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Today's word on journalism

Monday, April 24, 2006

Dueling masters on words:

"He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary."

--William Faulkner, writer (1897-1962), on Ernest Hemingway, writer (1899-1961)

"Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?"

--Ernest Hemingway, writer (1899-1961), on William Faulkner, writer (1897-1962)

From film to pixels: Digital cameras lead a photographic revolution

By Mikaylie Kartchner

March 7, 2006 | Pretty much everyone and their cellphone has a digital camera.

Digital photography is a moving revolution, making picture taking a simpler, quicker process, especially for journalists. Inside the newsroom and out on the scene, photojournalists are making the transition to the digital technology age. They are moving out of the darkrooms and sitting comfortably in front of their PCs, and, for the most part, it's a move they are happy to make.

"I am in love with digital photography," said Jeanne Hopper, yearbook advisor at Davis High School. "It's one of the best things that has ever happened to journalism."

Hopper has been teaching journalism for many years, the last seven being at Davis High School in Kaysville. Her staff switched over to all digital imaging in 2005, a decision that has made publishing a yearbook a much easier process.

"We now spend much more time creating files and modifying photos. We know immediately what the pages look like. [With digital] we have a lot more photos to choose from and get a better quality because we can see immediately what we have and know whether we need to do it again."

Rod Boam, a photojournalism instructor at Utah State University, used to be "a real believer in film" until a couple of years ago. He said digital just makes the process a lot faster, and you'd be hard pressed to find a newsroom with a darkroom anymore. The physical process with film just takes too long.

The Herald Journal converted to all digital about five years ago, a move that cost the paper around $30,000 that year, an increase over the usual $24,000 per year spent on film and developing chemicals. But according to Eli Lucero, a member of the photography editoral staff, it was well worth it. He said the initial cost of digital was easily made up in the first year, and has since saved them a lot of money, not to mention time.

Lucero said the timeliness of their coverage has improved since the switch, especially with their coverage of USU athletics.

"We used to have to leave a game at half time to meet our deadline," he said. This was because it took 15 to 20 minutes just to develop the film, not including making enlargements to print. "With digital we can edit on site and have six or seven pictures at the paper before halftime."

Some of the other advantages of digital photography include the amount of training it takes to become a digital photographer. Both Boam and Hopper said they noticed their students having an easier time with digital photography point-and-shoot cameras. They said they have stopped teaching about F-stops, shutter speeds and ISOs, and the students are still bringing back great pictures.

"Most students can pick up a digital camera and take photos with no extra training at all," Hopper said. "Everyone's a photographer. Digital photography is a lot more fun. It takes all the suspense and stress out of it."

Boam also said some of his students are able to get better pictures because often no one recognizes them as a photographer. He said because photographers don't need to carry big bags of equiptment around to get a great shot. With a little point-and-shoot digital camera, they can get into tighter places and get some great pictures they couldn't have taken otherwise.

Digital photography isn't all positivly charged. Like almost any new technology, it has caused some problems for photographers and for journalists.

Probably one of the biggest issues has to do with the ability of photographers to manipulate photos. With the break from film, photographers are now practically required to be computer savvy, a skill which can get them into trouble if not kept in check.

Time Magazine had as issue with this in 1994 when they ran a manipulated photo on their cover. The photo was OJ Simpson's mug shot from the Los Angeles Police Department. It had been manipulated to make Simpson look much darker and more menacing. Newsweek ran the same photo on their cover without manipulation. (For a side-by-side comparison of the covers click here.)

Photo manipulation is a problem for journalists because the news is supposed to be an accurate picture of actual events. Manipulation means photos can lie, a problem not as easily achieved with film, and when their photographs lie, journalists lose their crediblity.

"It takes a good system within a newspaper to keep photographers honest," Boam said.

Lucero agreed, saying the Herald Journal hasn't had many of these types of ethical problems because of their strict ethical standard. Lucero said he doesn't have many concerns with newspaper coverage, but with other types of photography he has to raise an eyebrow.

"It makes me nervous," he said. "I can see something hanging on the wall and I'm not sure if it's real or not."

Boam and Hopper both talk with their students about these kinds of ethical issues and the effect it can have on a journalism career. They said the studnets seem to understand the dangers.

"Knowing that one lawsuit would irreparably damage the whole thing makes students conform to very strict guidelines in photography and copy," Hopper said.

Even though the practice of photo manipulation is common in other photography related fields, in journalism Hopper, Boam and Lucero all agree it's a big no-no. Lucero said The Herald Journal doesn't practice any type of photo manipulation other than cropping and color correction. Hopper said her staff has only manipulated one photo, a senior portrait, and it was done with permission of the student.

Another problem with digital photography is quality. Lucero said for the most part, digital works just as well as film but the picture quality is just not the same no matter what you do, especially if a photo needs to be enlarged to a size bigger than 8-by-10 inches.

"A good camera is still not as fine as a grain of silver," Lucero said.


Copyright 1997-2005 Utah State University Department of Journalism & Communication, Logan UT 84322, (435) 797-1000
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