Thursday, March 19, 2009

Of Leicas and Nikons, Ted Dully And Days Gone…Our News Rooms: “What’s Wrong?”

Of Leicas and Nikons, Ted Dully And Days Gone…Our News Rooms: “What’s Wrong?”




I have long had affection for Newspapers and news rooms.  It’s where I got so much of my start in writing, politics and photography. It has been agonizing witnessing the demise of journalistic quality and integrity over the years, and the approaching demise comes as no surprise…in terms of the media having retreated from journalism to tabloid entertainment and front page editorialism right along with the television media...but it is sad.  Some of the finest hours of my youth were spent in newsrooms and newspaper darkrooms.  I will introduce you near the conclusion of this piece to my first photographic mentor: Ted Dully. 


From: Tom Watson, Author of Cause Wired, consultant, journalist and media critic:


For journalists of a certain vintage, these are the days on the digital horizon that were long-feared and yet somehow unanticipated. The newspaper world is slowly asphyxiating, starved for the oxygen of classified advertising and simultaneously kicked in the chest by a massive recession that is hastening the tombstones in the graveyard of newsprint. The 148-year-old Seattle Post-Intelligencer will publish its final print edition this week. Huge cutbacks were approved by the staff of the San Francisco Chronicle in an attempt to save the 144-year-old daily. The Rocky Mountain News in Denver closed last month. The publishers of the Minneapolis Star Tribune and both the The Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News filed for bankruptcy. The Christian Science Monitor has abandoned print, for a small online operation that keeps the name alive - for now. The survival of even The New York Times is openly debated.


I could go on, but it's too painful. I come from a newspaper family, and worked as a reporter and editor for more than a dozen years, before peeling off for the allure of my own digital printing press in the 90s. I love newspapers, and I've always believed that they're central to the American version of representative democracy - a stalwart check on the power of government.


Yet even with ink in my veins and newsprint in my DNA, the patterns are changing 'round here. On the days that I commute into midtown on the train, The Times is an absolute and granite-carved morning habit. Liberated from its blue bag and advertising inserts at the station, the pattern is as unyielding as the order of the stations: the A section in the Bronx, sports by 125th Street, business in the tunnel, arts and lifestyle at a glance before hitting the platform. But on the days when I work from home - and even on Sundays - much of the paper arrives in the medium I'm typing into right now, and it often arrives via feeds or links from blogs and aggregators. Further, I'm often found reading commentary and reaction about stories in the Times before I've actually read the stories themselves.


Crowd sourcing journalism is all the rage, but the idea of its widespread ascendancy and competence is the exclusive province of either deranged optimists or ideological cyber libertarians; the vast populace will never produce great journalism - or even sufficient journalism of the kind that has nurtured our republic - any more than it will perform surgery on a widespread amateur basis, or turn out competent oil paintings by the millions.


Yes, occasionally brilliant exceptions will be appear; the tools available for creating and disseminating great stories will be put to good use by people with the talent for reporting and telling those stories. But the journalistic print edifice will be not be replaced - in my view, there will be no great metro bureaus, no overseas reporting staffs, no full-time investigative teams, no cop house reporters, no City Hall beat. A network of thousands and thousands of young reporters taking notes and asking tough questions - and then writing up their reports in public, for the public - at thousands and thousands of school board and town council meetings on gray Tuesday evenings all around the nation will begin to fade.


The Internet has been a destructive force for many business models, but none threatens the basis of the republic as much as the digital knife busily sawing at the fraying Achilles tendon of American newspapers. As an editorial in the Spokane Review (rather plaintively) asked:


"So as newspapers die, it's worth considering the effects on society. Who will tell the people what their institutions are doing? Who will ferret out the corruption? Who will fend off the legal challenges to public information? If no viable alternative emerges, what does that mean for our representative democracy?


