Category Archives: Photojournalism

News comes from far away. . .

By Christopher B. Daly

Do we get too much information about distant conflicts, or too little?

The New York Times offers two very different answers.

One comes from Anjan Sundaram, a former stringer for The Associated Press in Congo. So, he should know. He laments the withdrawal of American correspondents from many countries, the shuttering of overseas bureaus, and a general decline in the coverage of wars, violence, and the politics of many nations.

News organizations need to work more closely with stringers. Make no mistake: Life as a stringer, even for those eager to report from abroad, is daunting. It’s dangerous, the pay is low and there is little support. For years after I left Congo, my position with The A.P. remained — as it is now — vacant. The news from Congo suffers as a result, as does our understanding of that country, and ultimately ourselves.

The other view comes from my Boston University colleague David Carr, the Times‘ media columnist. In his Media Equation piece today, Carr describes the sensation of information-overload that he has been experiencing lately as social media bring him a flood of data about a rocket war in Gaza, plane crashes, and the other disasters.

Geopolitics and the ubiquity of social media have made the world a smaller, seemingly gorier place. If Vietnam brought war into the living room, the last few weeks have put it at our fingertips. On our phones, news alerts full of body counts bubble into our inbox, Facebook feeds are populated by appeals for help or action on behalf of victims, while Twitter boils with up-to-the-second reporting, some by professionals and some by citizens, from scenes of disaster and chaos.

In my view, they are both right, at least to a degree. Sundaram is correct that many U.S. news organizations have retreated (usually for economic reasons) from their commitment to covering international news. In particular, they have lost the budgets to pay for keeping full-time staffers in locations around the world that are not boiling over. I’m talking here about trained journalists who have the time to become multi-lingual, to learn about other cultures and societies, to develop good sources, and to roam about developing a good first-hand sense of the place they are covering. These are the kind of people you want to be able to in a crisis, to explain a self-immolation in Tibet, or a riot in Indonesia, or a drug war in Central America. And, yes, there are too few of those.

But that’s not the same issue David Carr was identifying. He is describing the flood of images, information, and opinions that come streaming at Americans from the hotspot of the week. And yes, he’s right about. In a country or region that America is paying attention to, the flow of news is usually pretty abundant. That doesn’t mean that it’s always very useful, only that there is a lot of it.

This general problem was identified almost a century ago by Walter Lippmann — journalist, author, and media theorist — in his landmark book about journalism, propaganda, and politics, Public Opinion.

News comes from a distance; it comes helter-skelter, in inconceivable imgresconfusion; it deals with matters that are not easily understood; it arrives and is assimilated by busy and tired people who must take what is given to them.

That is, for passive news consumers, the picture of the rest of the world is fragmentary, random, and often blurred or blacked out. I dare say that I am not the only avid consumer of U.S. news reporting who could not tell you a single meaningful thing about Indonesia (the fourth most populous country on Earth and the largest Muslim-majority nation). I don’t know anything about it, because no U.S. news organization has a single full-time correspondent there. I cannot say I am bombarded by social media (or any other kind) about Indonesia. But if something should happen there that draws the attention of the United States, we can be sure the firehose will be turned on, and we will start to absorb a torrent of images, facts, and opinions. Until our attention shifts.

Thurber-Lippmann screenshot

by James Thurber

 

 

 

 

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Tyler Hicks — a grim day in Gaza

By Christopher B. Daly

The remarkable Tyler Hicks seems to have a knack for being present where things happen. Hicks, the NYTimes photojournalist who won a Pulitzer Prize for breaking news this year for his 2013 photos of a mass shooting at a mall in Kenya, just happened to be nearby Wednesday when news broke again. He was staying at a seaside hotel in Gaza when an Israeli rocket struck the beach, killing four young cousins.

In an unusual move, the Times posted a first-person piece by Hicks, in which he described his work. Here’s an excerpt:

I had returned to my small seaside hotel around 4 p.m. to file photos to New York when I heard a loud explosion. My driver and I rushed to the window to see what had happened. A small shack atop a sea wall at the fishing port had been struck by an Israeli bomb or missile and was burning. A young boy emerged from the smoke, running toward the adjacent beach.

I grabbed my cameras and was putting on body armor and a helmet when, about 30 seconds after the first blast, there was another. The boy I had seen running was now dead, lying motionless in the sand, along with three other boys who had been playing there.

By the time I reached the beach, I was winded from running with my heavy armor. I paused; it was too risky to go onto the exposed sand. Imagine what my silhouette, captured by an Israeli drone, might look like as a grainy image on a laptop somewhere in Israel: wearing body armor and a helmet, carrying cameras that could be mistaken for weapons. If children are being killed, what is there to protect me, or anyone else?

