troops Return, Military Prison Guard Duty, and Religion in the Military.
Twenty students and 10 alternates will be chosen based on their photographic portfolios by an independent committee of professional photojournalists.
To learn more about the camp go to the camp Pendleton web site
Please e-mail questions about the workshop to Matt Hevezi: Heavyz@aol.com
Please e-mail questions about the university student application to
Ken Kobre: Kobre@aol.com
Fill out this student application
To apply, students should send a portfolio on a CD including up to 20 single images and a photo story. The images must open with a Mac computer. For each image, include captions in the "file info" box of PhotoShop. Each picture should be saved as a jpeg 72 dpi, 10 inches at its longest dimension. All the images should open up in PhotoMechanic software for viewing.
Complete the attached application. Include it on the CD, saved as a Word document (.doc). Also print the application on paper and include it in the envelope along with your CD. Please label your CD with your name, address, email and school.
See Application form below.
Application with CD due by Friday March 4th
Send CD with images and application to
4 McCormick Place
San Francisco California, 94109
Students will be informed by email if they have been accepted into the workshop
1. Last name:
2. First name:
4. Mail address:
5. City, State:
7. Zip code:
9. Day phone:
10. Evening phone:
11. Mobile phone:
14. Personal Website:
15. Biography online link:
17. Year: F, S, Jr, Sr, Post-grad
18. Photojournalism professor name:
19. Photojournalism professor phone:
20. Okay to fly in helicopter?
21. Okay to ride in small boats?
22. Swim experience: none/beginner/experienced/expert
23. Social Security last four:
24. Film camera___ digital camera____
25. Laptop make/model:
26. CD, DVD or online portfolio or slideshow?
27. Website link to online portfolio or slideshow:
Please e-mail questions about the workshop to Matt Hevezi: Heavyz@aol.com
Please e-mail questions about the application to
Ken Kobre: Kobre@aol.com
Sunday, February 13, 2005
The Scobleizer responds with the right question
Robert Scoble weighs in on my comments about how the newspaper industry is being transformed by the Internet. I'll post his comments here because he makes sense.
Also of note is The Workerbees Blog offering a nice commentary on Robert's visit to SJSU.
Washington Post writer Howard Kurtz offers a pretty clear case study of what happens to journalism when it is subjected to the superheated environment of the Internet. I found Kurtz's article interesting. While we are at it, you might also want to take a look at the Buzzmachine for more of an insider's perspective on this issue.
Dennis Dunleavy (he teaches photojournalism at San Jose State University) asks: Does blogging mean that newspapers are dead?
Are newspapers dead?
The right question is: Does the Internet mean that newspapers are dead?
Now, that one is easier to answer yes. I already don't read any newspaper. At least not on paper. I read TONS of newspaper brands, but on my Tablet PC screen. Look at my RSS Aggregator. You'll see the New York Times. USA Today. San Jose Mercury News. Memeorandum. And quite a few other things that used to be called newspapers.
The real problem with newspapers is their business model is being hurt by the Internet. Classified ads are moving over to eBay, Craig's List, and search engines.
Speed and control is an issue too. I enjoy getting my news faster and in a more scanable format thanks to my RSS News Aggregator.
But, please note that I didn't say that journalism is going to go away. I just said that it'll be very tough for today's journalism students to get a job at a newspaper.
And, certainly, new journalism business models are springing up like mushrooms after a spring rain. Just read Jason Calacanis' blog for a while and I'll bet that by the end of the year he'll see 50% growth in employees this year alone (he already has 68 people working for him writing blogs).
I like his most recent post. Podcasting, the new accidental business model.
Does blogging mean that newspapers are dead?
John Kelly, a Washington Post columnist, gets a little teary-eyed when writing about the decline of the newspaper industry. In his Feb. 11 column "Read (But Not All!) About it", Kelly begins by telling us that:
While more people are reading the work of Post journalists than ever before, they're doing it via the Web.This is troubling for those of us who love newspapers as much as we love news. One of the reasons for the decline, I think, is that many people have never learned how to read a newspaper.
The fact that people have never learned how to read a newspaper does not even come close to understanding the complex array of forces behind why the industry has been in decline. In today's "winner-take all" media world, whether or not we know how to read a newspaper has little to do with how people consume information now or in the future. In the first of 11 steps, Kelly instructs his audience, many of whom are reading his words online and not in a newspaper, to "enjoy the pleasant feel of the paper against your skin." There is a lot of playful banter and sarcasism in all of this, but the reality is that old ways of doing things are often replaced by new ways. The reasons for such changes reside at the core of human communication.
In a 2001 newspaper readership trend study, the Newspaper Association of America found that "Daily newspaper readership has dropped from 58.6% of the population in 1998 to 55.1% in 2000. Meanwhile, the total number of adults has increased by nearly 3% to 138,937,000." According to a Media Center report, "Over the last 10 years, circulation has dropped by 11.8% while the total number of U.S. households increased by 8.7%."
Of course this is "old news" but for those of us who are responsible for training the next generation of reporters, editors, broadcasters, designers and photographers we will be better served if we keep up with the changing media environment.
We've been "SCOBLIZED"
Robert "the Scoblizer" Scoble, Microsoft's technical evangelist, came to campus with a similar message last week. The Scoblizer is a celebrity blogger and techno-determinist who insists that people must start thinking about emerging technologies in new ways. Apparently, Robert is doing something right. He was recently featured in the Feb. 10 issue of the Economist for his work with Microsoft.