Author and NYU professor Clay Shirky wrote a grim and all-too-accurate assessment of journalism's dire strait, a piece that  really places no blame but captures well the doomsday formula now unfolding: (Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable)


The unthinkable scenario unfolded something like this: The ability to share content wouldn't shrink, it would grow. Walled gardens would prove unpopular. Digital advertising would reduce inefficiencies, and therefore profits. Dislike of micropayments would prevent widespread use. People would resist being educated to act against their own desires. Old habits of advertisers and readers would not transfer online. Even ferocious litigation would be inadequate to constrain massive, sustained law-breaking. (Prohibition redux.)


As Shirky says, this is not something that proprietors of professional journalism failed to see coming - and they've tried almost every model for revenue generation that came along over the past decade and a half. All have failed. Case in the point: the Times, which gets an amazing 20 million visits to its website every month and still can't come close to touching the revenue of its wounded print sibling. And aggregators from Google to the Huffington Post shave that slim online revenue even further.


The models just don't work - nothing online sustains a newsroom of 100 reporters and editors working in a beat system. Cut and paste works online. Endless commentary works online (but only pays the aggregators, in most cases). Endless links work. Newsrooms do not. As Shirky writes (correctly in my view) the casualty isn't so much the newspaper (and the companies who operate them), as it is the journalist - and professional journalism itself. And that is a huge loss for society that no one should be welcome with glee (though some digital triumphalists cannot seem to restrain themselves):


Print media does much of society's heavy journalistic lifting, from flooding the zone -- covering every angle of a huge story -- to the daily grind of attending the City Council meeting, just in case. This coverage creates benefits even for people who aren't newspaper readers, because the work of print journalists is used by everyone from politicians to talk radio hosts to bloggers. The newspaper people often note that newspapers benefit society as a whole. This is true, but irrelevant to the problem at hand; "You're gonna miss us when we're gone!" has never been much of a business model. So who covers all that news if some significant fraction of the currently employed newspaper people lose their jobs?


I don't know. Nobody knows. We're collectively living through 1500, when it's easier to see what's broken than what will replace it. The internet turns 40 this fall. Access by the general public is less than half that age. Web use, as a normal part of life for a majority of the developed world, is less than half that age. We just got here.


Even the revolutionaries can't predict what will happen.


Craig Newmark, creator of the ubiquitous classified network that has hurt the newspaper model, argues that "we need to experiment a lot more" on ways to support the kind of journalism now getting pink-slipped. But I have to say: we've all been making that argument since the mid-90s. The experiments are legion. Yet the corps of full-time paid journalists is shrinking rapidly, and their work cannot be replaced by bloggers or posts on Facebook, as much as may enjoy those social media forms. I was talking with James Wolcott about this earlier this week and he made a great point - who's going to churn out all those important but relatively small-scale exposes on bad government contracts and neighborhood graft, the kinds of pieces regularly published by the tabloids and small city dailies? As Bob Stein writes, apropos of reporting's demise: "For journalism, the goal has never been cosmic verities but everyday truth."


Last year at the Personal Democracy Forum, NYU professor and media critic Jay Rosen gave a talk about the rise of semi-pro journalism that took in some of the still-arrogant attitude of "old journalism" and its resistance to going to way of the dinosaur. He adapted the talk for his blog:


We are early in the rise of semi-pro journalism, but well into the decline
of an older way of life within the tribe of professional journalists. I call them a tribe because they share a culture and a sense of destiny, and because they think they own the press-- that it's theirs somehow because they dominate the practice.

The First Amendment says to all Americans: you have a right to publish what you know, to say what you think. That right used to be abstractly held. Now it is concretely held because the power to publish has been distributed to the population at large. Projects that cause people to exercise their right to a free press strengthen the press, whether or not these projects strengthen the professional journalist's "hold" on the press.

That hold is slipping every day. Yet some of Rosen's set piece, his construction of the central tension in the story, now seems quaint, only nine months later. The attitude of recalcitrant old print journalists doesn't matter any more in this season of shuttered newsrooms. It's not about old journalists versus the rising amateurs. It's about the disappearance of one of the carrying beams of our democracy and what, if anything, will replace it - and the loss of that "everyday truth."


