The Virginian-Pilot: All Hands on Deck!

By Jim Colton

When it comes to photography, many image makers subscribe to the rule of the three C’s; Content, Composition and Color. When it comes to newspapers, a different set of C’s must be adhered to; Comprehensive Community Coverage. This is the building block that is the cornerstone of any successful newspaper. 

But what happens when your community is also home to the world’s largest naval base? Naval Station Norfolk supports 75 ships and 134 aircraft alongside 14 piers and 11 aircraft hangars. The base houses the largest concentration of U.S. Navy forces in the world and according to a staggering 351,387 military personnel (including families) populate the Virginia Beach, Newport, Norfolk, Hampton and Portsmouth areas.

Does that demographic change the way a newspaper has to cover local events? How do you balance items of military versus civilian interest? This week, Photo Journal looks for answers to these questions and more as we take a look inside the photo operations of The Virginian-Pilot through the eyes of its very spirited Director of Photography Randall Greenwell.

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LA Times: A Tale of Two Stories

By Jim Colton

Major metropolitan newspapers face the incredible challenge of satisfying reader interest for news, features, sports, and civic and social issues in their increasingly expanding and diverse multi cultural regions. Meeting these challenges requires journalists with passion and insight that keeps them ahead of the curve -- setting trends for the kinds of stories they report and the visual storytelling techniques used to report them. Few major metropolitan dailies meet these challenges as well as the staff of the Los Angeles Times

Read the interview here::

In Bed with Jimmy Colton

By Jim Colton

Tuesday night, October 30th, 1984. The phone rings around midnight. Myra Kreiman, one of my colleagues in the photo department at Newsweek, was watching ABC’s Nightline which claimed at the very end of the segment, that Indira Gandhi may have been assassinated! She wanted to give me, the Acting Director of Photography, a “heads up.”

Over the next two hours, after confirming Gandhi’s death through a variety of sources, we “scramble the jets.”  I wake up all of the major photo agency heads in New York and tell them I want first right of refusal on any images related to the story. Next, I dispatch our contract photographer Peter Turnley on the first available flight from Paris to New Delhi. 

Two hours later, feeling confident that I have done all that I could do to insure we have the best possible coverage of this breaking news…I go to sleep. 

2:30 a.m. -- the phone rings, it's Tom Mathews, the senior editor for international news at the magazine. In his southern drawl he says, “Jim (pronounced as a three syllable word) Indira Gandhi has been assassinated!” I respond, “Again?”

That’s how we rolled back then.  In the pre-digital world, whoever moved the quickest reaped the rewards…especially when it came to meeting the weekly deadlines. Being the “first” to contact the image makers and photo agencies was critical… especially if you wanted to beat the competition, which in our case was TIME Magazine.

As Newsweek’s last print issue rolled off the presses at the end of 2012, I reflected on those “glory years” when picture display was paramount and the competition was fierce! Now, in 2013, TIME Magazine no longer has a direct competitor. Yet the magazine is still as relevant and vital as ever and its online footprint is becoming larger every day.

One of those footprints is LightBox,'s online home for great photography.  LightBox affords the magazine the ability to publish work on a real-time basis as well as supplement and compliment images also appearing in its weekly print edition.  The person who holds the baton for the visual orchestra at TIME Magazine is Director of Photography Kira Pollack, who would have been a formidable adversary back in my time. 

To find out how she manages all of TIME’s photographic coverage for the print version as well as their web site, I asked her about the many hats that a director of photography needs to wear.

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Size Doesn't Matter!

Two hours southwest of Indianapolis, Indiana, in the small town of Jasper, Indiana, stands a two story brick building with a white banner near the top that quietly proclaims the name of the local newspaper: The Herald.

Established in 1895, The Herald  is one of only 300 independently-owned newspapers still being published in the United States. Its 11,300 circulation reaches 92 percent of all adults in rural Dubois County -- a remarkable audience penetration for any publication. 

So how does this small town paper continue to stay relevant for its community and survive the many challenges the newspaper industry has faced the last two decades? What makes The Herald consistently earn high honors for excellence on the national stage -- especially for photography? 

To find answers to these and other questions, I interviewed Dave Weatherwax, The Herald’s chief photographer and photo editor. 

