Speaker Post: Mary Knox Merrill
Last week my online journalism class spoke with Northeastern University staff photographer Mary Knox Merrill.
Prior to joining Northeastern, Merrill worked for several years at the Christian Science Monitor, a Boston-based paper that puts a heavy emphasis on international coverage.
Merrill started her career as a photo editor and went on to work as a photographer, covering everything from a feature on local cyclocross competitions to rape prevention in the Congo and the plight of Indian farmers facing the brunt of climate change.
I was really impressed with her work and from the conversation she had with the class I gathered that photojournalism definitely has its place in the news mix, especially as the web becomes the predominant way in which people experience the media since questions of space and color-vs-black and white printing become historical footnotes rather than day-to-day editorial concerns.
So have I given up my Bic for a Cannon? No, but I certainly plan on charging my battery more often.
For local stories in which in-depth detail will net you more readers than your competition – community meetings, political stories and the like, the pen still reigns supreme in my opinion. Let’s face it, it’s hard to take a shot that would explain negotiations between the City of Boston and the local firefighters union. Although just because a good reporter may rely more on their pen while covering such a story, I have learned from my own experiences in the field that snapping off a quick shot of the local firehouse to run alongside your words certainly will not hurt your web traffic. [link]
Of course, when you are working on a story about an unusual happening, or a story discussing a part of the world or way of life completely unfamiliar to most of your readers, then you better have either a basic understanding of news photography and editing or the world’s most powerful thesaurus, a massive word count and a very, very patient audience.
I think what I took away from this conversation can be summed up as the following: photography, like pen and paper reporting, is dependent on going into a story with an idea of what your editor and readers want and the ability to keep up with the minute by minute changes in plan you see while sinking your teeth into what is really happening.
That ability to change strategies with the situation, figuring out where your best photo opportunities may be, quickly snapping a good shot or two to help strengthen your online and in-print presentation then returning to your pen and notebook seems like the way of the future. Merrill herself summed it up pretty nicely:
“If you’re reporter primarily, the story will be your strong point,” Merrill said. “But you need that multimedia component now, the web demands it.”