Thoughts on Media – October 2008

- - The Future

“I think we’re on the verge of an epochal advancement in journalism.” — Matt Thompson, Newsless.org

This new site called Newsless.org that I discovered via an article on the site Publishing 2.0 about the need for a new AP (here) is authored by Matt Thompson–currently undertaking a year-long research fellowship with the Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri–is an exciting new voice with thoughts and reporting on the future of journalism and newspapers.

I like the the idea that he and Jeff Jarvis float that journalism needs to evolve from the story to the topic:

“I think the new building block of journalism needs to be the topic. I don’t mean that in the context of news site topic pages, which are just catalogues of links built to kiss up to Google SEO. Those are merely collections of articles, and articles are inadequate.” — Jeff Jarvis, Buzz Machine.

There’s an undeniably massive role for photography in a shift like this because topics require moving the story forward and moving beyond attention grabbing to attention holding and that requires a certain type and depth of photography.

But, when I read these discussions I’m often left wondering why nobody is talking about photography. I mean, why is photography only popular online when it’s used to sell cameras to consumers. Why can I find hot topics like politics, environment, economy and sports all covered in words, podcast and now video but nothing done purely with photographs. Is that because the consumers aren’t interested or is because photographers aren’t doing anything about it.

I’m currently on the lookout for several things to happen with photography online:

A photography site to become popular that isn’t about selling cameras or techniques to consumers.
A site that tells stories of national interest in pictures (with text is fine, but equal).
A top tier photographer producing content online only.

Maybe I will never see any of that. Maybe I’m wrong about the value and interest in photography online.

I hope not.

“No, the essence of the problem is that we thought the internet represented just a new gadget and not a fundamental change in society, the economy, and thus journalism.” — Jeff Jarvis, Buzz Machine.

There Are 26 Comments On This Article.

  1. “A photography site to become popular that isn’t about selling cameras or techniques to consumers.
    A site that tells stories of national interest in pictures (with text is fine, but equal).”

    The Big Picture seems to do both of those things.

    http://www.boston.com/bigpicture/

  2. It’s not quite a site, but I certainly see the recently announced project by James Nachtway (over at http://ted.com) as a positive step toward what you are talking about. I too would love to see more news reporting/issues attention done entirely (or at least mostly) in photos. I’m not a photojournalist myself, but it is something I have been interested in. I would definitely consider contributing to such a site, were the pay structure to be acceptable.

  3. I think the root of the problem is Google indexes text and page code, it does not index images or video. They also seem quite happy to stay where they are. Adwords (words being the important part of this word) might be a clue to their rigid and inflexible approach to indexing anything other than words. Where images and video are indexed (Google Images I hear you cry) they are indexed because of the text and code that surrounds them. Google makes money online if people move from place to place, if people remain in the same place absorbing compelling content, Google is not making money, nor showing ads. Seth Godin says the web was not built on advertising. It was, is and will be. Google Adwords has been the driving force for Google (its still the pretty much the only thing they make money on) developing, and in turn the web developing.

    Couple this with a belief on the part of the majority of those investing in the web that a network makes more money than a vertical and that user-generated content is a good way to build a site (to make pages to attract Google traffic) and that advertising rates are lower and so are profit margins online than in print and photography very much becomes an after thought. For example, not even Tina Brown’s new site (The Daily Beast) is all original content, its an aggregator also.

    The most important thing a major new site does is produce templates and content, and content links, that attract Google traffic. Its all about tags. Photography is not part of this equation. If the site has management that believes in content over aggregation, then you might start to see photography added, but even for publishers who believe content is king, it’s rare for a site to be designed with photography more central than words.

    So you can blame Google if you ask me. They are invested in the current status quo.

    • @Mike Hartley, Google is far from inflexible in indexing things other than text. It’s just that text indexing is a lot easier than indexing (and searching!) other content. Some initiatives Google has going regarding indexing of non-text content:
      http://labs.google.com/gaudi/ (Indexing of audio)
      http://video.google.com/ (searching of video content)

      Also, Google makes plenty of money when you stay on one site, most adwords ads are displayed on non-google pages. As to photography becoming more of a leading content-form online, comments #1 and #2 are good examples I think.

