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Tuesday, August 7, 2012
Gen-J Toolbox

Sharpen your 'phoneography' skills

By Pat Kane

Ever been teased for how much you are on

your phone? What about for how many apps you download? Most of you probably have, especially if you are one of the younger ones in the newsroom.

Our ability to use and adapt to new technology is one of the reasons most “green” journalists are invaluable to a newsroom. We use what we have at our fingertips to get the job done. If there’s something that will make our jobs easier, we download it. The perfect example happened earlier this year.

News spread quickly through Twitter when a Navy jet plunged into an apartment building near Oceana Naval Air Station in Virginia Beach, Va., on Friday, April 6. Vicki Cronis-Nohe, a veteran photojournalist with The Virginian-Pilot, had little idea she would fly across the Internet as well when she arrived to cover the story. A meme image of Cronis-Nohe — snapping a photo with her smartphone as several bulky pro cameras hang from her shoulders and captioned “HAS $13,000 OF CAMERA GEAR — USES PHONE INSTEAD” — has racked up thousands of views and hundreds of comments online.

In what was deemed an Easter miracle, the pilots of the Navy F/A-18D ejected and five people on the ground suffered non-life-threatening injuries as the plane crashed. Randall Greenwell, director of photography for the Pilot, sent five photographers to the scene and put another in a helicopter.

“Even though it was her day off, (Cronis-Nohe) sprang into action within minutes and was the first Pilot photographer on the scene,” Greenwell said. “Our priority is getting something online quickly, so the iPhone comes into play.”

Pro-level cameras do not have built-in seamless 3G/4G wireless capabilities like a phone or tablet, so “phoneography” remains the quickest way to get a photo from the scene to a photo desk or assignment editor.

“It does look a little ridiculous to have all that gear hanging off me and using a cell phone,” said Cronis-Nohe, who saw the meme a few days later. “The phone is the logical choice for breaking or big news events. You send a few quickly for online, then get to work with your cameras.”

The three-time Virginia Photographer of the Year isn’t a heavy phone shooter yet.

“Ironically, this is the first time I’ve used it on assignment, as I’ve only had it two months or so,” she said.

Internet commentators quickly seized upon the photo, some humorous — “She had the choice between gaining more Instagram followers, or getting 25 dollars from the local newspaper for that picture” wrote one Reddit user — and some right-on.

“A lot of commercial news people do this on breaking stories so that they can do a ‘tease’ for other shots on the Web, morning papers or later broadcasts,” explained the top comment by user girl_blue.

Many in the area pointed their iPhones and Android devices toward the plume of smoke, posting photos on social media. The Pilot, The Daily Press in neighboring Newport News, Va., and many other news outlets used a phone snapshot by teen Zack Zapatero as their A1 centerpiece.

“Some of the photos were technically sound but not so compelling. Others were blurry and loose but felt extremely urgent,” Greenwell said of the community-contributed photos flooding into the newsroom. “The photo we ultimately used put the reader right at the scene and held up fairly well considering the presentation.”

Greenwell says the pressure to “feed the beast” is tough on pro shooters.

“Decisions have to be made much more quickly and there is always the worry that you’ll miss THE shot while you’re fiddling with the iPhone. It takes a lot of poise to shoot great photos AND move them back.

“I think the technology will eventually catch up and make that job easier but for now, the short deadlines can cause a bit of extra stress,” he said.

Cronis-Nohe agreed that the steady deadlines can be challenging.

“In the course of all the stopping and starting you hope that nothing is missed, and that you are sending quality, not just feeding the machine,” she said.

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