13 Signs Your Politics Might be Seeping into Your Journalistic Storytelling

I was almost a social psychology major at Northwestern. It fascinated me, our behavior as social animals. The Bystander Effect and the Milgram Experiment were the kinds of topics that I still think about, years later. What most struck me was cognitive dissonance and groupthink, when we become unaware of the subconscious decisions we take in an attempt to achieve a cohesive narrative about ourselves and others. These two together are particularly troublesome in a newsroom environment. Once a narrative takes hold, others from a newsroom are less likely to challenge the “conventional understanding” – especially if it’s approved by an experienced journalist or editor.  At some point, the prevailing belief becomes an assumption that informs and shapes future narratives.

I read the news too and probably am not the only person to see that my opinions, ideas and beliefs are sometimes summarily dismissed or completely misunderstood. It’s what happens when your worldview is not part of the groupthink narrative. But hey, we’re all human.

So my 13 signs of encroaching politics within the work of journalists are in part based on my observations as a reader. With the lead-up to this week’s Election Day, I thought to have some fun with my very good-natured editorial colleagues:

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7 Ways Experience Makes You a Better Photographer

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All images ©2014 Alex Garcia

It was déjá vu all over again, as Yogi Berra once said. I was roaming the campus of my alma mater recently, taking pictures for Northwestern University. Some 25 years ago this very year, I was doing exactly the same thing as the yearbook and newspaper photo editor. It was a trip down memory lane, and I was tickled at the opportunity, which I explored more than once.

What was instructive was just how much more productive I was this time around. As a student, I remember spending waaay too much time trying to find photographs, carrying my camera in desperate hopes of populating the yearbook with beautiful images of campus. It was crazy. The publisher once found me curled up under a table, sleeping in the office after struggling to make deadlines.

10,000 hours of photography later (at least) I was amazed how much easier it was. I was seeing moments left and right – even pictures I could have made 25 years ago but didn’t. My productivity, as measured in volume and creativity, was maybe 10 times that of my days as a student. I shake my head at the reality of the time spent away from my studies and friends.

What did I realize that my experience brought…?

• Improved cost-benefit analysis – I knew not to waste my time with pictures that wouldn’t yield the most impact. With experience, you have a sense of the best picture that can be achieved by chasing down a bunny trail, and the cost of doing so. There’s only so much quality light you have to work with, and only so much time to wait for a situation to ripen into a fruitful photograph. You know when tremendous patience is warranted, and when tremendous impatience is warranted.

• Accumulated visual memory – Partly what your cost-benefit analysis is based on is your memory of your pictures in similar situations, but also your memory of pictures taken by others. If there are some factors coming into play that you recognize as being rare and unusual, you’re quicker to jump on them to come closer to images that you have been inspired by or found before. With more visual memory, comes more visual inspiration and more excitement to share.

• Techniques – If you want to read about how to get blood from a turnip, read my post about How to Make a Boring Situation Interesting. I toggle through the various options in my mind to make the most in front of me. The more you practice them, the faster you get.

• Problem-solving – If you’re the kind of person who gives up easily, gets flustered, or has a propensity for powerlessness, I can’t imagine you’ll do well in photography. Photography is all about problem-solving, with all the technical, logistical and interpersonal barriers that throw themselves your way. Even if you text someone desperately with more experience, “HOW SHOULD I SOLVE THIS?” they won’t be able to tell you. You have to find ways to deal with issues that are consistent with your own make-up and resources, which no one can tell you how to do.

• Previsualization – Previsualization isn’t just a one-and-done thing that happens before a shoot. It also happens during your shoot, where you are spotting changing circumstances and previsualizing (with cost-analysis and accumulated memory) where the next best shot will be. Generally, the more you practice this, the better you get. Otherwise, you can end up chasing your tail, missing moments that could have happened because you weren’t prepared for them when they sailed by you.

• Mistake avoidance – When you drive down a road many times, you know where the potholes are, where the kids randomly cross the street, where the red light cameras are and where the birds love to dive-bomb cars.  It’s the same as a photographer. With painful mistakes comes mistake avoidance. You know what catastrophic issues can arise, and you prepare for them – humbled by experience. It sometimes takes the pain of a mistake you’ve outlived to avoid repeating.

• Maturity – One of the things I’ve observed is that you get better access to situations when people trust you and learn to let you do your thing. Generally, people watch you and the decisions you make, and make judgments about your ability and skills. They watch how you cope with disappointment and with exertions of power that come to your expense. It’s just the way it is. With more experience comes more maturity (well, ideally) and people respond to that. You’re worth their time and investment, and doors can open with that trust.

All this is why why many professional photographers are counseled not to charge per hour, but per a creative fee. Your efficiency and productivity can’t be measured by time. It’s measured by your creative output, which significantly increases with experience. How can you compare hourly rates among photographers of vastly different experience and talent?

All the experience that photographers gather through their work is incremental, such that you may not even realize it.