One of Scoble's more important messages concerns media transparency in the age of the Internet and blogging, especially when it comes to the relationship between the press and corporate public relations specialists. Former San Jose Mercury News reporter and now a best-selling author of "We the Media", Dan Gilmor is another great example of how people should be thinking about the future of journalism and the media.
At SJSU, Scoble's visit has started us thinking about how we need to prepare ourselves and our students for the future. In an email to the School of Journalism and Mass Communications faculty this week, Professor Steve Greene observes how "astonished" Robert Scoble was to find may of the students thinking that "they would some day work in the journalism field at newspapers." Professor Greene, believes that it in Scoble's opinion, that world of traditional newspapering "was disappearing."
Professor Greene sums up his observations by contending:
Every time I hear such predictions I get an awfully uneasy feeling. They may be overstated, they may never happen, but we should, at least, consider them. We do not.
And we ignore them at our peril. Every profession is replete with examples of practitioners who have clung to old ways of doing business long past the effective
date of their usefulness.
At the same time, another faculty member, Professor Robert Rucker, weighs in with a counter point to this argument.
I am sure blogging will affect journalism like TV news took readers away from papers. But I am confident, journalism principles and standards, which have consistently offered society accuracy and balanced reporting, will always make traditional journalism's the gold standard for information delivery.
Both perspectives are extremely valuable and the message I take away from this is several-fold:
1) Communicative processes are evolving with emerging technologies such as the Internet, digital cameras, and mobile information platforms.
2) How people consume information and news is changing with the immediacy of the Web, especially with blogging.
3) We must continue to teach students the civic responsibilties embedded in the principles and standards of committing journalism in a digital age.
Now, getting back to the point I had in mind when I started writing this. Does blogging mean that newspapers are dead? I don't know. However, what I do know is that blogging offers an immediacy and an alternative that newspapers and even news web sites cannot match. For an interesting perspective on this, read the Fishbowl/DC to see how blogging is changing journalism. You decide.
If I were to suggest one criticism concerning Robert Scoble's overall message, it would be that much of the focus appears to driven by a fairly obvious ethnocentric and capitalistic model. During Robert's visit it seemed that much of the energy and enthusiasm for blogging was centered around technology and its potential as an engine of commerce and trade. I really want to challenge Robert and others to begin thinking about how blogging can change higher education in profound ways. Steve Sloan, SJSU's own tech-evangelist and blogger, understands this in a "geeky" sort of way. As Steve points out, "I am on a personal mission to evangelize emerging technology in higher education."
The question I pose to these very bright folks is this. How can educators use blogging to help students become better critical thinkers, responsible citizens and compassionate human beings?
My hope is that blogging will democratize learning in a radical and transformative way for all peoples across economic, cultural, ethnic, political, social and religious divides.
Saturday, February 12, 2005
Omar Vega pleads not guilty
The recent arrest of Omar Vega, a student who photographed other students breaking-into a car on campus, raises some very important issues for student journalists, journalism educators, journalism at-large and society in general. Omar's case tests a public’s right to know against a powerful institution, San Francisco State University. Although the story is not unique for an enterprising journalist, it confronts issues that many people suspected were going on in the dorms but have rarely seen. For some sobering statistics on college binge drinking read In the Know Zone or the Harvard University College Alcohol Study.
Yesterday, Omar along with his lawyer and members of the journalism faculty at SFSU, called a news conference to draw public attention to the arrest. They claim the arrest was a form of retribution for the public embarrassment caused by Omar’s photography.
Omar believes he followed the students with his camera to commit journalism and not to participate in a crime. In principle, Omar's rights as a student/journalist must be protected under the First Amendment. I make no claim to be a legal scholar, however, I do believe that the concept of due process must play a role in this debate as well.
The real problem with this situation may be a matter of definition and perception. The authorities perceive of Omar as a college freshman first, and a journalist second. In opposition to this, Omar perceives himself to be a journalist first and a student second.
It appears that Omar’s presence at the scene of the crime represents, to authorities, a form of criminal complicity. Therefore, first Omar gets evicted from the dorms and next he is arrested.
From my own experience, I can recall a number of incidents in which I was witness to activities considered felonious under the law. During the 1980s, there were times when I watched and photographed undocumented immigrants cross the Rio Grande River.
Does witnessing the illegal actions of others constitute complicity in a crime? What is the difference between standing on a bridge photographing people crossing the river and actually accompanying the immigrants as they cross in order to get a more humanistic perspective on the story?
As a professional journalist I felt it was my duty to report the story in the best way possible. For example, standing on the bridge looking down at those who were seeking a better life presented the story in a detached and alienating way. In order to understand the story better, I knew that I would have to take some risks and be mindful of the consequences if I wanted to make people care. I believed that getting close and building rapport with my fellow human beings through my visual reportage was the only way to facilitate common understanding and perhaps even empathy.
For journalists, the First Amendment signifies a blue print for civic responsibility and participation in a free and democratic society. Any attempt to prohibit or restrict the rights of the press to accurately and fairly report news relevant to society undermines the values set forth in the U.S. Constitution.
Omar’s status with the university--as a minor, freshman college student, dormitory resident and as a classmate of the accused--may obfuscate his rights and reputation as a journalist.
Not only does Omar’s case exemplify the long-standing tension between the powers of press and state, but also raises questions about how well we are teaching our students to understand the complexities of the law and journalistic ethics in society.