      • @Joost van der Borg, I disagree. Images, audio and video are treated as separate content and are not returned in the main search return based on a keyword search. That seems inflexible to me. We all use pictures and audio and video as much as text to understand our world, Google does not. They say things like ‘Googlebot doesn’t have eyes’ [http://www.blog.zoozoom.com/comment/2008/08/redux.aspx], is that the voice of a company invested in images? Agreed its more complex to do so. You could read more costly instead of more complicated. Google makes money if you click on an adword ad. If you stay on one page, you maybe see one grouping of adwords ads. You are more likely to click the more impressions of an adwords ad are delivered to you. so Google needs us to keep moving. No matter if it is on their site, or another site, page turns mean impressions for Google adwords and revenue. They want us to keep moving, they make money off word based ads. It seems very simple and clear to me.

        • “Where images and video are indexed (Google Images I hear you cry) they are indexed because of the text and code that surrounds them”

          Have any of you guys seen or played about with this TINEYE yet ? I seem to think I even read about it on APE some time back.

          http://tineye.com/

          It seems to still be in beta, but I downloaded their plug in for firefox and it is impressive indeed. It found a pretty obscure image of mine that was buried deep in the web on my first try.

          Robert

          • @robert p, TinEye is great, but its a comparison. I suppose there could be a reference library of images that things are compared to for search. Its definitely very interesting.

        • @Mike Hartley, Actually, images, video, maps etc. are getting returned more and more in the main search results on google.com. Most relevant content will still be text, partly because they’ve indexed more of it, partly because, as this post correctly states, there is more of it online. There are various reasons for this, not in the least the historical context of the web being textbased.
          Further, your argument that ‘Google cares only about page-turns’ hardly is an argument for not indexing image-content. The more content (in whatever form) Google can point you at, the more they can display ads on. (By the way, adwords can be used to display image, audio and video-ads as well as text-ads these days)

          • @Joost van der Borg, I see maps in the main return. But can you give me an example where a photo, audio or video are returned in a search return and not a web page? I have never seen one. Sometimes it might put a Google Image result at the top of a search return, say for Yousuf karsh, but this is not an index of assets, text and images, that are returned, it just happens to have worked out Karsh was a photographer so makes a Google image return at the top of the page. It does not offer me any insight into the relevancy of say a web page versus an image nor does it provide any sense of importance. The return is not hierarchical, you just get a précis of another category (say image search) at the top of your main search. Text, image, audio, video are separately indexed and separately valued.

            I never said Google would not like to index images. They are just in a very comfortable and profitable space and if it ain’t broke, why fix it? I said they were invested in the status quo. After all, if you have perfect search, why would anybody advertise? You would always find what you need without an ad? They have little motivation to spend the money when they are doing so well right now. But, yes they will in the end. But they are the block in the mean-time.

            I think my main point is still the basic unit for Google regards their main index is a web page, not a piece of content. They talk frequently about context being important to how something is indexed, and when they say context, they mean the web page and in the end this makes words more important than images.

  4. The purpose of newspapers, magazines, television and “on-line” is to make a profit by delivering eyeballs to advertisers. Are photographs cheaper to produce than words? Will they attract more eyeballs or more valuable eyeballs than words?

    I only look at NYT articles that include a slideshow, seldom reading the article itself. And no, I don’t move my lips when I read.

  5. And more:

    A photography site to become popular that isn’t about selling cameras or techniques to consumers.

    How will it become popular if can’t attract Google traffic? For which it needs words and tags and links, not images. (I don’t believe this to be true, but most online publishers do.) Camera sellers advertise their site, and get traffic that way. Publishers to date have not really advertised their sites (compare any recent new publications online with the budget behind Portfolio). They rely on Google. Its cheaper and more cost effective. At ZOOZOOM (http://www.zoozoom.com) we open with one single large image. We dropped from page 2 in Google on the keyword fashion to page 28 to nowhere when we moved from words to images opening our site.

    A site that tells stories of national interest in pictures (with text is fine, but equal).

    Same as above. Structurally, words and links are more important. A site of images with no words and no text may even be penalized.

    A top tier photographer producing content online only.

    No one is paying enough.

    Until Google can make money off ads that aren’t just words, that’s where they are going to keep us.

    • @Mike Hartley,
      Who is paying all these writers to do this online? Nobody. They do it because they want to change the direction of where this is all headed.
      There must be grants available for photographers to explore this as well. I just don’t think anyone is trying.

      • @A Photo Editor, Even though photography is more accessible than ever, it’s still far easier for most people to put words online than images. Most of the web structures one can pick up and use for free are structured around words. Your own blog for example is lead by words not images (and you are a photo editor). The reason the web structures that are available to us for free are word dominated is because word dominated web structures are more successful than image led structures because they work better with Google and get more traffic. We find out about them, enough people use them, and they become more broadly distributed.

