Looking back: the year in photos
“Does that story have a face?”
That’s the first question that pops into my mind when we’re in an editorial meeting discussing the stories everyone is working on. Often those stories are about abstract issues, development or community concerns and desires.
But to truly resonate with readers, and to create an interesting photo, stories need a face.
Every decision by government or government agencies, every issue, every complaint effects someone, has an impact on somebody or a neighbourhood, changes the course of a community.
It’s our job to find that someone and try to tell the story of that decision, issue or complaint through their eyes.
Telling a story about a neighbourhood’s presentation to city council for a new stop light becomes very real when it’s told from the perspective of a parent whose child was hit by a car. A developer’s application to amend the zoning of his property becomes much more than a sign on the sidewalk when a neighbour gives voice to concerns about the effects increased traffic or noise will have on their lives. A donation to the hospital for a new piece of equipment becomes more than just a group of people patting each other on the back when we meet someone who has a new lease on life because of that equipment.
It’s not always easy to find a face for a story. I often hear the sighs of the reporters when I ask for one; it usually means a few extra phone calls, maybe some cajoling. Sometimes it means taking a different approach to a story, attacking it from another direction that gets past official spokespeople, bureaucrats or politicians to reach real people who might not otherwise think their story or their role in a story would be of interest.
Finding a face for sensitive or contentious issues can be especially difficult. People going through hard times or facing particular challenges are often reluctant to allow their private struggles to be made public. Perhaps they fear retribution, discrimination or maybe just sideways glances the next time they venture to the grocery story. We’re always thankful when someone does lower their guard and allow us into their world. It takes courage and selflessness to reach out, to realize by letting us tell their story they may be able to help someone in a similar circumstance, or perhaps get access to the help they need themselves.
It can be a challenge to resist the temptation to take the easy route and just run a generic photo of a building, or an empty lot, or traffic whizzing by to illustrate a story about a contentious zoning issue or traffic concerns. Especially these days when newsroom resources are sparse. If you see those photos, it usually means we ran out of ideas, time or imagination.
Finding faces for our stories challenges us to be better journalists and, we hope, creates a better, more interesting newspaper.
• This year’s photographic retrospective of the past year has been culled from thousands of photos shot over hundreds of assignments. The images are accompanied by commentary about the thought that went into making that photo, or why it stood out as I sorted through the digital files. There are additional photos in a gallery on our websites, www.newwestnewsleader.com and www.burnabynewsleader.com.