I watched as a group of people ran to the children’s aid. I joined them, running with the feeling that I would find safety in numbers, though I understood that feeling could be deceptive: Crowds can make things worse. We arrived at the scene to find lifeless, mangled bodies. The boys were beyond help. They had been killed instantly, and the people who had rushed to them were shocked and distraught.

Here’s the photo the Times posted:

The Times' caption: The aftermath of an airstrike on a beach in Gaza City on Wednesday. Four young Palestinian boys, all cousins, were killed. Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

The Times’ caption:
The aftermath of an airstrike on a beach in Gaza City on Wednesday. Four young Palestinian boys, all cousins, were killed. Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

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D-day media roundup

By Christopher B. Daly

On this historic occasion, here’s an array of historic media images from D-Day and the following couple of momentous days as the Allies fought their way off the beaches and began the horrible “hedgerow campaign.”

–Robert Capa’s iconic photos for LIFE magazine can be seen at this memorial page maintained by Magnum (the photo agency Capa helped to found.) These are the highest quality I have found yet.

D-Day invasion photo by Robert Capa

D-Day invasion photo by Robert Capa

–Recently discovered are these rare color moving images made by Hollywood film director George Stevens while he was volunteering to aid the war effort. (Thanks to The Telegraph (U.K.), via HNN.) Stevens directed “Shane” and “The Diary of Anne Frank,” among many others, including “Gunga Din” with Cary Grant and “Woman of the Year” with Hepburn and Tracy.

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–Here is an image of the NYTimes special “extra edition” on June 6, 1944, with a “time stamp” of 6 a.m..

NYT D-Day Extra

 

Here is the front page from the following day:

D-Day plus 1

D-Day plus 1

–Here is the Times‘ own version of the June 6 paper.

–Here is a gallery on Google’s new “Cultural Institute,” where I compiled more images from the U.S. National Archives. (This is my first use of this feature. What do you think?) This gallery includes some great images of Higgins boats, which carried the day on June 6, when many of the heavier tank-landing craft (LSTs) got bogged down. Amazing fact: most of the Higgins boats were made of plywood, not steel.

–One more, from the Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division:

Americans in Times Square learn the news about D-Day

Americans in Times Square learn the news about D-Day

 

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Jacob Riis showed “How the Other Half Lives”

By Christopher B. Daly 

A hat-tip to journalist and educator Ted Gup for a terrific story about his discovery of a classic work of journalism history — the copy of How the Other Half Lives that was owned and annotated by the author himself, Jacob Riis. As I described him in my book, Covering America, Riis (pronounced rees) was a Danish immigrant to New York City who was shocked and outraged by the conditions he found in the city’s many tenements in the late 19th century. Picking up his notebook and a camera (equipped with a then-new technology — the portable flash), he explored the warrens of tiny, windowless rooms where New York’s newest and most miserable found cheap housing. In buildings lacking heat, ventilation and plumbing, the masses huddled while the wealthy were building ever grander pleasure domes uptown on Fifth Avenue and the rest of the Upper East Side. His work also provided a template for the journalists of the classic “muckraking” movement in the first decade of the 20th Century. 

An important thing to know about Riis’ expose, published in 1890, is that it had an impact. His photos and writing contributed to a political demand for improvements in New York City housing codes, which resulted in concrete improvements in the tenements. The city adopted new building codes that required more light, less crowding and, eventually, heat and plumbing.

In his piece in today’s Times, Gup — an investigative journalist himself who now chairs the Journalism Dept at crosstown Emerson College — describes how he stumbled upon a first edition of How the Other Half Lives that contains Riis’ own handwritten comments and marginalia. He also rightly commends Riis as a “multimedia” journalist for his combining of text and photos (and his use of a flash to light up those dark inner rooms of the tenements).

As many have observed (including the city’s new mayor, Bill DeBlasio), Riis is as relevant as ever, now that New York City is living through another Gilded Age in which wealth is as unevenly distributed as it was in the days of Rockefeller, Morgan, and Hearst.

"The Italian Rag-picker," by Jacob Riis, from his book, How the Other Half Lives.  Photo from Museum of the City of New York.

“The Italian Rag-picker,” by Jacob Riis, from his book, How the Other Half Lives.
Photo from Museum of the City of New York.

 

 

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Million+ historic photos put online

By Christopher B. Daly 

Don’t miss: if you are a historian, researcher, or dedicated browser, visit the new flickr site of The British Library. The library recently made news by posting more than 1 million historic images — all digitized, all in the public domain, and all available for use now. Plus, there’s metadata for each one. The site is not as easy to navigate (it’s actually a bit overwhelming) as the U.S. Library of Congress site for the Prints & Photographs Division, but I’m hardly complaining.

