Redundancy Revisited

Came to think about this after a FB discussion I had with somebody. The argument was about the need for speed in todays media.  An argument I have heard so many times.

Basically: How speed is of the essence and the winners of that battle will be the ones to survive in this game. I don’t remember how often I have had someone telling me “now, be sure to transmit your stuff immediately, because the whole concept of our operation is based on delivering the news fast. We gotta be the first.”

I beg to differ.

I remember what I read in a recent publication entitled  Post Industrial Journalism  about redundancy (Clay Shirky, C.W. Anderson and Emily Bell by Tow Center for digital Journalism, Columbia University). Highly recommended reading, BTW.

“This sort of competition, where every institutution has to cover the same thing in only slightly different ways, was absurd even when those organization were flush. Now, with many resources gone and more going, it is also damaging.”

And I thought of an image I took about five years ago in Beijing as a good example  to illustrate this.

The image I am referring to can be seen below. I shot this some thirty minutes before the start of the 100m final in Beijing 2008. The most waited, prestigious event of the whole Olympics program. Happens only once every four years.

Something every sports photographer simply just wants to cover at least once during their career.

 Waste of Talent and Resources

Let’s do some calculating: in London Olympics there was 1532 accredited photographers (I don’t know the figure in Beijing, but let us suppose it is of the same ballpark).

Let’s also suppose that two thirds of these photographers show up to shoot the 100m final. Looking at the hardware let’s estimate that each photographer carries say two bodies, couple of small lenses, one bigger one, laptop… Maybe 30K dollars/euros worth of stuff average? Just a ballpark?

So that is 30 million worth of glass and cameras staring at what…  3-5 seconds of action (that is the time window it makes any sense to shoot the action from the head-on platform)?

Then look at the guys doing this. There is some serious talent over there – the best of the best in sports photography right there. And all doing basically (more or less) the same thing.

All having (literally) the same angle to the story. And let me stress: I am not criticizing the guys – they are delivering what is asked –  but more the job they (or at least many of them) are expected to do: get the default image and get it out fast.

Talk about redundancy, waste of resources and talent.

5 minutes afterwards

So all of these guys have pictures and the race becomes: who is the first one to get their stuff out there?

Checking the web and what  the agencies had to offer c. five minutes afterwards there was about 500 images already edited and published about Usain Bolt crossing the line and setting the new world record.

And one of those images was THE FIRST one. And all of them were “among the first” – and I am sure their papers/websites/agencies were pleased.

Who was it?

The question I am asking: does it matter to the subscriber/reader/viewer who it was? For an agency yes, absolutely, but for a single publication? That THEY had the image out 3 minutes earlier than competing publications?

Or taking it to more mundane level: here in the North Pole we have couple of competing websites fighting for their market share (IL, IS, YLE, HS, MTV3… – that’s about it?).

Does it matter for the reader of these sites – a reader who checks the news ten minutes afterwards – who was the first to show the image and tell the news? As now, ten minutes later, everyone has it.

Sure,  the  next day  the guys in ties in the corner office check publishing times and give feedback: “We lost, we were late…” or “We won!” – depending on the difference of seconds or minutes they see.

But seriously: Who cares?

Different angle

Then think about the image I am presenting here as an illustration. As I said, I shot that image some 30 minutes before the actual event. It took me couple of  hours to edit (hey, this was 2008 and I was doing handcoding with flash…) so I was totally out of the “who was the first” -game.

A total loser in that respect. And yes, my client was not interested having it on their website.

The image got way over a million hits on my website in the days/weeks that followed (and this was at the time when I at least was happily unaware of either Facebook or Twitter).

Why? Because it was not redundant.

What I am saying: maybe – just maybe – we should focus on other aspects of our storytelling instead of speed if we want to keep our audience?

Because if we don’t we just become noise  – among other noise already out there.

And as a reader/audience, noise is something you just skip, something you just want to block out.

As a reader, you look for added value, something that stands out.

Maybe instead of speed we should focus on that?

7 Comments

  1. Tomas Whitehouse
    October 17, 2013

    Solid and prolific substance is often disregarded for what some would consider a more important practice. I’ve always called it ‘Hollywood Syndrome’, the mindless clinging to a formula that once proved to be a cash cow.
    Ever read a great book but then seen the movie that was utter drivel?
    Poor script, dialogue, casting, delivery etc the list goes on…
    Basically, if you take the talent away, that cash cow turns into one lame excuse after another.
    Sadly, this inevitable result still won’t stop the executives from pouring all over it and implementing it every time.

    Great words Mr K, and great to see that immense 360 again :)

    Reply
    • kkuukka
      October 17, 2013

      Dude –

      thank you, good to see ya again. It is just amazing what is going on at moment. Like the legacy is doing every predictable mistake, one after another, steady as a clockwork… and the death spiral is getting steeper and steeper.