        I agree photographers have been, and are, slow to use the web to their own advantage. But they are out there. I just think we don’t know so much about them, because image led websites don’t index so well. Send an email with just a jpeg in it and it will get ruled as spam.

        The post below resonates tremendously for me. So far, in the world of Google, a thousand words is a thousand words and Google can index every one. An image is at best a filename, some alt text and some title text. It is a very poor cousin.

        • @A Photo Editor, And I really hope there are grants, and that images become more predominant and that it all gets solved. But I think the block is with Google, or search engines, and I doubt we will see photos’ importance increase until we see search engines making money off ads that include them.

          • @A Photo Editor, Or sufficient publishers are online with sufficient advertising revenue in sufficient competition for them to need to differentiate themselves rather than just exist and index well in Google.

            And … we have been publishing an image led site for 8 years and very few people have championed us. They’ve seen us as part of the problem I think, as undermining print and ultimately photographers therefore.

  6. I second The Big Picture as doing some of these things you want. As Alan Taylor said on Oct 1: “we topped one million daily pageviews at least five times last month. ” So people are certainly responding to the idea in a short amount of time.

  7. Okay, so it’s not photojournalism, but check out Polanoid:

    http://www.polanoid.net/

    Since Polaroid is nearly dead, despite Fuji Instant being still available, this website really sells nothing. It is purely about the images, and sharing “instant” photos. The same usage that once was in person, can now be done on-line.

    Maybe it seems more like a cult or fad, but it has many followers. Honestly, I don’t know how they stay online and in business. Uber.com tried to be about images, and now they are struggling. At some point, it has to be about generating revenues, otherwise the noble effort will disappear.

  8. Terence Patrick

    “Why can I find hot topics like politics, environment, economy and sports all covered in words, podcast and now video but nothing done purely with photographs. Is that because the consumers aren’t interested or is because photographers aren’t doing anything about it.”

    My guess is that it’s easier for consumers to digest the information of podcasts/videos in a YouTube sized window with compressed sound than to click through 20 photographs that will probably take two or three times as long to get through and have to be bigger to create the same amount of impact. I think the average news consumer wants just a bite big enough to feel in the know, but don’t really want to be fully informed.

    On top of that, most of the video content from news sources are highly filtered of any possible disturbing images, yet still allow most people to feel informed. Ever see video footage from hurricane Katrina? It’s usually high water with cars floating around, maybe a few people looting, or police rescuing someone. But if one were to look at the photos journalists have taken, there’s a lot of swollen, dead bodies floating next to open sewage, miserable people crying for mercy, and other not-so-pleasant things most Americans do not want to see.

  9. Thanks for the mention, Rob. I haven’t written too much about storytelling on Newsless yet, but suffice it to say I think a beautiful presentation is integral to success in an endeavor like mine, and that great photography is key to beautiful presentation.

  10. I’m a ‘www-user’ since 1995, and I have to observe that the internet becomes bootless year by year (regarding quality content).

    Personally I believe that the worst thing ever happened to the www is GOOGLE. Not Gooogle itself, but it’s domination. One day we all will see why it is a ‘bad thing’ leaving the control out to a robot.

    The future is found in the past. Back in 1968 Stanley Kubrick showed us what could happen with a dictatorial robot gone crazy. At least he tried it. Carlie Chaplin also tried it. The idea for his movie ‘The Great Dictator’ was born in the year of 1935(!).

    Nowadays a webmaster has to adore the tin Google-God, or s/he gets no traffic.

    The point ?

    BEFORE you can have users you need traffic, not viceversa. And very often the textual content has to be optimized for the tin god, not for the users. That’s called SEO.

    As mentioned above, very soon technics similar to ‘TINEYE’ could be used by Google as well. And people will find out how Google ranks ‘em.

    And I’m afraid of the day when we are flooded with images done with respect of a ‘good placement’ in search engines.

    Maybe this will be a new scope for photographers. Maybe soon ‘Digital SEO-Images Photographer’ will be printed on business cards.

    Of course, that’s only hypothetical. Just kidding. Am I ? :-)
    …………….

    90 % of my personal traffic is generated by Google-Images. Willfully. I’m a photographer, my language are images, not texts.

    And similar to photography there is always light where there is shadow. Or viceversa, if you prefer *smile.

    There is a noteable shift already. Google Images (and Flickr as well) are used more and more to connect clients to DACs -Digital Assets Creators (formerly called photographers).