UPDATE: Over at the WiredPen, Kathy Gill has a thoughtful response. She agrees that there is nothing on the horizon to replace newspaper, even while arguing that newspaper-owning companies aren't generally motivated by the public good (true) and that democracy hasn't exactly thrived under the model now disappearing (true, to a degree). These viewpoints are also echoed in some the comments here. Yeah, newspapers aren't public and the big dailies are indeed run by large corporations. But my response is this: that in no way mitigates the loss. Small-scale experiments in online reporting - and we're in 2009, a full 15 years into the mainstream commercial Internet - seem more like the exceptions that prove the rule. What we lose with newspapers is the commonality - that "place" in cities and towns where a good percentage of citizens gathered around news and opinion and recipes for pork chow mein. And Clay Shirky is right - it's a big loss, and there's nothing that can be done about it.


UPDATE II: Will Bunch gets to the heart of an aspect of the "distributed, super-wired world of citizen journalists with blogs will replace newspapers" argument that has been bugging me as well: it's anti-blue collar to its core. Posits Bunch: "I'm trying to point out the unique challenge of preserving journalism and the vital exchange of public information in a Rust Belt city like Philadelphia. A Web-only newspaper might work in the home city of Microsoft,, and Starbucks. In the home city of....lots of civil servants? Not as much. I agree that printed news is a little like dirty bathwater these days, but you can't throw the baby -- a unique, non-transferable readership -- out with bathwater.


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I met Ted Dully on the sidelines of a Friday Night Bristol High School Football Game with the simplest of cameras, and Ansco  ¼ sq. roll fill camera with flash bulbs that permitted me to photograph only action shots that were coming at me.  To begin with that is not the best idea in world for a Soccer Player as any Football Player would delighted in running me over.  After a half hour of discussion in between photographs he invited me to The Bristol Press Darkroom to talk.


I was no stranger to the Press Offices and reporters room.  Our School newspaper was published as a part of the Friday Night Edition every week and for four years I was The Feature Editor, and Then Editor.  I also did a radio broadcast every Saturday morning on our local station WBIS.  Couple that with academics, three sports and Yearbook Photographic (plus) duties and I had a full and great High School career.  I wouldn’t trade it.


That newsroom was a clatter of type writers, ringing telephones, cigarette smoke and the smell of alcohol when you got near the sports desk.  When they accepted you, you got a hardy welcome and a “whatcha got for us”!  Damn it was good!


Ted was never without his Leica and long before I attended NYI Photography school in downtown NY between my sophomore and junior collegiate years; he had taught me every, then trick of the trade ,with black and white film and chemistry.   He had turned me into a master printer before I graduated from High School, and if you look at some of his photos buried under the URL links here you will see what I mean.  He could produce a mid tone Gray that glowed, a match for Ansel Adams.  We both appreciated that man’s work.  But I would be drawn by the lure of The Life magazine “natural light school of photography and the blackness of Karsh “low key” photography.


I knew I had arrived the day that Ted simply slipped one his Leicas over my neck and simply said have at it.  Did that ever change the world for me!  My entire family realized then that the camera was here to stay, and though I could never afford a Leica and still have never owned one, a Christmas arrived when there was only one present under the tree.  The family has polled their money and I unwrapped my first professional Nikon.  I have 27 of them now…I became a Nikon photographer, and though the years have passed I still reach for and old retro range finder camera and the memories of Ted, of New York City, of the Life Magazine Labs come flowing back…they feel good.


The photo journalists of my youth were man and women on a mission and no one dictated to them or ever questioned the integrity of their work. 


It was a great day, a great time.




 "Young at Heart" is the theme for The Ted Dully Memorial Scholarship Fund that will offer a $500 scholarship and a Nikon FM-2 camera with 50mm lens to the winning high school student.