It is my hope that the charges against Omar will be dropped unless indisputable evidence is found to prove that his involvement in the incident went beyond journalism. It is my hope that this legal action represents an attempt to save “face”, distract the public from what some see as a dereliction of duty in maintaining control over students living in the dorms, and to put a publicly embarrassing situation behind them.
Ultimately, it is my hope that we all come to understand our responsibilities as journalists, students, citizens, teachers, and human beings.
Links to stories about Omar's case:
SFSU photographer shoots break-in: Authorities say journalism student played criminal role
Student photographer says arrest violates First Amendment rights
Journalism Dept. Says Case "Mishandled"
Student photog charged after taking car break-in pictures
Student Says Photographing Criminal Buddies Was 'Journalism'
Tribune intern's break-in photos stir free speech debate
SFSU freshman charged in car burglary; professor says he was merely observing scene
Some Characteristics of Visual Elements
In the book, A Primer of Visual Literacy by Donis A. Dondis (1973) visual communication is said to be a direct response to the characteristics of the design as well as the message’s purpose. Dondis identifies some of the dynamics of design through a list of binary opposites (p.16). In my visual communication class students are asked to reflect on Dondis' list of words. Three pairs of words, e.g. Contrast/Harmony, are selected and evaluated.
Mediated visual messages, (images found in newspapers, magazines, etc.) are chosen to best exemply each concept represented in the pairs. In this case, there would be an image representing "contrast" and another image representing "harmony". Along with the six images, students are required to write a statement (1-2 sentences) explaining why the words and the media examples were chosen.
Here are some links to writings on Donis A. Dondis' work:
Image Technologies in Education
Notes on A Primer of Visual Literacy
Online Visual Literacy Project
Joel and Irene Bendict Visual Literacy Collection at Arizona State University
Voice of the Shuttle
Links to other Photojournalism and Technology Stories of Interest
Photojournalism alumni continue to excel
A keen eye for political life
Enough of the Tear-Jerker
Beyond toys for boys: Consumer electronics companies, now that more women than men buy their gadgets, are starting to cater to everyone.
Media Companies In Battle Over Online Copyright
Friday, February 11, 2005
Omar Vega's arrest on burglary charges raises First Amendment concerns
Omar Vega Arrested
The Journalism Department at San Francisco State University is holding a
news conference Today responding to media inquiries about a photojournalism student who was arrested this week for taking photographs of other students burglarizing a car.
Omar Vega, a freshman photojournalism student, was arrested on February 9 on charges of second-degree burglary involving an alledged November 2004 automobile break-in, which he had photographed. Vega, his lawyer Emilia Mayorga, Chair of the San Francisco State University Journalism Department, John Burks, and photojournalism professor Ken Kobre will answer questions from the media.
Links to news stories can be found at
Tribune intern's break-in photos stir free speech debate SFSU freshman charged in car burglary; professor says he was merely observing scene
SF State Student Arrested on Burglary Charges
In December, Vega's eviction from his college dormitory sparked a storm of controversy on the over his rights as a journalist to document freshman college students being, well... freshman college students. According to a press release from SFSU, "Vega was arrested at San Francisco State University and was taken to jail. He was arraigned in San Francisco Superior Court Thursday morning on misdemeanor charges of second-degree burglary and tampering with a vehicle or its contents."
I have previously written about this case in January following a Los Angeles Times story about Vega's eviction, "Buttons Pushed: Lessons Learned"
“There are significant First Amendment issues at stake here,” said John Burks, chair of the Journalism Department. “This case suggests that whenever journalists publish photos or write about a crime they witness they are complicit in that crime.”
You can find earlier comments by Omar and others on Sportsshooter
The San Francisco Bay Area Photographers Association posted a notice to members about Omar's case and I would like to share it here:
Omar Vega, a freshman photojournalism major at San Francisco State University, claims he was acting as a journalist when he photographed fellow students breaking into a car last fall, invoking his First Amendment right to document student life at SFSU.
But campus police and the San Francisco District Attorney's office don't buy his story. The 18-year-old photojournalism student was arrested and charged this week with two second-degree misdemeanors, burglary and tampering with a vehicle, for his alleged role in the Oct. 24 incident.
Vega was arrested on Wednesday afternoon as he was leaving a journalism class, and was held for about four hours. He was charged Thursday in San Francisco County Superior Court. The four other students were also arrested this week, said SFSU spokeswoman Ellen Griffin. They are scheduled to appear in court in early March.
Vega's photos and arrest have sparked a debate about the rights and responsibilities of journalists when they witness a crime while doing their work. He has also started a furious debate among fellow photojournalists on whether he crossed ethical lines.
The Stockton native, who pleaded not guilty to the charges, said Friday he was documenting freshman life for a student newspaper project when he took the photos, which he published on a photography Web site the next day. He said he didn't participate or aid in the break-in, and that the students involved were not his friends.
Vega, who received a scholarship to study photojournalism at SFSU, said he had an agreement with the school newspaper to take photos of freshman life throughout the school year. He planned to publish them as a photo essay at the end of the year.
The school newspaper decided against publishing the photos after editors decided it wasn't newsworthy, so Vega posted them on a Web site (www.sportsshooter.com) for professional photographers.
"My intention throughout the semester was that everything was for the project," Vega said. "I didn't touch the vehicle. I didn't enter the vehicle."
Vega, his attorney and two SFSU journalism professors held a news conference on campus Friday to display the five black-and-white photos and defend the student's First Amendment right to photograph a crime without being held responsible for it.
