Cincinnati Enquirer: photojournalism gets a more personal voice

One of the real joys of my newsroom visits is being able to see in print or online, sometimes immediately, the end result of our conversations about change in culture,  creativity, the development of personal “voice,” and other topics that go beyond “design.” Two real-life examples followed my recent three-day visit to the Cincinnati Enquirer, to help guide the newsroom, and a company-wide steering committee, through the process of change (read more about that visit here):

  • On the final morning of my three-day visit, I picked up the newspaper (above) and was instantly struck by presentation with impact, drama, and personal voice. We had debated how or whether these values could be amplified in the newspaper as it moves forward. While a hard-hitting news story led the top of the page, the visual centerpiece was a standalone photo, nothing earth-shattering but just a moment of local beauty, displayed six columns and, of particular note, with a caption that almost read like a mini-column. Photographer Carrie Cochran wrote (with a head shot!) about what the sense of place means to her as a resident and a journalist, and how she came to make the photo. Even better: the feedback from Carrie, and Enquirer editor/VP Carolyn Washburn, later in the day about the great public reaction to the photo. Carrie reported with pride the teamwork that resulted in the presentation, including shepherding by visuals chief Michael McCarter, and related: “One colleague said that was the best front page she had ever seen at the paper. Thank you for giving us a new way of thinking. And some hope!” Is it something to do every day? Not really. But Carolyn echoed my instant thought that, heck, it’s a Friday, who wouldn’t want to end the week with a moment of beauty and visual relief like this? And the personal voice of the mega-caption (column caption?) might make a reader think, this newspaper has a heart, appreciates beauty, and is produced by real people who care about living here. Seeing this in print offered the best way for the newsroom to get Carolyn’s point, that it is not only OK to pursue drama and impact and risk-taking and surprise in the paper’s presentation, but that it is imperative.
  • The second example came to me yesterday, in an email from Carolyn alerting me to another fine example of photojournalism voice at the Enquirer. This time, the first-person account by staff photog Jeff Swinger, appeared on the paper’s website (later in the newspaper), relating his dramatic photo shoot at the Crosstown Shootout basketball game that turned violent. “My head was spinning and my hands were still shaking. It was pretty wild.” Who needs reality TV when you have real-life experiences shared like this?  View Jeff’s slide show and read his account of the drama here.

Early in my visit, Carolyn (who worked with me years ago at the Indiana Daily Student) asked: as a consultant, do you miss being in a newsroom, being in the daily fray? I admitted that I really did not, and seeing positive examples of change like this, during or after my visits to clients, is partly why. Sitting in on newsroom planning meetings, helping to dissect them to try to make them better, also is a privilege that keeps my journalistic interests piqued. Conversations with caring and creative journalists, in formal meetings or in the parking lot, move me forward as well. There are ways to help newspapers move forward that don’t necessarily require being in the thick of it 40 or more hours a week. The Enquirer gig, though a short one, has been a great example of what I have enjoyed most in my consulting travels, and a great way to close out the year, moving forward with optimism.

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