A major US newspaper announced plans to fire its entire picture desk a week or two back. All 28 of them. To go.
As someone who has worked on newspapers and now deals with them as part of their job that’s a significant step.
It also underlines in it’s own small way this whole ‘the landscape is changing and pr people need to develop new skills’ thing that I’ve been writing about for the past four years.
Of course, it’s really tempting to dismiss this as the death twitch of an industry that is on it’s knees and move on. What really stopped me in my tracks was a blog by Andy Ihnatko an occasional contributor to the newspaper in question the Chicago Sun-Times.
In it he recognised the pain this step was causing but rejected the idea that newspapers just deserve to die.
He makes an excellent observation that newspapers need to get new skills and as the web and mobile web get more important. What struck me was the observation that perhaps the web developer is now doing what the photographer used to do. Their ability to produce eye-catching content that brings pages alive are now playing the role the snapper and picture editor used to.
Newspapers are a machine, he writes, adding:
“The machine was fantastic at manufacturing what readers wanted from 1850 to 1999. But it now needs to be retooled to manufacture what readers want in 2013.
“What if it fired photographers, but hired more web developers, and gave that department extra resources? Photographs aren’t than just pretty pictures; they serve many practical functions for an edition of a newspaper. They allow for a more attractive page design, they make the newspaper easier to visually navigate, and they offer the reader an alternative method of engaging with the stories.
“ A well-designed, responsive web page does the same things…with the added modern benefit that it allows a story to look great on any device. “Your photos aren’t anything special” is an aesthetic complaint. “Your site goes all screwy when I access it from my iPhone” is a report about a bug that prevents the user from reading the content.
“The point is that if a newspaper really wants to double-down on the value of their content, having a great team of web developers on staff is critical. I’d be less concerned about the sub-par photography of a site than I would about a site that’s hard to read on the device of my choice.”
So in summary, web developers are critical.
When you consider how mobile-first my own life is that has a ring of truth. My holiday frustration at the webpage that doesn’t show on my mobile to tell me the swimming pool opening times, for example.
What are the lessons for local government comms people?
It’s the importance of knowing that to present your story on the web you’ll need to present it well and in a way that people can read it. It’s getting more important that you’ll need a good web developers in your team to help you tell your story.
It also means that submitted pictures to newspapers in times of cut picture desks have real value. For now.
So, it’s back to that changing landscape stuff again really, isn’t it?
A picture can tell a thousand words.
So, thank the Lord for creative commons.
It’s a place to go when there’s no photography budget and you need an image in a hurry.
Creative commons licences allow for images to be re-used so long as certain conditions are met.
One of the best places to look for them is Flickr.
Here’s what you do looking for a picture:
1. Go to Flickr.com.
2. Let’s say we’re looking for a picture of a computer. Search everyone’s uploads for the terms ‘creative commons + computer.’
3. You’ll have a stack of thumbnails to look through.
4. Make a selection. Click on the image you want. This is what it will look like:
5. Double check the creative commons licence. That’s on the right hand side of the image. Half way down.
6. Click actions. That’s just above the image.
7. Choose a size. Download it.
8. Use the picture creatively.
9. If you can’t find it using the general search have a look at opting for searching for The Commons…
10. Now sit back and have a slice of cake.
Creative commons credits:
Like lighthouse keepers, you’re glad they’re there but nothing too much to get excited about.
Actually, that’s not totally the case at all. If you’ve children, you must take a look at their website for their family orientated programme.
Romans at Wroxeter in Shropshire I can vouch for. Select a venue and then take a look in the bottom right hand corner . There you’ll see a really great use of Flickr.
By posting into an English Heritage group you agree that you don’t mind if the image is linked to via the organisations’ website. That’s a brilliant idea. They’re also upfront about it too.
Can this idea be used in local government? No question. Does it cost money? Not a penny. But what it does do is this:
- It provide an extra resource for people looking to browse for a place to visit.
- It creates a presence on a popular social networking site.
- It builds links with the community who can really feel as though they own a small slice of the website.
At a time when budgets are tight and very painful cuts have been made at English Heritage, this is good work by the history geeks.