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Chapter 5 (part 5)

Page history last edited by PBworks 18 years ago

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The period of 1920s-1930s brought an inovation for the press: the portable camera and this permitted the reporters to photograph the crowds.


After the president's death, the person charged with the speeches for the crowds, beneath the widow, is the prime minister which in this period has a great approach with the individuals.


Kevin: There is no prime minister in U.S. government. Are you speaking perhaps of Italy?





At first, pictures were just an interruption of the normal textual flow of news, but as time passed, they moved closer to the center of news.

Pictures became journalistic, emotive and expressive of what the crowd felt.

Photographs became more central to the news and so they occupied more space. We can say that the pictures became a physical presence on the page.


The portraits moved from art to news.


Fabrizio: I am trying to summarize this section: Authority and the register of news


The effect of the development of news illustration:


1. The new tasks: the reporter's task is now to analyze the fact (explaining why things happened), while the photographer one is to give emotional force to the news


2. A different kind of authority: reportage bases its claim to authority on expertise; photography on immediacy


3. Two new function of the bylines: to assert aurthorship and to guarantee that authorship does not matter


4. The change in the audience view: readers can see the event as witnesses, mixing and combining the history from news with their personal life and memory


5. The new function of journalists is to provide a prosthetic memory, which is artificial but grafted into personal memory.


A specific event: the Kennedy assassination. Pictures become the general memory of the event.


In short, all these elements enhance the importance of the pictures or, better, affect the previous balance between text and pictures: pictures absorb some important “functions” of the text, such as the fact of embodying immediacy and the task of describing the event.

The text, instead, is pushed towards another field and must assume another function: the analysis of the events in a more scientific (and deeper) way.


These changes are also related to a new form of authorship.





The news of the news

In all the reportage of all the deaths, newsfolk were everywhere. They turned up as crowds, in a deathwatch with Garfield in Long Branch, with McKinley in Buffalo, and with Harding in San Francisco. They filled the tightly packed cars in the Kennedy motorcade in Dallas and followed the funeral processions in swarms. They also turned up as intimates, chatting with doctors, relatives, and heads of state, and, more and more often, with each other. At first they recounted what they saw. Later they recounted what they felt.


The reporters retreated as observers to the extent that photographers and then television cameras moved in. Reporters abandoned much of their descriptive function, even more so than this study indicates. Our sample features the powerful events that inspire reporters to haul out and dust off old tricks. Even the Kennedy assassination coverage included some walking description, extensive fine detail, and a good deal of dramaturgy.


More and more the reporter’s tense had shifted from the present to the past primarily but also to the future. In the Kennedy coverage, reporters supplied whole volumes of retrospective and prospective material. If any type of story were signaled as the reporter’s most important work, it would be the expert analysis, fully sourced, of the implications the change in administration might have for this or that issue. That reporters were on holiday when doing dramaturgy, for instance, is indicated by the fact that they dramatized themselves, something they never would have done in analysis. That a reporter could admit grief while covering grief meant that grief was no longer the best beat, that mourning was not a weighty or momentous subject. A reporter would never, in contrast, admit to being Republican while covering Republicans.


As reporters took to the future, they left the present to photographers and even more so to television. By the time of Kennedy’s death, one of the most compelling stories concerned television. The coverage in both the Times and Daily News turned repeatedly to what was happening on television. The shooting existed as a shared newsreel, the primary text, upon which print journalists could comment and expound. Television news took over for four consecutive days of broadcasting on all three networks. All entertainment programming was canceled. No commercial spots ran. Newspapers reported these acts as primary events in the chronicle of the president’s death. Both newspapers told the story of the public witnessing the shooting, the death, the swearing in, and the burial as the story of the public watching television. Reports spoke in glowing praise of broadcast news, fulfilling at last its promise — and tacitly eclipsing print.

the visual reports


At the beginning of the period, pictures were treated as the exception, interrupting the normal textual flow of news. Over the period we studied, pictures moved closer to the center of news. They became increasingly journalistic, emotive, and episodic. The changes are most clearly illustrated in the portraits or “mug shots” of the deceased presidents. The two newspapers followed a similar pattern, with the Times lagging behind (usually by one president) the changes at the Daily News. For simplicity’s sake, this section describes only the Daily News portraits of presidents.