"The job of a photojournalist is not to stop history but to record history, "said Ken Kobre, a SFSU photojournalism professor. "Omar Vega was doing exactly what a photojournalist should do. He was taking his camera and he was recording the world around him."
Vega said campus housing officials have been trying to stop him from taking photos and were angry that he had photographed students engaged in binge drinking and oral sex. He was evicted from the dormitory in December for his alleged involvement in the break-in.
The incident took place on Oct. 24, when a student found a set of car keys and several students, including Vega, decided to find the vehicle by sounding its alarm, according to the campus police report. After locating the Mustang off-campus, one of the students stole about 20 CD's and $15 in cash before the group tossed the keys into the bushes and returned to campus, the report said.
The car's owner reported the incident to police the next day. She told police the seats had burn marks and she had to pay $1,065 to get the locks changed, the report said. One student told police, "Omar was part of the group. We're all friends, and he wanted to find the car just as bad as everyone else."
Authorities learned of Vega's photos after he posted them on the photography web site and individuals from Texas and South Korea called university police to complain that Vega was practicing "unethical photojournalism," according to the report.
Kelly McBride, who teaches journalism ethics at the Poynter Institute, said she doesn't know all the facts in the case, but believes journalists are obligated to obey the law when they're practicing journalism.
"You have no special privilege or dispensation for being a journalist," McBride said. "Journalists have an obligation to follow the law. And if they choose not to follow the law because it prevents them from doing their journalism, they have to accept the consequences."
His critics, including some students and campus housing authorities, say that the photographer was more voyeur than journalist and violated the privacy of fellow students. They accuse Vega of condoning and even abetting the alleged car burglary and other provocative activities.
He did not spend his winter break stewing over his fate over the winter school break. He began an internship at the Oakland Tribune, then was drawn by another story. He flew to Colombo, Sri Lanka, where he has been capturing scenes of the devastation from the tsunami.
Compiled from wire service and newspaper reports.
SFSU photojournalism student
SFSU photojournalism professor.
Thursday, February 10, 2005
Decisive Moment Assignment 1
You should have seen the one that got away:The Digital Camera Phone and the Myth of Reality
I discovered this advertisement for cellular phone service over the weekend and started to think about how ideas and myths are sold as a part of our consumer society. Advertising is driven by the power of communicating desires and fears to a target audience. Images, advertisers understand, are among the most immediate and persuasive forms of communication because they work on the conscious and unconscious mind. When an image is linked to a widely held notion or myth the power of the message increases. As a persausive determinant, the image sells not just a product but an ideal.
Friday, February 04, 2005
Death Before the Lens
Recently, a friend wrote about photographing death. Here are some of his comments I would like to reflect on.
I was hoping you could offer some words of wisdom regarding photographing murder victims. I had to photograph the murder of six prison guards believed to have been killed by the drug cartel
In Mexico about a week ago. I stayed for about four hours just waiting until the bodies were removed from a car they were dumped in near the prison. While I was there I was struck with the feeling that I was not unlike a vulture. I was just waiting around to get a shot of the bodies with the other journalists (like a vulture would wait for something to die so it could eat). I know that if I wasn't there another photographer would be and that it is part of the job but I still had a feeling of guilt.
Seeing bodies for the first time is such an unreal experience. At first all I could think about were the wives and families of these men and wonder if they even knew that their husbands/fathers would not be returning home that night after work. It felt wrong to know before they did.
While I was photographing I was also with a reporter who was really excited to be there. He is our cops reporter and loves covering death. When I asked him why he was shooting his own pictures of the bodies (with a digital point and shoot) he said it was for his "personal collection." I guess after that comment I really started thinking about our profession and all of the insane situations we are tossed into. I think that is really the thing I was having the most trouble with. I love this job and wouldn't want to do anything else but sometimes it has the ability to push certain buttons.
crowd gathering to view bodies
Dealing with death is never easy but it is a reality we must face. It is hard not to allow ourselves to feel empathy for the families of the victims. It is hard not to despair over the insanity and inhumanity of the world we witness. It is hard not to get lost in the darkness of remorse after having witnessed such events. We are feeling beings first and foremost and the images you make communicate this to us.
Will this story change the culture of death that surrounds you there? Will your images bring light to a dark and trouble time? We live in the hope that your reportage can expose a truth so as to bring about moral outrage and indignation. We live in the hope that we can feel empathy for the conditions in which people live and work to change those conditions. Yes, those of us who have worked on the US-Mexican border and have seen this harsh reality for so many years it is hard to imagine how pictures can make any difference. However, in my heart I believe they can and do. There is no greater hope than to shine some light on the grim realities of a world turned on its head. Find space in your heart for reflection. Work with your feelings to understand how your presence does make a difference. I need to see these realities to be reminded every day of how fortunate I am and to work for change.
Bob Haring (2001) interviewed psychologist Elana Newman concerning a study she conducted of post traumatic stress disorder in photojournalism.
Professional photographers, Newman said, "understand the importance of their job. "I see all news media as first responders, much like emergency workers. Although they do not save the victims, they serve as a conduit between the public and the event."
Most are aware of the physical dangers; fewer are warned about the potential psychological dangers. In general, Newman says, she has found that photographers "are also a resilient group who care about the work that they do and offer society a great service."
Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma
New York Daily News staff photographer David Handschuh wrote about his experiences covering the World Trade Center attacks on September 11, 2001 Video Interviews on the Digital Journalist with 9-11 photojournalists
Screenshots Blog with posts relating to Kevin Carter's images of death in the Sudan may also be relevant to this discussion.