It’s also based on flickr, so you need to have an account to take full advantage. (I tried to re-activate my old Yahoo account — Yahoo bought flickr a few years ago — but it was so cumbersome and annoying that I gave up, for now. I got these images by dragging them in from news sites.)

British Library Flickr

 

blflickr5_0

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White House photogs demand access

And they should get it (much as I would like to side with B.U. alum Pete Souza, the official White House photographer).

Here’s a version.

sub-photographers-1-articleInline

 

photographers-2-articleInline

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New AP book of Vietnam War photos

By Christopher B. Daly

Thanks to The Associated Press, there’s a new book of news photographs from the American war in Vietnam that will remind us of all the chaos, confusion, heroism, beauty, and tragedy of those years — as seen through the eyes of AP photographers and correspondents.

From today’s preview in the NYTimes:

Now, amid a flurry of anniversary commemorations of that tumultuous era and a surge of interest in war photography, The A.P. has, for the first time, culled its estimated 25,000 Vietnam photographs and reprinted some 250 in a book, “Vietnam: The Real War,” with an introduction by Pete Hamill, to be published by Abrams on Oct. 1.

Chuck Zoeller, the agency’s manager of special projects, said the dozens of rarely seen photographs in this collection include color plates of United States prisoners of war in a Hanoi prison in 1972 and historical images from the French colonial period. There is a photo of President John F. Kennedy in Florida, reviewing a commando unit back from action as early as 1962. And there are troubling scenes: Vietcong prisoners being kicked and subjected to water torture by South Vietnamese troops. A Vietnamese family of four, dead on a blanket, killed in a stampede as panicked refugees fled the advancing North Vietnamese in 1975.

Several of the most powerful photos from the era appear in my 2012 book, Covering America, because they not only documented the news but in several cases they also made news. They were that powerful. I am thinking of Mal Browne’s photo of a Buddhist monk burning himself to death in 1963 or the photo of the “napalm girl” in 1972 by Nick Ut. 

Here’s another heart-breaking photo from the new compilation, taken by the AP’s photo editor in Vietnam, Horst Faas (who died last year, as did Browne):

A Vietnamese farmer holds the body of his dead child while a group of South Vietnamese soldiers looks on.  Photo: Horst Faas.

A Vietnamese farmer holds the body of his dead child while a group of South Vietnamese soldiers looks on.
Photo: Horst Faas.

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Review of “Covering America” in Journalism History

I am posting this review of my book in the scholarly journal Journalism History here, because the journal charges a lot for access.

Journalism History 

Vol 13 (4), Winter 2013, p254-255

CA cover final 2Daly, Christopher B.

Covering America: A Narrative History of a Nation’s Journalism.

Amherst and Boston: UMass Press, 2012. 535 pp. $49.95.

           

Many a teacher of journalism history has heard students complain about how dull or inaccessible they find any one of several available media history textbooks. And many a journalism instructor has agreed with his or her students’ complaints about de-contextualized dates and names of publishers and their historically significant newspapers strung through those tomes. Covering America: A Narrative History of a Nation’s Journalism addresses these complaints. In Covering America, Christopher Daly has wrapped the story of American journalism from the colonial period through the digital age into a carefully researched, beautifully written, and memorable account of how news reporting mostly has grown as well as improved during the span of three centuries as innovators have exploited new technologies, constitutional protections, government subsidies, cultural trends, and business formulae to maintain their financial independence and journalistic standards while serving their readers and audiences ever more efficiently.

            Daly, an associate professor of journalism at Boston University with twenty years of experience covering New England for the Washington Post and writing for the Associated Press, concentrates in Covering America on newspaper, television, and digital news with only occasional references to early twentieth-century magazines and rare mentions of public relations and advertising. His focus is the changing and expanding definition of news over time. Daly admits that in Covering America, unlike Frank Luther Mott’s or Edwin Emery’s geographically broader approaches to journalism history, he emphasizes journalism originating in New York— although Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Chicago receive some attention when media in these cities contribute to the overall narrative. This exclusion of examples of western and southern journalism, however, contributes in two ways to the success of Covering America. It greatly reduces the clutter and detail that overwhelms so many students, and it allows Daly to hold the social, political, economic, and technological context constant as he explains the challenges and opportunities printers, for example, faced at roughly the same time and place. Rather than grasping at data, the reader finds the overall historical patterns of journalism more apparent and memorable.

