The BBC Viewfinder

Earlier this month the BBC News Picture Editor Phil Coomes joined the ever growing ranks of BBC bloggers with his own: Viewfinder

The blog sets out to discuss photography on the BBC News website and more widely on the subject of photojournalism and photography. Coomes himself is a photographer, studying at the BA Photography course at the University of Westminster under Tom Ang, who you may remember from the BBC TV series A digital picture of Britain

The BBC has, in my opinion, long shunned away from news photography which is understandable given it’s long history geared towards television and radio. However as one of the most trafficked news websites in the world and as more news is consumed online the BBC has lagged behind by miles with it’s use of press photography.bbcnewsgrab2Granted it has improved in recent years with it’s new larger image and headline when a big story is splashed on the front page (see above) and more recently it’s much improved galleries, which broke the ancient constraints of  the old 465 x 300 px slideshows.

There are still some problems with the new galleries, captions over photographs may be a pretty and efficient use of space if you are a web developer, but not much good if you want to look at a photograph and read the caption at the same time without ruining the aesthetics of both.

Another bugbear of mine is the lack of credits on images, usually it’s an AP, PA or Getty credit over the image, again something that irks the photography purist in me. But is it really that hard to properly credit a photographer? If they can credit every member of the production team on TV and occasionally the journalist who wrote the story online surely they can find the space for a credit for the photographer. Even the ‘Have Your Say’ comments get proper attribution.

A shining example of news photography online is the New York Times, whose stories have images over the full width of the article and often additional images for the story which can be viewed larger. Most importantly they are fully credited, even when they are from the wire agencies.

Closer to home the Guardian also plays photographs over the full width of the column and credits them properly. The Daily Mail uses images and graphics so heavily on it’s articles that if there were any more there would be nothing left but the headline. And of course there is the Boston Globe Big Picture blog, which plays images at a screen-busting 990px across.

Clearly little value is held for the still image at BBC News, apart from it’s frequent celebration of meaningless mediocrity with it’s ‘Your Pictures’ galleries which serve little other than free-content filler and a fulfilment of equally meaningless audience participation.

BBC News has an annual budget of £350 million, but from the look of it’s shockingly sparse local news sites you wouldn’t know it (a subject worthy of a blog post of it’s own). I know of one professional photojournalist who was offered a meagre £15 for a photo, he declined their offer.

Until the BBC starts paying properly for news photography it will remain full of bland audience contributed and wire agency photographs. I lay the gauntlet down to Phil Coomes and others on the BBC News Picture Desk to raise the quality of photography and to pay a decent rate for it. Here’s hoping anyway.

Dear Jonathan,

I saw your blog post and thought I’d just drop you a line to say hi and address a couple of issues you raise.

Credits:
It’s not true to say we don’t credit photographers, for example in recent weeks we’ve run stories by Amit Lennon, John Robinson, Glenna Gordon and Kate Holt to name just a few, all were credited. I realise we don’t usually credit the wire photographers and this is mainly for practical reasons, both organisational and technical.

Improvements:
As you mention we are making some improvements, the new galleries (your point on captions is noted) and larger images on the front page for breaking stories, pictures across the full width of an article on occasion and carousels of images such as that used on the picture index. There is certainly room to improve but I hope you’d agree it’s far better than it was twelve months ago.

Fees:
Finally, in terms of payment then we have a rate card that is available on request, and yes, we do credit.

Though for obvious reasons the majority of our visual newsgathering is via video, I can assure you we do value still pictures here at the BBC, and it’s something I want to emphasize through the blog.

Best wishes, Phil Coomes, BBC News website

Phil,

Thanks for taking the time to reply, I think we’re in agreement that BBC Online is getting better in making greater use of photography, the larger images on breaking stories as you say. I especially like the carousels, something other news organisations should look at. Sky News have an interesting take on this with video playing as soon as the page loads.

On credits, I have noticed occasional credits for what I assume are freelancers, but I don’t see why you can’t credit agency photographers as well – The Guardian, The Daily Mail and The New York Times all do, surely if you can credit freelancers you can credit agency photographers as well. The byline will be embedded in the metadata as well as on the agency website, certainly in the case of Getty/AFP anyway.

I know the BBC isn’t alone in not attributing photos – CNN, ITV and Sky don’t either, as well as many newspapers, both in print and online. So this is something that we as photographers should be campaigning for across the industry.

Hopefully the BBC can continue its upwards trend in using photography and through your blog you can bring an insight as to how the picture desk works and how BBC News uses photography.

J,

whilst you make some interesting points you seem to negate the work of the wire photographers that feature heavily on the BBC website.

Internationally I think the current crop of wire photographers are in a class of their own. Boston Big Picture relies heavily on them and if you look at the work that has come out of recent conflicts the contribution of the wire photogs are exceptional. Day in day out they deliver the goods, win the awards and get none of the glory.

duckrabbit