Thursday, February 03, 2005
It is the Photo + Journalism that Counts
Have you ever felt like all your hard work and creativity in making an image or covering an assignment was just a huge waste of time? Even after discussing an assignment or project with an editor, there is always the chance that the pictures you felt best represented the story will be cut out, cropped or used ineffectively.
Talking about the process and listening to ourselves and others is always the best way to prevent misunderstandings.
First and foremost, many times the picture-making process does not begin when you click the shutter. The picture making process begins with pre-visualizing and understanding the core aspects of the story. If a reporter or editor cannot articulate what the story is about effectively then it will be very hard for you to meet or exceed anyone's expectations. The key here is that good journalism is a collaboration between words and images. Everyone should be working toward the same goal through balanced reporting.
Sometimes it is hard to understand why editors want things a certain way. It is hard to understand that their agenda may not always be your agenda. Many times stories fail to connect with readers editors, reporters and photojournalists fail to articulate what will best tell a story for an audience.
The key to producing a dynamic and meaningful newspaper is communication. Everyone
needs to have the same level of dedication and flexibility in the pre-visualizing, visualizing and post-visualizing processes.
If we can communicate effectively with one another about planning out how we spend our
time reporting news then we can save ourselves a great deal of frustration.
Eveyone seems to have an opinion about what works and what doesn't work. Getting too many
opinions can be as confusing as not getting input at all. We need to learn why some images communicate information and emotions better than others. Build a vocabulary for communicating why one image is better than any other. Learn to articulate why a photo or story works in a language everyone will understand. Saying something looks "cool" doesn't
cut it. Learn to think through the technical, compositional, and content driven aspects of
the image and be your own editor.
Ask yourself some quetions before looking for outside opinions.
1. What is the story about? What will the reader learn from the story? Do the pictures represent, support and edify what the story attempts to communicate?
2. Are the images truthful to the journalistic integrity of story?
3. What compositional and technical aspects of the picture contribute or distract from getting the message across?
4. Do you trust your instincts?
5. Are you managing your time effectively?
6. Do you understand what reporters and editors were looking for and will these ideas
really communicate the story visually?
7. What would make the picture better?
8. If you could reshoot the picture what would you have done differently?
In photojournalism we are taught a vocabularly that is designed to make the
communication between the image and the audience authetntic and universally understood.
We use several frames of reference to communicate with one another about how well an image works.
Is there a clear and dominant subject in the frame that communicate an action. Ask your what is the subject and what is the active verb if your were to explain the picture to someone without showing them. If you cannot isolate the dominant subject in the frame and tell what they are doing immediately then you probably don't have the best picture to work with.
All aspects of the image, through techique, composition and content, contribute to how well the readers understand a story. Your job is to contribute images that add and support a story.
3. Immediacy = Clarity
4. Intensity = Action, Interaction and Reaction
5. Intimacy = empathy and feeling
Tuesday, February 01, 2005
NPPA Announces "Best Practices" Recommendations
NPPA Announces "Best Practices" Recommendations
DURHAM, NC (February 1, 2005) The National Press Photographers Association today released "Best Practices for the Business of Independent Photojournalism" for freelance photojournalists and for the editors and managers who contract with them for work.
The document recommends fair and practical solutions to issues such as rights, fees, expenses, and responsibilities for all parties involved. It comprises two lists of five recommendations, along with numerous sub-points, and it is available now online on the NPPA Web site at:
Greg Smith, chairman of the NPPA Business Practices Committee, and committee members Steve Berman, Dirck Halstead, Jeff Roberts, Joseph Sorentinio, Brian Storm, and Jim Sulley worked for several months on the document and through various revisions. "Best Practices" builds on the newly revised and updated NPPA Code of Ethics to address sensible and ethical practices in business relationships.
"Best Practices" was reviewed and endorsed by the NPPA Executive Committee (the top six elected NPPA national officers) as well as several photojournalism industry leaders. The committee anticipates additional endorsements by other organizations and industry leaders now that "Best Practices" is publicly released.
For more information please contact Business Practices Committee chairman Greg Smith at email@example.com or NPPA president Bob Gould at firstname.lastname@example.org.
2005 The National Press Photographers Association, Inc.
Sunday, January 30, 2005
Defining Documentary Work
I really look forward to the spring semester at San Jose State because we have established a tradition of inviting some terrific guests into the classroom. This semester is no exception. All presentations with the exception of Robert Scoble will begin promptly at 10:30 in room J209b unless otherwise noted. Michelle Vignes' presentation has been moved to the University Club. Seated is limited.
February 8, 2005
San Jose Mercury News
February 9, 2005
February 10, 2005
Robert Scoble (Blogging)
255/257 King Library 2:30 - 4:00
February 15, 2005
San Jose Mercury News
February 16, 2005
San Jose Mercury News
February 23, 2005
Anne Marie McReynolds
San Jose Mercury News
February 28, 2005
** Note this presentation will be held at the University Club at the intersection of 8th and San Salvador street.**
Very affordable lunches can be purchased after the presentation at the Club.
March 3, 2005
San Jose Mercury News
March 7, 2005
Dr. Robert Gliner
Sociologist and Documentary Film Maker
San Jose State University
In our advanced visual journalism class we explore documentary styles. Documentary work has a rich and fascinating history in visual journalism, but defining it can be a bit problematic.
“I can’t tell you what it is, but I know it when I see it.” Robert Coles
John Corner offers a typology of defining documentary through a historic perspective as either a work designed to promote an ideal (such as citizen), a mode of fact-based journalistic inquiry, or an exposition that provides an interrogative and alternative view.
