EDITOR'S COLUMN | Excellence at the push of a button

Click, click, click. I hope you said, “cheese” because the pictures I just took will be published in the newspaper and preserved as a piece of history, possibly until the end of time.

Of course neither I nor any other newspaperman or woman would ever say that to the subject of a story. Being interviewed is uncomfortable enough, but having a reporter stick a big camera in your face can be downright nerve rattling.

There are obvious exceptions, publicity hams who just love to see their picture in the paper, but it’s not unusual for reporters to find themselves cajoling, bargaining, even begging for permission to take a picture. Perhaps it’s fear stemmed in vanity or a natural desire for anonymity, but that’s probably just wishful thinking on our parts. More than likely, their reluctance is based in their having picked up a community newspaper.

My predecessor, Jim Larsen, once told me that bad photography was the stamp of a true community newspaper — grip and grin shots, the passing of big checks and large out-of-focus photos. Perhaps no one knows this better than public figures, especially elected officials. More than one has charged us with picking out the very worst picture and running it again, and again, and again. It’s not true … well, not entirely. Maybe it’s case-by-case, I don’t know.

We’re not entirely hopeless, however. Another predecessor of mine, Brian Kelly, is an excellent photographer. Just ask him. In fact, he’s almost as good as I am! Keep up the hard work, son; with hard work and a little more practice, you’ll get there.

The truth is, while we aren’t “weekend warriors” none of us are professional photographers. Most community papers are the proving grounds of new reporters who are just learning their craft. And unlike our brethren at large metropolitan dailies, we don’t have a small army of specialized staff. We don’t have a legion of reporters, teams of staff photographers, copy editors, fact checkers or page designers. We do it all, from start to finish, and we do it twice a week.

That said, juggling that many balls means we’re jack of all trades and masters of none, i.e. there’s room for improvement. So, this week Sound Publishing papers from throughout Western Washington convened at our sister paper, The Daily Herald in Everett. There we received expert tutelage from Mark Mulligan, the paper’s lead photographer, and Stephen McFadden, publisher of the Ritzville Adams County Journal. Tips on tech, composition, layout, lighting, we got it all, and it’s a good thing too.

We needed the know-how and, perhaps most important of all, the inspiration to make our images the best they can be. Those on the other side of the lens will surely appreciate that. I know our elected officials will, though they probably shouldn’t raise their hopes too high. We wouldn’t want to completely lose our identity as a true community newspaper.

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