In the Eye of the Storm – News Coverage using a DAM

Hyannis - The sailboat Breezing UP is grounded on the beach near Hyannis, where it broke free of its mooring during Hurricane Irene. Photo by Cape Cod Times/Jim PrestonMy colleague Rande Simpson and I were chatting yesterday (August 29), after Hurricane Irene struck the east coast of the United States. We spoke about how our company did not need to implement any of our disaster response plans – we were happy about that. Rande had kept her eye on the storm, she lives in Georgia, but did not even get much rain. I live in Utah, so no hurricane watch for me either. But we did start to talk about how much easier it was for photographers to cover major disasters like Hurricane Irene – both of us came from an Associated Press photo background.

Without sounding like a couple of people on their way out to pasture, we decided “these kids today” can now worry about taking pictures more than how to get the pictures back for publication. (Of course “back in the day” Rande and I did not have to worry about web deadlines – what web?)

Our biggest challenge was finding water to mix chemistry to develop film, electricity to run our enlarger and photo transmitter and a phone line to connect our transmitting equipment. Shooting pictures almost seemed secondary.

Now, cell phones with pretty decent cameras, and pretty great cameras with built-in photo-transmitting capabilities, getting pictures back is easier than ever.

But before I make it sound too easy, let me share with you some thoughts from photo editors at some different Merlin digital asset management customers.

Tom Spain, Director of Photography at The Post and Courier in Charleston, SC shared this with me about his hurricane experiences.

“Hurricane Hugo struck Charleston in 1989, long before digital photography and the Internet. I set out early in the morning after the storm struck, shot all day and went back to the newspaper late in the afternoon to process black & white film, washing it with rainwater left collected from the roof because the water pumps around the city were not working. Our deadline was 10 PM. I went home got some sleep and did it all again the next day.

We were shooting transparencies and black & white at the time. Murphy’s Law guaranteed that you had the wrong camera at your eye when shooting what could be the 1-A color centerpiece or the jump page b&w photo.

The newspaper building was full of photographers from all over because they needed darkrooms and the ability to transmit the photos via telephone lines. Some photographers, mostly AP, were working with a Leafax transmitter.
They still had to process the film.

Hurricane Irene brushed by Charleston last week. No photographers from other papers came to work out of our building. They haven’t in years. Our own photographers didn’t even work out of our building. No need. With digital cameras, laptop computers and cell data cards or satellite phones they now work from the field. Our web deadline is always 5 minutes from now if not sooner. We now shoot stills and video. (See Murphy’s Law reference above.) Many of the photos and videos were taken with smartphones and sent in minutes because of expediency.

Digital photography allows photographers to stay on scene longer. Digital asset management systems like Merlin allow near instantaneous searching, quick editing and outputting of images. Access to photo and text archives makes researching and fact checking much easier.”

Jim Preston, Director of Photography at the Cape Cod Times told me

“Merlin was great during the storm (Irene). We had three photographers in different parts of the Cape and uploaded throughout the day of coverage. Irene was a tropical storm by the time it hit Cape Cod. We were fortunate not to have the rain it dumped west of us, but the high winds caused damage to trees, boats and some erosion.

I had three staff photographers that were off on Sunday when Irene hit. They were able to jump on coverage in their area and send images from home. Being able to drop images (to Merlin) as the story is breaking and have them posted on the web was a huge contrast to the old days when we would have waited for film to come in. One of our online editors was working from home in Boston and was able to update our online photo gallery as we dropped them into Merlin. It also made it easy to sort through the large number of images as we edited for the print edition. We were on back up generator here in the main office, so the power outage was not an issue.”

View content from the Cape Cod Times at www.capecodonline.com.

You can see the Post and Courier’s coverage at www.postandcourier.com.

Posted by David Breslauer
Photo by Cape Cod Times/Jim Preston

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