Pictures took their place at the center of news early in the twentieth century. At the time of Garfield’s death, his portrait appeared paired with the picture of his successor. No other images of any sort ran in the subsequent coverage. In contrast, McKinley appeared in the same stock picture three times. Harding’s portrait ran first, followed by continued coverage that included various shots from his life. Each president thereafter expanded on the pattern of Harding. As pictures became more central to news, they took up more space in the newspapers. The scale of the images grew over time in relation to the page size and columns. The number of images grew dramatically as well. Garfield appeared only once, in a picture smaller than two square columns. By the end of the period, Kennedy appeared in five portraits, the largest running across four columns.


While expanding their territory on the page, pictures came under the control of modernist news values such as timeliness and prominence. Garfield’s portrait appeared several days after his death, but such portraits were much more timely. By the time Harding died, his picture ran on the first day of coverage. Not only did the delay to publication shorten, but the images themselves became more recent. The newspaper began to emphasize the freshness or exclusiveness of its coverage. This first appeared after the death of Harding, when the Daily News announced that its portrait of the president in youth was “previously unpublished.” With Roosevelt’s death, the paper ran the “Last Picture of F.D.R.” and did the same again with Kennedy’s death. In both cases the newspaper advertised on page one that its interior included full pages of pictures.


Pictures also fell into line with other canons of modern journalistic practice. With the growth of caption conventions, from Harding on, portraits moved firmly into the present tense of breaking news. The rise of photographer and agency credits marked the increasing profesionalization of picture reporting, certifying that each photograph contained an eyewitness account. As pictures became a more prominent physical presence on the page, they also fell under the complex rules governing other news deemed prominent. Coverage of Harding set the pattern for newsworthiness: his portrait on the first day the story broke took the primary position, higher, larger, or closer to page one, but with the passage of news days his picture lost importance relative to images of the new president.


The early portraits were stock pictures of the same sort used routinely as campaign icons, much like the souvenir engraved portraits that street hawkers sold of the dead president. A timeless portrait and label bear more resemblance to a painting in a museum or art gallery than to modern news. As the portraits moved from art to news, both the image and its context changed. For a time, the decoration around the pictures increased, isolating the icon as if for veneration. Photographic artists also signed their work within the picture, just as painters did. Then the fancy, sometimes oval, frames vanished altogether as other contextual cues emerged. Captions and credits focused on the picture’s worthiness as news, rejecting the previous labels’ emphasis on authorship.


Beginning with Harding, pictures no longer resembled treasured cameos. Instead, severe, undecorated rectangles left no border between photographs and other news. The new context emphasized the photograph as content. Rather than projecting a citizen looking at the image of a personage, the new form projected a bystander looking through the image (ignoring authorship) and into the events depicted there as if seeing them in person. Over the period, portrait shots shifted gradually toward the close-up, a form that highlights the expressiveness of the face and its mood. By FDR’s death the pictures had taken on a different quality, appearing more as personality studies. The shift by then was complete, from the contemplative and honorific to the emotive mode.


That shift was matched by the emergence of episodic relations between pictures. With the numbers of pictures increasing, the relations among photographs became more complex and elaborated. The Daily News portraits began with side-by-side portraits of Garfield on the left and his successor on the right, suggesting the passage from time before to time after. McKinley appeared on page one whereas his successor, Theodore Roosevelt, followed on page five. Harding’s coverage began a pattern of showing portraits of the president as a young man. This trend reached its apotheosis in the Daily News in 1944 with a series of eight mug shots illustrating how Roosevelt had aged. By showing the president in various settings and poses typifying his life, framed by shots in youth and before death, the Daily News invited the viewer to examine the before and after in light of the president’s life record — an elaborate narrative task. The full pages of pictures used in the Roosevelt and Kennedy coverage surrounded the portrait (usually quite large) with even more images from specific stories relating the events of the death, the funeral, or the earlier career.