Read the interview here:

Looking Back: Maybe the Mayans were right

By Jim Colton

2012 was a milestone year for me. After 15 years at Sports Illustrated, and 40 years in the industry, I decided to take a breather from the full-time-working-for-the-man gig. And as we approach the New Year, I have much to give thanks for. I am in good health. I have two great kids (who are now young men) that are doing remarkably well in their own lives and careers. I’ve been happily married (to the same woman) for 33 years....and I am now at a point in my life where I can choose what to do but much more important, what NOT to do.

I’ve also rediscovered my penchant for writing. Not necessarily stories like this blog but things with a little more meat on them like the pieces I’ve been producing for the NPPA (National Press Photographers Association) In the Spring of 2013, I will be North Carolina State’s first Photojournalist-in-Residence allowing me to give back to the industry that’s been good to me by helping young photojournalists explore photography and journalism as career options.

So with all this to look forward to in the next year, I decided to look back and examine some of the major news events of 2012 a little bit closer. And what I found was….maybe the Mayans were right. Their calendar ended on December 21, 2012. Many interpreted this as possibly the “End of the World.” I would like to think of it as more of an “End of an Era.” Hopefully, an end to an era of violence. Perhaps the Mayans meant it to be a symbol for “Enlightenment.”  I sincerely hope so. 2012 can only be described as “The Year of Violence.” Chronologically, this is what we experienced last year:

January:  Protests intensify in Syria. A bomb kills 25 people in Damascus. The cruise ship Costa Concordia capsizes, 11 die, 22 are still listed as missing, and the captain abandoned the ship.

February: 73 people are killed at a riot at a soccer match in Egypt prompting even more political riots. Over 300 people are killed at a prison in Honduras after an inmate sets fire to his mattress. 17-year-old Treyvon Martin is fatally shot in a gated community in Florida by George Zimmerman sparking accusations of racial profiling.

March: A US Soldier kills 17 Afghan civilians, including 9 children. Shane Schumerth, a teacher at Episcopal High School in Jacksonville, Florida, returns to the campus after being fired and kills the headmistress, Dale Regan, with an assault rifle. Tornadoes hit 17 states causing 27 deaths and leaving thousands homeless.

April: One Goh, a former student at Oikos University in Oakland, California, opens fire on the campus, killing seven people.

May: 32 children under the age of ten are killed when Syrian government troops attack the village of Houla.

June: Over 100 are killed in Syria as political unrest continues.

July: During a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises, gunman James Holmes opens fire on the crowded theater in a Denver suburb. Twelve people are killed and 58 others are wounded. According to opposition activists, more than 200 people are killed by Syrian government forces in Tremseh, a Sunni village near Hama.

August: Wade Michael Page opens fire in a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, killing six people and wounding three others. Syria sinks into civil war. In Daraya, a suburb of Damascus, mass burials are discovered. The Local Coordination Committees reports that at least 630 residents of Daraya have been killed in the last week. The United States military reaches 2,000 deaths in Afghanistan.

September: Armed gunmen storm the American consulate in Benghazi and kill U.S. ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three other embassy officials.

October: In Pakistan, Taliban members shoot 14-year-old Malala Yousafzai in the head and neck. Yousafzai was targeted due to her outspokenness against the Taliban and her determination to get an education. Hurricane Sandy causes over 100 deaths and 30 Billion dollars in damage. Jerry Sandusky, a former Penn State football coach, is sentenced to 30 to 60 years in prison for molesting young boys.

November: Israel and Egypt clash as dozens are killed during airstrikes in the Gaza.

December: Adam Lanza forces his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School, in Newtown, Connecticut, and kills 26 people. The victims include 20 children between the ages of six and seven.

Well, I don’t know about you, but I am both exhausted and saddened just recounting that. What has our world come to? Have we become animals? And yes maybe the Mayans were right. For so many families, mothers and fathers who lost their children to the hands of a mad man in Connecticut, it WAS the end of their world.

My thoughts and prayers are with all of the families of all of the victims of violence in this last year. Let us pray that 2013 becomes the Year of Enlightenment….a year where we celebrate life with all of those we love on God’s Green Earth.

Peace be with you!


Goodbye Newsweek!

by Jim Colton

I am sitting on a cold concrete floor of the photo studio on the 13th floor of 444 Madison Ave….home of the venerable news magazine Newsweek. It’s November of 1977 and I was recently hired away from my position as color picture editor for the Associated Press as the magazine was now venturing into including more color pages in their print run, other than their cover and the occasional insert.