      The only sustainable solution is – as it has always been: solid, trustworthy, good product. Something you want to come back to.

      But the buzz words for the legacy remain: fast and cheap – preferably VERY cheap.

      Reply
  2. Jan Vehrenkamp
    October 30, 2013

    good read. agree.

    Reply
  3. Jan Vehrenkamp
    October 30, 2013

    ps. some years ago I heard the following:
    “There’s a difference between a picture on tomorrows front page and a photograph with lasting historical significance.”
    – don’t remember who said it, but it’s true nonetheless.

    I do not believe producing stuff without any purpose or meaning other than just being stuff(today’s papers) can be of any value to anybody.
    Newspapers should strive to have front pages of the latter kind, everyday.¹
    The reasons for that are far too obvious to be listed here.

    Also I believe your image of the Beijing Olympics belongs to the latter category, and not only because it did not make the front page.

    (¹Which of course is very hard to do and quite difficult in a land as small as Finland, HOWEVER work is supposed to be hard.)

    Reply
    • kkuukka
      October 30, 2013

      Jan –

      thank you for your kind words. Not only did it not make the front page… they were not willing to have it on their website at all.

      I totally agree: one reason the legacy is doing so badly presently is this lack of striving to do work that matters.

      It’s not necessarily that this kind of work is more expensive to produce, but your whole creative spirit is extinguished when the only criteria for praise of you work well done is minimal production costs.

      Reply
  4. adam
    December 11, 2013

    I agree entirely… although perhaps (since I haven’t ranted lately) I can be allowed a lengthier reply :)

    I think speed has always been a paramount element of journalism; the era just dictates the speed. “As a result, the reporting of the (American) Civil War was not only more extensive than in any previous war, but also more immediate. For the first time in American history, it was possible for the public to read what happened yesterday, rather than someones opinion on what happened last week.’ (From Philip Knightley’s excellent ‘The First Casualty’).

    And the same follows through each war; Capa in WWII, John Laurence and McCullin in Vietnam etc etc. The exit strategy for your work was part of the skill. But, as you say, when that speed becomes almost immeasurably small, what is the point? (Doubley so since it requires less ‘strategy’ from a sports stadium than from a censored war zone).

    I think your other point is more important though, particularly when it comes to story telling.

    We recently watched the 1979 BBC TV series of ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy’. Now, compare it to any 2013 TV spy/cop/drama series and what you immediately notice is how much work the viewer is asked to do. These days, we are spoonfed everything with over the top explanations. Nothing is required of the viewer.

    To jump back to photography… Look at Edward Clark’s photo of FDR’s funeral. Or Cartier-Bresson’s images of George VI’s coronation. The focus is on people watching. The ‘story’ is out of shot; it requires the viewer to do some work and refuses the instant gratification we now ‘require’. There is no money shot…

    As you say, there must also be a time when the ‘money shot’ is not worth it. If one wasn’t being paid to get that image, would one bother to take it? Maybe once, to have one in your portfolio, but after that…? Probably not.

    On a personal note, it’s the reason (mostly) that I’ve stopped taking boxing photos. I’d taught myself how to do it, learned how to get access and stand up for myself when being pushed around by other photographers and then I’d just get the same shot, again and again. And unless something else was able to develop it would become unfilling… and so I stopped.

    I don’t think we (‘the public’) can possibly be any less visually literate than in the past, so… who’s responsible for only wanting these money shot images? Picture editors?

    I’m reminded of Bill Hicks’ defense of his proposed show to TV execs. (‘People in Iowa won’t understand it, Bill.’ ‘Well, that’s funny, ’cause I was there the other day and they were laughing their asses off’). Is someone further up the food chain scared to print a picture that’s different?

    All of which is preaching to the converted, I know…. But as I say, I haven’t ranted for a while :)

    P.S Good to see you Thursday and thanks again!

    Reply
    • kkuukka
      December 18, 2013

      Great to see your words Adam – and great talking to you the other night.
      I’ve been thinking about this blog and the fact that I write in English… that maybe I should write in Finnish…

      But people like you, Tomas, Hopper, Primoz, etc. – it is just so rewarding and nice talking to you on these pages. Some of the best conversations I have ever had have been on these pages – and many of them in English.

      I have made friend with some pretty amazing minds here.

      So I think I will keep it up… maybe do as I have already done to an extent: talk about journalism, art, life, universe and everything on these pages – and reserve the simply technical, multimedia related stuff to our http://www.docimages.fi -blog.

      And truly enjoyed reading you comment. I might get back to it as my sports photography career will be shifting more to multimedia production. As you said with your boxing photography: been there, done that. You know you can do it. And presently in this country, there is no real possibility to make your living in sports photography. So maybe it is time for me to do something else? And the journey has already started… :-)

      Reply

Leave a Reply