(See Corner's essay Documentary in a Post-Documentary Culture? A Note on Forms and their Functions.
In contemporary television, Corner throws in a fourth typology:
Diversionary, which is exemplified by “reality” voyeuristic vérité like BIG BROTHER and SURVIVOR shows this form of exposition blurs the boundaries between fiction and fact.
Whatever definition we attempt to provide there are some basic characteristics of the documentary that we must be aware of.
• Seeks to record, provide evidence, inform, explain, and in a more modern context even entertain through non-fiction.
"What I mean by the word documentary is, I believe, a certain definite approach to the realities of the world we live in. This must not be understood as mere recordmaking, but as a problem of clarifying and creating a new art form with the camera." -- Paul Strand
Ken Light argues that the documentary form:
• Takes us close
• Lets us see
• Observes the human condition
• Helps us to look into the eyes of the human spirit, industrialization and societal changes.
Documentary style, then, can be said to reveal some bit of truth about the world in our own time.
Documentary work is a non-fictional or factual account of the times in which we live. The documentary may represent the truth or the “real” as we “see” and “live” it and can be told through different media.
However, what separates the documentary from other forms of exposition is that it is a re-presentation of a truth told through a humanistic, social and often time deeply personal record of the “what is”.
The documentary tells a story.
A story is a narrative that has a purpose, moral and social.
Therefore, a documentary is a story with a social purpose.
The narrative is a fundamental condition of meaning in which a story is told.
Narratives should be relevant to our lives and may possess order and structure in the telling.
For Bruner (2004), "We seem to have no other way of describing "lived time" save in the form of a narrative. Which is not to say that there are not other temporal forms that can be imposed on the experience of time, but none of them succeeds in capturing the sense of lived time: not clock or calendrical time forms, not serial or cyclical orders, not any of these." Life as Narrative.
The visual narrative, adapted by Nelson Goodman in his understanding of “High Art”, can be best understood as having:
• An order of occurrence (The order in which events happen).
• An order of telling (The order in which events are told).
• An order of Reading (The order in when the viewer experiences the narrative).
In "The Culture of Education" Jerome Bruner argues, however, " Not every sequence of events is worth recounting. Narrative is discourse, and the prime rule of discourse is that there be a reason for it that distinguishes it from silence. "
Narrative is justified or warranted by virtue of the sequence of events it recounts being a violation of canonicity: it tells about something unexpected, or something that one’s auditor has reason to doubt. The “point” of the narrative is to resolve the unexpected, to settle the auditor’s doubt, or in some manner to redress or explicate the “imbalance” that prompted the telling of the story in the first place. A story, then, has two sides to it: a sequence of events, and an implied evaluation of the events recounted. Bruner Online.
Documentary work has a sense of order in which events occur, events are told, and which events are interpreted by the viewer.
I suggest that there are two consistent approaches to ordering the way in which storytelling occurs: chronologically and thematically.
Storytelling is a description or account of an occurrence or event that seeks to inform and explain something.
Saturday, January 29, 2005
From Kodachrome to Cameraphone
The ubiquity of the digital camera phone is celebrated this week on the cover of the "new" LIFE magazine. The illlustration features Alfred Eisenstadt iconic VJ-Day Times Square, 1945 image as a backdrop for a story titled, "The Cameraphone Revolution: How This Little Gadget Will Change Your Life."
In this clever bit of photographic manipulation by Davies + Starr, Eisenstadt's classic decisive moment showing the "kiss" to symbolize the end of WWII becomes juxtaposed against the foreshadowied presence of a cameraphone.
There is only one little problem with this image.
While Eisenstadt's photojournalism is essentially about carefully observing and composing life through the viewfinder of his camera for history, the average cam-phone user's motivation is more about visual experience as evidence. The cam-phone is the external "id", to borrow from Freudian psychology 101 for a second. From this perspective, the cam-phone user may be less concerned with reality and more driven by the immediacy and pleasure of quantifying a visual experience.
Although there is no attempt to define what is art here, it appears that the distinction between Eisenstadt's "kiss" and the typical frame made by a cam-phone is tied to the motive and ultimate purpose of the images made. Photojournalism, to some degree, is motivated by capturing history in a bigger sense of the word, beyond the superficial snapshots of personal pleasure-seeking.
The camera phone, in this context, appears to be the 21st Century equivalent of the personal diary. Instead of jotting down personal thoughts about what we experience in a journal, we now can experience the moment with our cell phone "for the record."
According to LIFE writer Robert Sullivan, "....the cell phone industry expects to sell 420 million cam-phones, a huge leap from the 260 million sold in 2004" (Cameraphone Revolution, p. 5). Sullivan goes on to quote James E. Katz, a professor of communication at Rutgers University who eloquently remarks "We're visual animals...Instantaneously sharing visual experiences brings people closer together. It makes the interaction richer" (p.6).
Sullivan concludes his article with a provocative set of questions: "What does the future hold for the cam-phone? Or more interestingly what does the cam-phone hold for the future?"
I think Sullivan does justice to the sociological implications of the device by arguing:
"Like any new technology, a cam-phone can be as smart as the person using it. When clicked at the right place at the right time, it may save a life, document history, or simply add an extra bit of surprise, humor, or warmth to someone's otherwise ordinary day."
Maybe the future really is now and we don't know it.