I am surrounded by toys. New, in-the-box, unassembled toys. My job, on my first week at the magazine, was to assemble all the toys to be photographed for an upcoming issue on the “Hottest Toys for the 1977 Christmas season.” I have come from an environment where life itself is a deadline. Working for a wire service, you need to get the picture, get it out quickly…and move on to the next news hole needing art.  And today, I am building toys. I am asking myself, “What the fuck did I get myself into?”

After the toys are fully assembled and photographed, I am approached by a rather large and jocular Irishman named Jim Kenney, the photo editor of Newsweek. In his trademark graveled voice he says, “Colt, you’re doing the International section.” This is truly where I began my 17-year, two-stint marriage with the magazine in an era when journalism mattered.

When 2012 comes to a close we will mourn the passing of Newsweek.  It was announced in October of this year that the last analog version of the magazine will roll off the presses for the final time with their December 31, 2012 issue….in favor of…a digital version of the magazine called Newsweek Global.  Many industry experts have blamed everything and everyone from the Editor Tina Brown to the economy and lack of ad sales to the Internet for its demise.

I have my own theories. I believe the magazine strayed away from its strengths as it searched for a rebirth in our changing times…simply for the sake of change…rather than for the sake of its readers and what their core subscribers actually paid good money to read. The nail in the coffin, in my eyes, was when a certain editor decided to turn Newsweek into the New Yorker….knowing full well there was a great risk of losing much of their 3.1 million subscribers.  They lost more than half that with current subscriptions at around 1.5 million. So much for the first four letters of the magazine.

A piece of me will also die with that last issue. Of all the places I have worked in my career, never was there an organization filled with more talent than at Newsweek. I had the great honor of working for some of the finest editors, writers and journalists…anywhere…hands down! Some of the top editors I worked for: Ed Kosner (AKA Fast Eddie) was as decisive an editor as there ever was,  Lester Bernstein “Come into my office so I can throw you out,” was a gentleman’s editor, Maynard Parker had more news sense in his little pinky than any journalist I knew.

But it didn’t start or stop there. All along the line from Assistant Managing Editors to section editors to writers and correspondents, the building was teeming with talent. The fabulous Peter Goldman and Jerry Adler were always two of my favorite reads. They were friends of the photo department, understood and appreciated our role and both were humble and personable…extremely rare personality traits for journalists these days.

But I can speak to best about perhaps one of the most dysfunctional families I’ve ever been associated with…the photo department at Newsweek. A more dynamic mix of personalities you could never put together…working during a period in our history where not only being a journalist meant something but when pictures mattered.

In its heyday, it was Newsweek…and Brand X (Time magazine) who also referred to us as Brand X. A greater weekly competition for images you could not ask for. We took great pride in beating each other’s asses visually. In the pre-digital world, it was all about getting the scoop on your competition and displaying the hell out of the images.

There was a weekly rush to the newsstand every Monday morning to pick up the latest issues of Newsweek, Time and occasionally US News & World Report. Who kicked whose ass? I’m sure it was the same for the line side editors as well…who scooped who on the news of the week?

At the photo helm at Newsweek was the aforementioned Jim Kenney and his also-Irish sidekick John Whelan….nicknamed “Willie.”  Jim had a nickname for everyone; sports photo editor Dave Wyland was “The Coach,” photo researcher Tom Tarnowsky was “The Digger,” (Kenney thought he looked like an undertaker) and Traffic Manager Kevin McVea was “The Juvenile Delinquent,”…well…because…he was!

Jim and John were the patriarchs of this dysfunctional family….and there wasn’t anything that all of us who worked for them wouldn’t do if they asked us.  That would include hearing, “Colt, you’re going to Grenada!” This constituted loading up a Learjet with six photographers, a correspondent and myself and attempting to infiltrate the island (which we did) during the US invasion of Grenada, complete with press restrictions. An F-16 fighter pilot joined us as we neared our destination and told our pilot that we would be treated as “hostile,” if we reached Grenadian air space. We obliged by landing in Barbados.

Later, when Washington staff photographer Wally McNamee was confronted by a US soldier after making it onto the island on a small hired boat, he informed the grunt that he worked for Newsweek. The soldier said, “Newsweek? I subscribed to that magazine and I never got my fucking calculator!” McNamee calmly went into his photo bag, pulled out a Newsweek calculator and said, “Sergeant, we have been looking for you everywhere. I now present to you your calculator.” You just can’t make this stuff up. McNamee’s images wound up on the cover that week.

