Thinking pictures

When I worked as a reporter on my first daily paper, one of the phrases that echoed in my ears was “Will they play ball for pictures?”

It was one of the many mantras of the news editor – but it’s one I hear less often now.

I’m surprised at the number of conversations I have with reporters about the need to think pictures, about the crucial role of photos in bringing splashes to life, and about that question being part of the checklist for each story.

Perhaps the increased use of freelances means there are fewer photographers hanging around in newspaper offices to keep reporters focused on the importance of pictures.

But I think there are also lessons that we need to help younger reporters learn about the equal importance of keeping up a constant supply of photos, and their role in forging relations with communities.

The other side of this coin is reporters taking pictures themselves.

This has always happened, but the increasing urgency of the web, and the availability of decent phones, has given the trend new impetus.

And this is where it gets interesting.

I’ve always had a sneaking admiration for the slightly brazen confidence of photographers in pitching up at the scenes of crimes, accidents or other incidents and snapping away.

I spoke to a reporter the other day who had passed an incident in which a cyclist had been injured.

He rang the newsdesk with enough information for a story, but couldn’t bring himself to take pictures because he felt intrusive.

That was partly to do with the circumstances.

There was no way of picturing the incident without showing an injured person being treated.

For one thing, the regulator IPSO takes a very dim view of this.

And rightly so. There are pictures which should never be taken, whether by professionals with big lenses or the rest of us with our smartphones.

But I’m fascinated by what might be some counter-intuitive stuff at play here.

I was at a university journalism department recently where a technician was talking about the usefulness of phones in enabling news pictures to be taken unobtrusively.

But I think a photographer wearing that trade mark beige sleeveless gilet and wielding an outsize lens might actually be more tolerated at an emergency scene than someone snapping away, allegedly ghoul-like on their phone.

That great big lens offers a bit of protection, a bit of distance, perhaps.

For all that there are now fewer staff photographers around, I am still regularly impressed by the standard of the pictures I see on our websites and in our print products.

And photographers have always had the ultimate trump card.

The power of their best work means that when the very biggest stories happen, when planes crash into the Twin Towers or when Nelson Mandela dies, the words don’t get a look in.

It’s the picture that is the story, telling those 1,000 words, every time.


One thought on “Thinking pictures

  1. Great blog, Paul.

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