2009 Wrapup

December 28, 2009 

The year 2009 will be remembered as the year that newspapers emerged like a phoenix from the ashes of a troubled industry and economy to...oh, who am I kidding? It was mostly bad news. The Rocky Mountain News closed, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer became an online-only publication and countless others in the industry lost their jobs.

And in an employment climate where getting shot on the job or producing Pulitzer Prize-winning work is no guarantee for a steady paycheck, I’m glad I’m approaching the end of my second year with a staff position instead of graduating college and looking for that first gig.

A recent conversation with a newly minted journalism school graduate I know made me feel like a jaded curmudgeon as I lamented the state of the industry, contrasting his bright-eyed optimistic opinion that compelling visual storytelling would save community journalism. The thing is, there’s some amazing work coming out of newspapers still, shrinking budgets and staffs be damned.

I won’t pretend that I’m any authority on the subject, or that I’ve combed through the best of the best 2009 had to offer, but “Choosing Thomas,” photographed and produced by the Dallas Morning News’ Sonya Hebert, with editing and multimedia production help from fellow photo staffers Brad Loper, Ahna Hubnik and David Guzman, stands out as a prime example of combining new media with traditional photojournalism instead of just producing multimedia for the sake of having online content. It’s a powerful piece that shows what can be done with an investment of time that’s increasingly rare at many smaller papers that now operate with skeleton crews to churn out basic daily content.

Ideally, I would showcase my own attempt at telling a deep and complex story integrating visual and audio elements, but my multimedia experience this year only included two simple slideshows — one for the Three Rivers Dulcimer Society, and the other about the Three Rivers Folklife Society’s Second Saturday Sea-Song Singalong.

On the still image side of things, I’m pretty pleased with how 2009 developed. I’m more confident on assignment and I’m able to work much faster. On the flip side, I found myself taking fewer chances with my photos — a nasty side effect of knowing what kinds of images that editors want. Still, I managed to snag a few minor contest prizes, and while winning contests doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a better photographer, it’s always fun to win stuff.

Last year, I just shared a bunch of my favorites, but in an effort to become better at self-editing, I limited myself to just 10 this year. First up is a silly hen from a story about Greene Hills Farm:

Surprisingly, this was been my winningest photo ever, earning me first place in the 2009 Washington-Oregon AP Photo Contest and Sports Shooter’s May clip contest, as well getting recognized as one of Editor & Publisher’s Photo of the Week. (Henpecked, June 1) Even better is how these wins once again reminded me the power and popularity of birds.

This next shot of Prosser’s state semifinal loss to Archbishop Murphy earned me another Washington-Oregon AP contest win:

As did this portrait of Angie Ash, who won Columbia Basin College’s 2009 MLK Spirit Award:

This photo of Vera Rakomina welcoming her granddaughter Kristina Korotkov home is far from perfect, but is still a favorite of mine from when I covered the Korotkovs’ return to America.

Photographing a city council meeting is pretty far down the list of desirable assignments, but 4-year-old Sarah Murphy’s restlessly creative use of her rosary beads helped tell the story of the two-hour meeting in which the Pasco City Council approved the proposed Planned Parenthood to be located at 3901 W. Court St. despite vocal opposition from local pro-life protestors.

Often times, a long and fruitless day of feature hunting ends with a turd of a photo because you had to settle for something lame after failing to find anything interesting. This shot of Kennewick’s Domach Domach jumping for a rebound during a pick-up game not only capped off a tedious day, but let me shoot basketball in a style much different than my typical coverage.

It feels weird to include photos of tragedy as personal favorites of the year. They’re here not because I enjoy covering stuff like this, but reporting on these events is an important part of my job. Capturing this shot of Mike Iverson of Pasco holding the hand of a trapped 15-year-old girl well before emergency crews arrived gave me a rare chance to tell the story of a stranger’s kindness as it happened:

And it’s never easy to show the human impact at the scene of the tragedy:

This next shot of Richland’s Casey Casillas trying to rehydrate after the Richland Invitational is something I haven’t seen in myriad cross country exhaustion photos, and I feel it’s stronger than the numerous other examples I photographed at the state meet.

And finally, this AT cover for the Academy of Children’s Theatre production of The Wizard of Oz was a fun challenge after coming up with the concept with copy editor/designer Jeremy Dutton. Finding mannequin legs ended up being tougher than I thought, and the search for an appropriate “house” was also difficult. After Jeremy found some ruby slipper shoe covers, we thought we at least had that part in the bag, but those didn't look convincing enough.

Serendipitously, everything came together at the last minute. Plaza Del Calzado in Pasco happened to be tossing a broken mannequin with a shoe size close to former Herald intern Dalina Castellanos, who had some old black shoes she was willing to let me spray paint and sparkle. And after asking co-workers and friends to find the right “house,” a last-minute stroll through the neighborhoods nearby the office turned up the perfect shed, which not only looked old, but lacked a concrete apron that most buildings have. Jeremy assisted me on the shoot before I amped up the colors and he added the text. It was a rare opportunity to collaborate to this degree, and serves as proof of what can be accomplished with a little time and planning:

Here’s hoping my growth can continue in 2010, not only as a photojournalist, but also as a columnist. It’s been fun writing Behind the Fold, and I hope it serves a purpose besides feeding my narcissism. One of my goals when starting the blog was to educate people about this seemingly foreign occupation. Visual literacy is not very high amongst the general population, which is a shame because of the powerful storytelling attributes that a still image can possess.

Sure, it’s disappointing that my readership hasn’t taken off like I had hoped, but I’m grateful for the kind words and support of everybody who’s stuck with me and occasionally clicked the “Recommend” button or left a comment. City desk editor Kristina Lord also deserves a special thanks for helping make my manic ramblings sensical.

If you’re new to the column, a full archive of every weekly post is at http://www.tri-cityherald.com/behindthefold, and if you’re such a fan that you like spreading the word about my blog, here are links to my favorite five entries of 2009.

1. A Mother’s Grief
2. FAQ (Frequently Annoying Questions)
3. The Scuffle
4. Photo Controversies: Debates Worth Having
5. Work Ethics

Happy new year!


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