During those 17 years, I also had the great honor of working with some of the finest photographers in the world. James Nachtwey got his first magazine assignment with us and spent many years cutting his teeth in Central American and the Middle East. I could always tell a Nachtwey shoot from anyone else’s…images deftly composed and perfectly saturated. But with this responsibility also came great sacrifice…losing brilliant photographers and wonderful human beings like John Hoagland and Olivier Rebbot.  Their contributions to our industry will never be forgotten. My only solace is that John’s son Eros has followed in his father’s footsteps and has become a brilliant young photojournalist.

Other seasoned photojournalists that got their feet wet at Newsweek included Peter Turnley, Arthur Grace, P.F. Bently, Andy Hernandez, Mark Peters, Christopher Morris, Anthony Suau, all who complimented our staff photographers Wally McNamee, John Ficara, Larry Downing, Susan McElhinney, Ira Wyman, Lester Sloan, Bernard Gotfryd, Robert McElroy, Jacques Chenet and Jeff Lowenthal. And there were dozens of other freelancers who grew up with us as well. It was a brilliant age for photojournalism….one that I was proud to be part of and sadly, with the advent of digital photography, Instagram, Flicker and iPhones, one that I don’t think will ever be possible again. No longer is there the need to plot a path that includes Learjets and Concordes….no time needed to process the film…or edit the slides over a lightbox. Oh my, how far we have come!

But that’s how we rolled in the pre-digital era. Film had to be shot, developed, and physically carried back to New York or to our printing plants. I flew on the Concorde seven times…as a film courier to meet our deadlines… I even used to pay people to hand carry packages of film right at the airport! Imagine what the TSA would do today? In 1985 my Concorde flight was met at JFK by a helicopter which then took me and my one frame of President Reagan placing a wreath on the tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Bitburg, Germany, directly to our pre press facility in New Jersey on a Sunday to be used as the cover appearing on newsstands the next day. A similar frame I edited earlier that day in London went with a correspondent on a separate Learjet to Switzerland for the Newsweek Overseas cover.

There was also a certain lifestyle that we all lived. We worked hard and we played hard. I cannot tell you about the alcohol consumption post deadline or at parties celebrating one event or another. It was our way of letting loose after a job well done. And oh how we loved to scam an unsuspecting co-worker.  When a post Jim Kenney Director of Photography was desperate to get film from Europe on an impossible deadline, they inquired about chartering the Concorde! With the help of the aforementioned juvenile delinquent, Kevin McVea, we called the Director of Photography, pretending to be a representative of Air France, telling them that the charter was “All Set,” at a cost of $160,000 US Dollars. I can still hear the scream from the office…..”KEVIN!!!!!!”

Many of us got to experience working at Newsweek when the magazine was still vital….when it meant something to the people who got it in their mailboxes. So when that last issue of Newsweek rolls off the press at the end of the year, I will raise a glass to all of my brothers and sisters in the industry, who had the great fortune of working for such an incredible magazine during and equally incredible time in our history.  Cheers!

In Focus: A Shining Star

As traditional analog markets shrink for still photographers…we search for new ways to feature our craft.  Now, more than ever, we have to be the Starship Enterprise. The Internet: The final frontier…to explore strange new worlds…to boldly go where no man has gone before. And when I look to the Heavens for answers, amongst all the blackness, there is a shining star. In Nebula Photojournalism…we find: In Focus

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Fallen Angel by the Denver Post

Issue oriented stories are getting harder and harder to publish in mainstream media. Much of the space allotted in today’s newspapers and magazines is being occupied by news and entertainment which garner a larger audience. So how does one tackle important social issues affecting local markets? The Denver Post takes this head on with its recent three part series on the re-emergence of heroin in Denver neighborhoods and how it has become the drug of choice for many 20-somethings.

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The Presidential Elections by The New York Times

As the country was busy choosing a President last week, photographers scrambled to meet the deadlines of the New York Times...including the newspaper and its web site and galleries. The man holding the visual baton was photo editor Cornelius Schmid...a seven year veteran at the Times. He shares some of his favorite images with us as well as his thoughts on the photographic electoral process.

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