Named in honor of Ted Dully, a 20-year veteran of the Globe staff who died in 1987, the award will be based on photo entries from the students.


During his career at the Globe, Dully won the National Press Photographers Association's New England Photographer of the Year contest a record seven times in a row. He also had many awards from the Boston Press Photographers Association, Associated Press and United Press International.


Last Newspaper Reader Cancels Subscription



Newspaper article from: The Boston Globe ; "Young at Heart" is the theme for The Ted DullyMemorial Scholarship Fund that student. Named in honor of Ted Dully, a 20-year veteran of the Globe staff...was from watching Dully print. When Ted Dully lay dying in the hospital, he confided...



- Mar 18-

Boston, MA, January, 1986 A lone visitor to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library comes... TED DULLY GLOBE STAFF PHOTO: JFK LIBRARY View Larger Image ...


NPPA Regional Newspaper Photographers of the Year



Article from: The Boston Globe (Boston, MA)  | Article date: December 31, 1989


Author: Mark Wilson, Globe staff  | More results for: ted dully photographer


"Young at Heart" is the theme for The Ted Dully Memorial Scholarship Fund that will offer a $500 scholarship and a Nikon FM-2 camera with 50mm lens to the winning high school student.


Named in honor of Ted Dully, a 20-year veteran of the Globe staff who died in 1987, the award will be based on photo entries from the students.


During his career at the Globe, Dully won the National Press Photographers Association's New England Photographer of the Year contest a record seven times in a row. He also had many awards from the Boston Press Photographers Association, Associated Press and United Press International.


Yet to think that Dully chased contests would be a mistake. Dully was known ..


Why Newspaper Deaths Should Scare Talk Radio « Gathering the Light
By Robert Brown 
The demagogues of the airwaves — unelected, self-appointed faux reporters and narcissistic vox populi — can’t be expected to transfer their contempt for the New York Times to some powerless little blogger, or even the biggest bloggers ...
Gathering the Light -


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Newspapers' Real Problems - Technology Blog - Tech Observer ...

Perhaps The Problem With Journalists Is They're Taught By Professors Who Think Google Is To Blame For Newspaper Decline


From The Just-A-Thought Dept:


Back in May we wrote about a journalism professor from Berkeley named Neil Henry claiming that it was it was Google's social responsibility to give money to journalists because Google News was putting newspapers out of business (which was followed by an equally bizarre claim from another journalist that this claim didn't go far enough and newspapers should actually sue Google). The problems with this statement are obvious. First, it's not Google that's killing journalism. If anything, Google has helped drive much more traffic to many websites of various newspapers. That's good for those newspapers. Second, Google doesn't host any content at all. It's not competing with newspapers, it's simply acting as a guide so people can find the news on those newspapers' websites. It would be the same thing as blaming a newspaper for harming the movie business because it has movie listings. After all, that provides "choice" to readers who can pick which movie they want (just like Google provides a choice about which news site people can pick to read news stories). Finally, Google doesn't even have any ads on its Google News pages -- showing that Google isn't even making any money on the site that these journalists claim is making so much money. 

We pointed out much of this, as did many other sites. As a journalist and a journalism professor, you would think that perhaps Mr. Henry would have bothered to read up on this and understand why his claims don't make sense -- and then either apologize and change his opinion or, at least, respond to the criticism. Instead, as an anonymous reader points out, he's simply repeating the bizarre claim that Google has a social responsibility to give money to journalists, while talking about how his former students are losing jobs. It must be emotional to have your students losing jobs, but perhaps it has more to do with learning from a journalism professor who doesn't seem to understand how the thing he's criticizing actually works (and then ignores everyone who points out his incorrect statements).


When this happened I was saddened as if a loved one had died.  I have a sense of dread at what lays ahead when the newspaper is dead!

Final Edition: Life Magazine Stops Publication


The History of LIFE Magazine, LOOK Magazine, and Birth of ...


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