Source: Robert Sullivan (2005), "Cameraphone Revolution: How click-happy moms, kids, even rescue workers are using cam-phone-and changing the world." In LIFE, January 28, 2004, pp. 4-8.
Friday, January 28, 2005
Learning from Students Is Never the Daily Grind and The Omar Vega Case
Another semester has begun for the Spartan Daily newspaper at San Jose State with a new set of opportunities and challenges. The full-time photo staff is somewhat smaller (decreased from 16 to 6) students this semester. The interesting thing about the Daily is that it is not only a daily student newspaper it is also a media lab/required class for journalism students.
I have learned that it is important to create a vision for what I expect to happen for me and students over the next few months. I begin the process by making a list of things to think about and then revisit the items throughout the semester. I try to remind myself that this course is not only about teaching the skills involved in producing a newspaper but it is also about how we come to know the things we do and love. Here are some of my vision points for students this semester.
1) Keep a positive attitude about the dynamics of the group and the mission of the paper.
2) Communicate feelings professionally, effectively and honestly.
3) Maintain a professional and mature attitude at all times.
4) Develop a sense of pride and integrity in everything we do.
5) Set personal goals and work to achieve them this semester.
6) Work for a greater purpose beyond our own portfolios.
7) Look at everything we do as an opportunity to learn something new about ourselves.
8) Try not to make assumptions about people.
9) Respect process and maintain a sense of humor.
I guess the perspective to take here is that learning should be a transforming and empowering experience for everyone. As a teacher I learn from my students as they learn from me. In this way, learning is reciprocal and collaborative.
Let's Call Them Something Else Besides "Features"
An interesting observation about making so-called "feature" pictures or "enterprise" art occurred to me today. It appears, even after only the first day of the newspaper that one of the most dreaded tasks of working on the Daily seems to be simply going out to make "feature" pictures. For some reason, many students see this activity as a frustrating waste of time. Students must be coerced into hitting the streets in search of images that may or may not get published. Students sometime complain that the pictures they make either seldom get play or that they are used as space fillers. Justifiably so, in many cases because that is the way many editors have come to conceive of these pictures. If real stories fall through, it is reasoned, and then we can "just" use feature art. I think this is a bad way to do journalism for many reasons. First, it assumes that the reader will accept anything form of information in the newspaper -- soft news over hard news. Second, using "features" or soft images/stories is an easy way around the true purpose of journalism -- keeping people informed of events that are significant and relevant to their lives. Digging for significant and meaningful news of human import is hard and uncomfortable. Using pretty pictures in place of significant and informative news is easy and only serves as an apology for not having done the hard work. I am not saying that there is no room for "feature" art in the newspaper, but I am suggesting that we have become overly dependent on soft information that merely illustrates rather than edifies.
Today, when teaching the beginning visual journalism class it struck me that this issue may have more to do with perception than it does with reality. I think attitude is everything in journalism. If students are feeling like they are being forced into making pictures for the sake of filling space or simply keeping busy, then, this misses the whole point of doing journalism.
I am now making a commitment to referring to such efforts and images as "stories" rather than as "feature art." By talking about looking for stories rather than features we can move beyond the negative perception of wasting time and space. The goal is to encourage students to engage in their community and to visually put the "interest" back into "human interest" stories. In doing community journalism, I believe, every effort, every image and every word should tell a story of human interest and import. If we trivialize newsgathering to the point of just making "feel good" or "pretty" pictures than I think we do our audience and ourselves a disservice.
I expect journalists to engage in active and constructive newsgathering through words and images. Relying on photojournalists to fill space because there is little or no news to engage our readers is not doing journalism. From now on, let's call these images something beside "features." Let’s call them stand alone stories, which may be categorized as images with news value, i.e., they communicate a message about something or someone meaningfully. Let's work toward helping our readers understand the complex array of issues we are faced with each and everyday. Let's work toward restoring our community's faith in journalism as a civic duty and service rather than as a business.
Journalistic ethics and First Amendment issues are always an important focus in student media education. We follow with great interest the developing case of our colleague Omar Vega a student at San Francisco State who has been at the center of controversy for bringing to light student activities in the dorms. When does documenting events as a journalist make the individual a participant in the events? An update on Omar's case appeared in today's San Francisco Examiner Omar in the News.
Thursday, January 27, 2005
Ivan sent a few more of his images from Ecuador recently. I particularly enjoy the framing and color in this scene.
Our first assignment in the Introduction to Visual Journalism class concerns Henri Cartier-Bresson's idea of the "decisive moment."
Objective: To understand and experience the concept of the “decisive moment” in photojournalism. By the end of this assignment you should be prepared to discuss the following questions:
• What does Bresson mean by a “Decisive Moment”?
• What historical precedent was set by Cartier-Bresson’s style?
• Why is this style of photojournalism important?
• How influential has Bresson’s style become in photojournalism today?
• Are there any advantages of disadvantages with a “Decisive Moment”?
Goal: Produce images that exemplify Cartier-Bresson’s concept of the “decisive moment”
Online Readings: Cartier-Bresson’s Decisive Moment
by David Friend/The Digital Journalist. .
• By 1932, at age 24, Cartier-Bresson had begun to devise a whole new manner of shooting pictures. He displayed an intuitive knack for choosing "the decisive moment," as it came to be called, that instant when a shutter click can suspend an event within the eye and heart of the beholder, an exhilarating confluence of observer and observed. His lyrical, loose, ingeniously composed images were a revelation. Previously, most photographers had used clunky, stationary cameras. They were like Romantic poets who looked back at time, recording the melancholy of a moment's having passed. H.C.B.'s images, many plucked from the everyday whirl of his beloved Paris, had the power and poetry of Zen and particle physics--smashing the atom of the present, bottling its spark, and generating flashes of life and light.
