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Friday, December 1, 2006
The Whole Picture

When writers and photographers work together, the results can be spectacular

Commentary by Jon Marshall

Maybe the smartest thing I did during my daily reporting days was to become friends with the photographers at my newspapers. I’d chat with them about the ideas I was working on and listen to hear if they had any ideas to make my stories better. Inevitably they did.

In these days of nearly endless multimedia possibilities, close working relationships among reporters and photographers become even more essential for the creation of powerful news packages. As the examples below show, this lesson applies no matter how big or small your publication is.

Borderline

What would a barrier along the 2,000-mile border between the U.S. and Mexico really mean? The Arizona Daily Star decided to find out by sending photographers James Gregg, Kelly Presnell and Lindsay A. Miller, reporters Stephanie Innes and Brady McCombs, and online producer Andrew Satter to travel the entire length of the border from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico. Along the way, they interviewed and photographed more than 200 people who patrol the border, study it, and live and work nearby. The resulting four-part “Sealing Our Border” offers the best close-up view of immigration realities that I’ve seen; the 360-degree panoramic photos of different points along the border are especially intriguing.

Don’t drink the water

Reporter Matt Hanley and photographer Donnell Collins of The Beacon News in Aurora, Ill., took on one of the state’s Goliaths with their “Did Bad Water Make Nicor Workers Sick?” For this story, Hanley investigated whether faulty plumbing in the gas company’s local facility made many of its workers desperately ill. Hanley clearly explained the complexities of the chemicals and plumbing involved, while Collins’ vivid portraits of the sick workers made their plight come alive for readers.

Life of the poet

Photographer Mary Murphy and writer G. Wayne Miller of the Providence Journal worked together to craft “The Growing Season,” a beautiful profile of award-winning poet and activist Frank Beazley. Miller’s words describe how Beazley overcame a childhood spent living in an orphanage ruled by harsh nuns and working on a farm with an alcoholic foster mother. Snapshots from Beazley’s difficult past along with Murphy’s photos of his optimistic present deepen our understanding of his life.

ER

I’m not sure if any newspaper in North America makes as much commitment to deeply reported, long-form narratives as The Hamilton Spectator in Ontario, Canada. In September, The Spectator showcased its narrative prowess with “Emergency” by reporter Jon Wells and photographer Sheryl Nadler. Their story followed the efforts of doctors, nurses and paramedics as they tried to save the life of Justine Douwes, a 17-year-old who came to Hamilton General Hospital’s ER after a terrible car accident. Nadler’s and Wells’ patience enabled them to capture the kind of nuances that create a richly textured story.

African journey

Give the Ottawa Citizen credit for boldness. It invited U.N. special envoy Stephen Lewis to guest edit “Time to Deliver,” a special section on the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa. The impressive package included a strong suite of stories and photos, an essay by Bill Clinton, an interactive map showing AIDS’ toll around the world, and resources for people dealing with the illness. One of the best parts was a slideshow of photos taken by Chris Cobb, Joel Chiziane and Ferhat Momade and narrated by Cobb.

While these examples highlight the work of reporters and photographers, let’s tip our hats to the many talented editors, designers and graphic artists who made these multimedia packages possible.

To read these stories and more, visit www.spj.org/blog/blogs/newsgems/



Jon Marshall writes for newspapers, magazines and Web sites throughout the country and teaches at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. E-mail him with questions or comments.

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