    More and more this crappy ‘middleman’ can be ignored, all these ‘brokers’ with their greedy hands, knowing nothing about photography, but treating photographers like monkeys and beggars (That’s the ‘light’ in the metapher *smile)

    Best, Reini
    (not a native speaker …)

    • @Reinfried Marass, I can understand news or photojournalism sites wanting traffic driven through Google placement, but I rarely meet commercial photographers interested in new potential clients finding them that way. When I worked with a web developer on my website, I specifically wanted to avoid the tags that would place me higher on search engines. Unfortunately, I found out that my page comes up high on several searches for the type of work I do. Maybe if I was selling ad space on my website I would care about this, but I really think this is a non-issue for commercial photographers.

      • @Gordon Moat, I’m not sure I understand you correctly. What I understand from your reply is that you do not want to be found via Google? I can understand that you’re not likely to find new clients that way, so it’s not of much importance to you. What I do not understand is why you would discourage and make it harder to be found? In what way does that benefit you?

        • @Joost van der Borg, Perhaps a good way to explain this is the example of the previous design firm where I worked, who had a good Google ranking prior to shutdown. Most of their contacts through Google were people looking for internships, or small businesses that often seemed shocked at what creative work cost. It seemed that Search Engine connections were mostly in the industry, or at the bottom of the market for creative work. I never saw any good clients come through internet searches, and I heard the exact same experience from people at other agencies. When I asked those at better agencies about it, several suggested avoiding search engine placement, other than by company name; and then sticking to more targeted or traditional methods of gaining clients.

          I do think the opposite approach is needed for photojournalism, and there is a need for high search placement. Photojournalism is advertising driven to pay for the content, because the end user is unlikely to pay for internet content. So for photojournalism to attract advertising, it needs to attract viewers.

          • @Gordon Moat,
            I’ve to agree with you partially.
            1.) The most practical contacts are still made in real life and usually aren’t established over the net. I guess it has something to do with the thinking that anything in conjunction with the net must be cheap (if not ‘for free’ at all)

            2.) And I’ve to agree that is depends on the business you are in. And sometimes it kilss your biz if you can be found on the net.

            Sounds curious ? An Example:
            FoMoCo (Ford Motor Corporation) recently has started their witch-hunt. And today I have recognized that one of the stock agencies I’m with was forced to delete all FoMoCo related stock images. (from all contributors, not just mine). Although the agency thinks it’s against their rights, all related images have been RM and labeled ‘for editorial use only’ they don’t have the time and power to fight corporate lawyers. This agency is mainly google-driven (high up in the index) and so was one of the first witches they could flame up.

            I do a lot of automotive images so for me that doesn’t come to a surprise. Here in Europe Porsche and Mercedes are the most paranoid, and nearly no european stock agency allows you to upload images showing a car.
            Btw, Alamy is one of the last resorts where you can do that, besides some agencies specialised in transportation (but I guess it’s just a matter of time.

            This is just an example where high ranking can be bad for your biz.

            Although it may sound like another slap into the faces of stock photographers I personally think that assignment photographers can benefit from it. As long as cars are part of our life automotive images are in a demand. And photographing models, fashion, beauty, nudes, or whatever is fairly ‘easy’ in comparision to car photography (not to mention the combination of both *smile). Of course, many people would negate immediately – just get out and try it :-)
            ……….
            A more postive example:

            When selling stock photos (by yourself, not via an agency) a high ranking (except for car images – see above *smile) benefits the photographer, of course.
            In this case the photographer is associated with the end-client (no middle-men). Clients usually are very friendly that way (you have something THEY like to have), treat you like a human being and even do answer emails and phone calls – HOW NICE.
            And more often than not the money reward is higher. No, I don’t mention that there is no margin for the agency to pay. I mean, the clients often pay a higher price (more then an agency would have asked for). When I get an inquiry (for a license) I do some research based on the facts the client gave me (assuming s/he is honest *smile) to get a ‘feeling’. But I let the client make an offer first. And, believe it or not, this offer is often higher then the researched prices at agencies. (No, I don’t use microstock agencies for a research *lol). Not to mention the photographer gets a sample (important reference !) and has made a valuable contact to a client.

            However, this is just my personal experience … and as always, your milage may vary.

            cheers, Reini

  11. Hi A Photo Editor,
    Thanks so much for linking to ZOOZOOM! We hope you can make it to our next fashion party and meet our staff and fashion friends. Our next Fashion Wars Party is January 29th. If you would like to vote or attend, e-mail me at xenia [at] zoozoom [dot] com.

    Feel free to comment back on our Staff Blog. We love to hear from our friends.

    *Xenia