Online Read: Decisive Moments––Henri Cartier-Bresson by Peter Marshall. There are three parts to this essay. Accessed from About.
• In a tremendous period of activity in his first years as a photographer he produced a number of pictures using a Leica that became classics of photography, and one in particular that came in many ways to stand for his whole work: a man attempting to leap a puddle in Paris, blurred in flight, caught just at the moment before the inevitable splash, the tiny gap between his leading foot and its reflection riveting our attention; as well as being mirrored in the water the leap is also repeated by the dancer in posters on the fence behind (and, less obviously by the hands of the station clock.) Here we have the text-book example of the 'decisive moment'.
"Conversations in Silence" by Philip Brookman.
Other Web Resources:
Wednesday, January 26, 2005
Looking at the Ethics of Photojournalism
The image posted here was made in January 1995 on the eve of the first anniversary of the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas, Mexico. I bring this image back as a frame of mind for wading into the mirky waters of media ethics -- as I did a few days back with my comments on an article about a student photographer who has been expelled from a college dorm after documenting what goes on there. Reflecting on my own behavior, sensibilities and ethics as a photojournalist helps me place into context the risks people take in trying to bring a truth to light.
Paul Martin Lester is a highly-regarded media ethicist and a prolific writer on visual communication theory. He is the author of a very popular college textbook "Visual Communication" as well as other books on visual journalism and ethics. Dr. Lester responded recently to my comments concerning ethics in photojournalism, especially with regard to Omar's situation at San Francisco State University.
Here are Dr. Lester's comments about the situation and in particular about my analysis: Thanks Paul for letting me post your thoughts to this weblog.
There is actually an interesting thread going on at sportsshooter.com with Omar and others (link above).
For me, there are two issues at work here (I’ll let others care about the theft and dorm expulsion issues): When is a journalist ever off duty? Imagine a cop on her day off, does she ignore a robbery in progress (of course not) or does she arrest a relative who gives an under-aged nephew a beer at a party (not so clear)? Should a doctor give a pain medication to a friend if suffering from a sudden migraine? Is a journalist on this level of professionalism? In other words, if you see something on your day off, or you obliged to report it? (I would say, yes). This is also a privacy issue. What a friend says to me in private should be respected more than what a friend shouts out in a crowded party.
A problem with reporting and the situation as described with your blog is that sources don’t get to say, “this activity is off the record” when they don’t know the fellow dorm-mate or friend is actually working as a journalist. Ross Baughman, who won a world press award (I believe) for pictures as he rode along with violent and racist Rhodesians. He argued that if he had fully disclosed his professional attachment, he wouldn’t have been able to communicate the story—they wouldn’t have let him ride along. I agree with that. It comes down to journalistic professionalism. A journalist must know when a story—a social problem—is compelling and important enough that the normal rules of social engagement do not apply. I think teenage, binge drinking and the activities that come from it pass that test.
One other point (at the risk of creating too long of an email). The “Potter’s Box” is largely discredited by philosophers and practical ethicists as being much too simplistic. My media ethics students work all semester learning how to use an expanded “systematic moral analysis” procedure that works more effectively for case studies:
1. What are the three most significant facts of the case? What facts would you feature in a headline or first paragraph? Explain why these specific facts are the most important.
2. What are three facts you would like to know about the case? What is missing from the case that you think would help explain the actions of those involved? If working with an actual case, use library and Web resources to try to discover the answers to these questions.
3. What is the ethical dilemma related to the case? For example, does the case involve promise keeping, a conflict of interest, cheating, privacy issues, economic influences, and so on? Name the dilemma and briefly explain why you think it to be of relevance to the case.
4. Who are the moral agents and/or stakeholders and what are their specific job or role-related activities? A moral agent is anyone who can be held responsible for his or her actions. A stakeholder is anyone affected by the decision in a case. Try to be as specific as possible when listing their job or role-related activities.
5. What are the values of the moral agents and/or stakeholders? Values are general concepts (truthfulness, fairness, diversity, and so on) that correspond with the job or role-related activities of those involved. With almost all ethical dilemmas, there are conflicts between the values deemed most important by those involved.
6. What are the loyalties of the moral agents and/or stakeholders? Loyalties are alliances based on promises to oneself or to others that come from reasonable expectations of job or role-related activities. Someone involved with a case might have loyalties to him or herself, to family members, to sources or clients, to an organization, or to a profession. As with values, conflicting loyalties between those involved are often at the root of ethical dilemmas.
7. What moral philosophies can you apply and why? Consider the six moral philosophies of categorical imperative, utilitarianism, hedonism, golden mean, golden rule, and veil of ignorance (see http://commfaculty.fullerton.edu/lester/courses/ethicalphils.html for details). Depending on the case and the actions of those involved, one or two moral philosophies might be more salient than others, nevertheless, consider all six in the analysis. And as with values and loyalties, identifying conflicts between moral philosophies by those involved are often important when considering a case.
8. What creative and/or credible alternatives could resolve the issue? Think of at least four different choices those involved with the case might consider. Two of your alternatives could be creative and far-fetched while the other two should be more realistic.
9. What would you do? Pretend that you are one of the moral agents and/or stakeholders involved with the case. What action should you take and why?
10. Bibliography. Always cite your sources of information in an appropriate and complete manner.