Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Every Good Picture Tells a Story One Photographer Is Worth a Thousand Iphones

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Every Good Picture Tells a Story One Photographer Is Worth a Thousand Iphones

Article excerpt

I swear I actually had the dream I'm about to recount. In it I was trying to find Harry Coughanour, aka Topper, the late, great Post-Gazette photographer, somewhere in the afterlife. My assignment was to interview a South American dictator whose name I kept forgetting while Topper photographed him.

The air was thick with smoke and fog, making it hard to see. When I finally located my subject, Topper was nowhere to be found.

I noticed an arched gate and began walking toward it, asking people if they'd seen a photographer.

"He's over there," someone said, "wrestling an alligator."

An odd thing for a man in his 60s to be doing, but there he was, locked in a violent embrace with a gator as the two of them thrashed back and forth, Topper on his feet and the gator on his hind legs.

"Is that an alligator or a crocodile?" I asked a bystander, with my notebook at the ready.

"Who knows?" he answered.

I grabbed my iPhone, snapped a blurry picture of the action and forwarded it to ... someone ... with the caption: "Photographer wrestles giant lizard." Then I jolted awake, thinking "What the hell was THAT?"

It took two seconds for the answer to surface. Of course. It was all about Chicago, where the Sun-Times newspaper has firebombed its entire staff of full-time photojournalists with pink slips. Twenty- eight news photographers, including Pulitzer Prize-winner John H. White, learned that they were officially obsolete.

No more using skilled professionals with a trained eye who understand framing, light, perspective and composition, maneuvering through the scene to capture that one perfect moment that tells the story. Instead, the Sun-Times will focus on multimedia, relying on reporters with iPhones to point and click in between interviews, note-taking and wise-cracking. Oh, and they're supposed to make videos for the Web, too. For which jobs they will reportedly be trained for several days.

No wonder I had that dream. It was Topper turning over in his grave, causing a disturbance in the force. It was Topper standing at the gate, wrestling the green monster.

I'm not saying what the Sun-Times wants to do can't be done. I'm just wondering who'll want to look at it on a daily basis. I mean, I can put paint on a canvas, but who's going to hang it in their home? You can dance to "Swan Lake" or "We Own It," but who's going to pay to see you?

Technology can do a lot -- I've taken better pictures on my smartphone than I ever thought possible, and so-called "citizen- journalists" have been able to tell visual stories without training. But none of that can substitute for human talent, instinctive timing and artistic sensibilities that photojournalists hone over a lifetime. Especially during breaking news, when things are moving so fast it's hard to keep track. …

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