            In describing his history as narrative, Daly accurately describes his method of organizing this book, which is apparent from the opening paragraph of his introduction through his final chapter on “Going Digital.” Covering America, not unlike other journalism history texts, begins with Benjamin Franklin, but does so with a narrative lead one might expect from a short story or magazine feature:

             On an early spring night in 1722, a young man hurried along the narrow streets of Boston, trying not to be seen. He was not a spy or a thief. He only wanted to be a writer. Just sixteen years old, Ben Franklin was hoping to get his writing published for the first time, and he had chosen a risky, roundabout route to do so.

 Daly then notes that young Franklin was “skulking” around the shop of the New England Courant, owned by his brother James, in order to slip a manuscript under the door for his older brother to discover and, he hoped, to print. In this description of Franklin’s actions, Daly finds several defining characteristics of American journalism still at work today: printing was a private business, journalism was open to the young with raw talent, and the pleasure of publication drives journalists into the field.

            In the first chapter on the “Foundations of the American Press, 1704-1763,” after explaining the organization of the print shop, its products, and its method of production, Daly returns to Franklin as an example of printers during this period of six decades before the American Revolution, devoting eleven of the chapter’s twenty pages to detailing his biography, readings, head for business, popular writings, and principles of journalism in his “Apology for Printers.” Within this chapter, Daly also describes the John Peter Zenger trial and acquittal for seditious libel, noting that Franklin helped Zenger obtain his attorney. Franklin receives briefer mentions in several more chapters, reminding readers the interconnections always present as journalism is transformed over time. This pattern of focusing on one or two individuals as representative of journalists from particular periods is a device of narrative compression that Daly uses in each of the chapters in Covering America. As Daly develops an overarching narrative to describe 300 years in the development of American journalism, he inserts short narratives of innovative journalists and publishers who exemplify traits of the period being described. This is how readers receive substantial information about Benjamin Day, James Gordon Bennett, William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, Thomas Paine, Horace Greeley, Joseph Pulitzer, Ida B. Wells, William Randolph Hearst, Adolph Ochs, Henry Luce, Harold Ross, David Sarnoff, William Paley, Walter Winchell, Walter Lippmann, Dorothy Thompson, Edward R. Murrow, Ernie Pyle, John Hersey, A.J. Leibling, David Halberstam, Truman Capote, Gloria Steinem, Katherine Graham, Ted Turner, Al Neuharth, and other journalistic innovators who so comfortably populate Daly’s story of the news.

             Covering America would vastly improve the student experience of an often unappreciated journalism history course, particularly at the undergraduate and master’s levels. Journalism students will leave a class after reading Daly’s book with a clear understanding of the methods and values of the field they will soon enter. They will also gain some confidence that journalism will continue even if paper and ink disappear.

 Joseph Bernt, Ohio University

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Let cameras into court

By Christopher B. Daly 

As I recently argued, we the people deserve to have cameras in all our courtrooms (except maybe juvenile court) and our legislative bodies.

The latest case in point: the appearance in U.S. District Court in Boston yesterday by Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing case. Radiating out from downtown Boston, millions of people have a keen interest in this case, and they all have a right to see this defendant. We have a right to hear him say “Not guilty.” We have a right to observe the performance of the government parties — the prosecutors, the judge, the guards, etc. We have the right to watch our government.

Instead, what we get is a chalk sketch like this one:

Suspected terrorist Margaret Small/AP

Suspected terrorist
Margaret Small/AP

We can do better, and we the people deserve better. 

If anybody knows of a good argument for continuing to ban cameras from federal courts, please leave a comment.

 

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NYTimes videos revisit recent past

By Christopher B. Daly 

Without much fanfare, the New York Times has been engaging in an interesting experiment that revisiting old news stories to address the ageless qusetion: “Oh, yeah . . . whatever happened to that?”

Rev. Al, back in the day.

Rev. Al, back in the day.

The service is a partnership between the Times video section and a private non-profit called “RetroReport.” (It’s not that easy to find on the Times site, but here is the link to the page that lists all seven such reports done to date.) According to the partner’s website, RetroReport’s mission is to produce video follow-ups to big stories from a decade or more ago that dropped off the radar of the news business. Recent examples include revisiting the Tawana Brawley case, the Biosphere 2 experiment, and the Y2K hubbub. The folks at RetroReport seem to be a mix of young documentarians and some heavy-hitting alumni of top-shelf operations like 60 Minutes, the Ken Burns films, and PBS.

This is a potentially great idea that brings the Times into the realm of creating the second draft of history as well as the first. In a sense, the Times has entered the field

Biosphere 2. Remember?

Biosphere 2. Remember?

of historical revisionism, giving its audience the chance to re-evaluate stories that once seemed to have one point or significance only to find that new evidence or new concerns have cast the recent past in a different light.

One theme that emerges from these early versions: a lot of stories are wrong the first time around.

Another theme: Despite the predictions, the sky rarely falls.

History keeps happening.

 

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