Photography then implied a narrative task quite unlike the reading of earlier sketch art. Composite illustrations of events presented a panorama based on temporal sequence, inviting the citizen into a narrative of grand events (or events involving grand personages). The new episodic mode presented a series of unrelated visual statements, all documenting a present tense filled with fleeting emotion. Groupings or entire pages of images seem to invite the reader to examine a variety of events in much the way older forms of written journalism left the reader free to choose and make sense of news. Images thus took up a task left off by the textual report. However, the form of presentation left occult the many operations of framing and selection — any evidence of journalistic authorship — and instead invited the viewer to experience nostalgia and loss as particular rather than public.


In this new form of narrative, the role of the journalist becomes paramount (although occult). The Kennedy coverage included a remarkable photograph of school children gathered before a teacher and a page of the Daily News bearing a portrait of Kennedy. The teacher is teaching the young to mourn, as if she were the mediator between them and the events of Kennedy’s assassination. The page she holds up has all the characteristics of modern photojournalism: the images play prominently on the page, representing active, “candid” events, whose context on the page suggests direct observation. The photo implies an interpretation — newspaper as useful to a teacher as mediator — through juxtaposing images. What is not evident is the mediation of the journalists. Older portraits, although small, posed and static, with their artsy-decorative borders, implied simpler narratives with manifest, unshrouded roles for newspapers and citizens.


Authority and the register of news

The development of news illustration worked dialectically with the history of reporting. Illustrators and reporters struggled to define and refine each other’s tasks and create each other’s claims to authority. After a long period of interaction, the reporter’s task shifted from description to analysis, and the illustrator-turned-photographer took over the task of giving the news its immediacy and emotional force. As an analyst, the reporter explains to readers why things happened and what things are about to happen; the reporter’s tenses are past and future. The photographer’s tense is purely the present. The emergence of caption conventions, by the end of the period studied, imposed the strict use of the present tense.


Reportage has come to base its claim to authority on expertise, explaining a chain of events according to processes hidden from the casual observer. Photography bases its claim to authority on immediacy, on the conviction that nothing intervenes between a reader and a scene. In both cases the authority of the news presentation entails the effacement of the observer. Reportage — even in the most heavy-handed punditry — asserts that anyone expert enough (or “in the know”) would give the same account. Photojournalism implies that the shot took itself, or at the very least that anyone present with a camera would have made the same picture. In neither case is the news person represented.


That the effacement of the observer accompanied the rise of the byline adds irony to this story. Bylines simultaneously assert authorship and guarantee that authorship does not matter. Reporters use them to take responsibility, but by signing articles they are certifying that they did not invent their report. It is news that other professional reporters would also report. When a shooter puts his or her name to a news photo, the act does not mean “this is my vision.” It means “I was there when it happened.” Were it the photographer’s vision, it would not be news. It would revert to art.


Finally, the shift to photography heightened the emotional register of news. The early stories were moving at times but so thoroughly filtered as to render them safe, that is, unlikely to cause direct emotional distress. Even McKinley’s decomposing corpse remained an icon of his office and history and therefore not a gross description. Kennedy, however, died in each citizen’s living room (or in whatever intimate location). Citizens saw the spatters of blood on Jacqueline Kennedy’s leg, watched the restless three-year-old salute in his tiny jacket, and, more than any other image, saw the moment of death as if witnessing a murder of an acquaintance. Photography, in allowing individuals to see history in intimate settings, intertwines that history with personal memory and shifts the telling firmly into the realm of raw emotion, the filter hidden. The photographic report becomes a prosthetic memory (Lury, 1998). This process, accelerated by television, displaces the civic function of journalists as privileged witnesses to events and personages who would provide a patently filtered and vicarious presence for readers.


The Kennedy assassination and funeral therefore jump out from the rest. One reason why this moment remains a key element in the shared memory of professional journalists (Zelizer, 1992) is that it marks the inauguration of a new division of labor between word and picture. One reason why it remains so compelling for us, as people who lived through the events in childhood, is that the pictures themselves are our memory of the event.

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