Yet it’s very real, and translates into substantial value for those who invest in it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Upcoming Talk at the Michigan Avenue Apple Store

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I’m delighted to say that APA Chicago has asked me to speak as part of their regular photographer talks at the Apple Store. I’ll be talking about visual storytelling, both in an editorial and a commercial context, and what that means for photographers looking to connect with their audiences. I’ll be there for two hours on Monday, Oct. 20th from 7-9pm. For more details, please go to the APA Chicago website. Please mark it on your calendars!

Enjoying Redmoon and the Fire Festival

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(All images ©Alex Garcia and protected by the Incredible Hulk)

 

For me, the Redmoon Theater is like hot sauce. Everday life is better with it. I’ve always felt that way, even before being asked to be part of their official photo team this year. Their what’s-going-to-happen-next creativity and in-every-neighborhood orientation gives such flavor to the civic life of Chicago.  My designated spot was the lower Michigan Avenue bridge, shooting eastward down Chicago River towards the lake. There was such a build-up to the houses being consumed by fire that I could understand that many people were disappointed by the lack of a cathartic burn. At a live event, sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. It’s unpredictable. It keeps you on your seat, better than live television. Yet to me, the ultimate joy of such an event is just being among other Chicagoans from all over the city, feeling connected across divisions that keep people apart.  It’s why my favorite part of the show, a part that many missed because they left too soon, was seeing faces of Chicagoans floating down the river. All of the faces were of people who had surmounted obstacles in their lives, and all were connected to an event that aimed to celebrate a city that has and will overcome obstacles as well.

 

We’re All Media Companies Now

If you’re paying attention to the industry, you’ll notice something very interesting. Media companies are behaving a lot like photographers.

They’re expanding beyond their core business to leverage existing talents and skill-sets.

They’re giving workshops, entering the event industry and selling ebooks. They’re soliciting marketing clients with their finessed communication abilities.

They’re slashing overhead, aligning with existing video companies or expanding their own video production abilities.

They’re outsourcing production (in photographers’ cases, post-production) to other businesses in order to focus on their core business.

They’re aligning with competitors to reduce expenses of printing newspapers, in the same way that photojournalists are collectivizing to share overhead expenses.

What next, weddings?

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Buy This E-book So It’ll Get…Published?

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I’m including sample spreads from my 140 page e-book “Depth of Field:  Tips on Photojournalism and Creativity.” The e-book gathers together some of my favorite pictures and “Tuesday Tips” posts, edited and in some cases re-written for those looking for photography advice and a little inspiration.

If you buy this e-book, I’d be immensely grateful. Not because I would make any money from the sale, because I wouldn’t. All the content belongs to the Chicago Tribune in a trade-off that involved little things called salary and healthcare. It’s not about the money.

What you would be doing is ensuring it’s production as a hard copy book next year. From what I’ve been told, sales of e-book determines whether or not the e-book becomes a hard copy.

So yes, it’s technically been published. But not in print, the traditional way.

After four years of writing and blogging at the Chicago Tribune under the title of Assignment Chicago, a hard copy book would be an ideal way to codify a lot of time, sweat and hard work. After all that, wouldn’t you want to touch, carry and ultimately share a book in person?

With its publication as a hard copy on the line, you’d think I’d be promoting this e-book for the past two months like a desperate Kickstarter.

Well, there was this issue…. to my horror, somehow, a rough copy of the book was published on Amazon. So I was happily telling people all about the e-book, not knowing that it had a lot of errors, from pixelated and repeated images, to problems with formatting and editing. No one ever told me how these errors got in there. If you bought a copy during that period, I hope you saw my posts about returning it for an updated copy.

Then, the fixed format size of the ebook frustrated some phone and small tablet users. Then it completely crashed the Ebook member center at the Tribune. There was a plague, then locusts…

All is clear now.

Basically,  the Tribune had never published an e-book before with so many high-res images. It was the first graphic-heavy e-book they have published. So being first meant serving as a warning to others!

After the accumulated hundreds of hours of writing, editing, re-writing, updating, designing, picture editing, toning and re-editing, to this outcome, I went into a funk of frustration about the rollout. Then I left my job.

(Note: this is not how you sell an e-book.)

So I’m OK now, but I have a request…

If you ever gained from my tips columns over the years, or if you know anyone who could, would you buy this ebook at the Chicago Tribune, Agate Publishing, or Amazon?   If you’re a digital subscriber to the Chicago Tribune, you get it free. But it’s only $4.99.

It would mean a lot. Thank you for your support. I never thought when I first started writing Tuesday Tips at Assignment Chicago that it would become a weekly column that would get published in the Sunday paper and last four years.

It was an organic experience that became something meaningful for me and many others. I’ve been really touched, and to be honest humbly surprised, at how well received the blog was to students, other professionals, and the public.

Perhaps this book will be one of several more to come.

But, you know, I wouldn’t want to jinx it…

 

 

Dear Troll…

Dear Troll,

Yes, yes, you. No, I know. You don’t think you’re a troll. Trolls are other people.

But as a good friend once told a psychopath he met, “You know, I’ve never met a psychopath who realized that they’re a psychopath.”

Same as trolls. Well, actually, that’s not true. I have a cousin who trolls. He goes online onto sensitive stories and says outrageous things just to stir things up. Then he sits back, watches and laughs. And laughs. He plays the troll.

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