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In defense of more artistic news

July 23, 2009

Back when I was in college and was solidly in the print journalist category, my newspaper classmates and I liked to think that we were pretty clever with some of the page designs we came up with (some of them were actually pretty good). But that’s about as far as news and art ever went. We had a few good photographers pass through The Observer offices, but there was some kind of ethical code that prevented them from ever altering a picture beyond slightly lightening it or cropping it in Photoshop. (There was a point at which a photo stopped being “photo by…” and became “photo illustration by….”)

I am, of course, being sarcastic—I get the ethics surrounding the alteration of photos. I also get that there’s a difference between something created for art’s sake and something created for the transfer of information. But the two can coexist and can do so rather brilliantly:

This video is gorgeous. It sets up a camera on the street and asks one question to 50 people: “By the end of the day, what do you wish to happen?” I’ll ask my own question: Is this news? Arguably, not really. It’s journalism, but it’s not necessarily news. However, I’d happily run it on a news site, in the lifestyle section or something like that. As un-newsy as this video is, it is a bit of a window into the soul of the community, which is what a news site should be looking at anyway.

This discovery comes via Wired Pen. It’s Richard Koci Hernandez‘s multimedia account of his 54 days on the No. 54 bus in Oakland. Again, I have to argue that this isn’t exactly news in the traditional sense—but it is journalism. It’s a three-minute, twenty-five second journey onto a bus route that most of us will never ride. (Even more impressive is that he produced the entire thing on an iPhone.) This one also brings up the question of how far is too far with regard to photo editing. Is it ethical (or whatever) in a photojournalism sense to use a do-it-for-you editing interface like CameraBag? I think the better question in this case is: Who cares? It looks damn cool and I don’t think anyone’s under the impression that’s how life on the bus really looks.

You may call either of these videos editorials—they are, after all, showcasing their producer’s views on given subjects. But at the same time, that’s basically what any straight news story is; you go out, you gather as many sources as you can and you come back with something as close to the truth as possible. I don’t see why that process can’t become more artistic, or at least more aesthetically pleasing.

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