Monday, April 1, 2013

A wild idea for publishing more photos

I've passed along what I think is a great idea to The Orion editors that could go a long way toward making both the newspaper and the website a lot more visually appealing.

I suggested assigning a daily photo of an event not attached to an assigned news, sports or feature story. The editors would look at the calendar for the day and pick out something visually interesting that would only require a cutline, not a full news story. It might be, say, the Chico State Young Cattlemen's Association grilling up tri-tip steaks outside Plumas Hall or students celebrating spring along The Gauntlet.

In fact, those two photos did appear on in recent weeks, but they were buried down in the Instagram collection where, I'm guessing, hardly anyone saw them. They would have been much more useful in the photo rotator at the top of the website home page or even on the front page the newspaper. 

This type of photo is called wild art or a maverick by newspaper veterans. It gives papers an opportunity to:
• add visual interest to a front page
• keep a home page current with coverage of events on and off campus
• give photographers permission to be creative with an assignment
• get more names and faces in the paper and on a website
• show readers that the paper is covering the community every day.

Some papers have made this strategy an art form. The Winona Daily News, for example, encourages photographer Andrew Link to find images that display the character and characters of his small Minnesota city. The Daily News has even collected his photos in a slideshow of more than 100 images on the paper's website. 

When I worked at The Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Gazette, Managing Editor John Robertson devoted the back page of the paper to a collection of wild art and wire art every day. The paper had a terrific photo staff and the latest Goss press equipment, and John liked to show them off. It was one of the most popular features in the paper.

Mavericks can also remind readers of coming events (a photo at dress rehearsal could promote the opening night of a student play), provide a visual report about nice or foul weather (particularly popular at the midwestern papers where I worked) and capture the rhythms of everyday life on campus or in the city. 

I know space is tight at The Orion these days, but assigning wild art (instead of letting it happen by chance) will offer photographers more opportunities to display their talents, make the paper more visually attractive and provide a systematic way for to keep its content fresh and relevant.

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