We Have Issues, Roy
My dear Roy,
I am touched by your sweet overture. And I am impressed by your insight into the interdependence of our disciplines. More to the point, I concur with every single one of the terms you've proposed for our union.
Roy, if I were going to hitch my wagon to a writer, you might well be the one.
But you know where this is going, don't you, Roy? I've buried the lead because I don't want to break your heart or dampen your enthusiasm.
Roy, I don't think we're ready for marriage. I wish I could say otherwise, but I can't.
The hard truth is that ours would be a mixed marriage. There are difficult issues in blending our disciplines that we can't imagine at this rosy stage of our relationship. Yes, you appreciate nice typography and offbeat images. And I admire a well-crafted piece of writing.
But, Roy, the WED concept is 15 years old. And visual journalists I recently polled say it's still not a way of life in most newsrooms. Not even close. It's great on paper but doesn't seem to pan out in practice. And, of course, Writing-Editing-Design leaves out the crucial roles of photojournalists and infographics journalists.
I am afraid that, in the day-to-day roles of writer and visual journalist, despite our best intentions, we would clash. And, frankly, I am afraid the clashes would hurt me more than they'd hurt you.
• I'm afraid you'd be the primary story idea generator, and I'd be in the constant position of reacting to your ideas. This is nobody's fault; you're doubtless more practiced at story generation, and it would be easy for you to assume the role of story director and for me to be your production assistant. You'd be in charge. And my role would be to love, honor and obey. Over time, I'd resent the subservient role.
• And as you generated story ideas, you'd envision them as long, sweeping narratives. I might see your story as an innovative, scannable photo-graphic, but it's your idea and you've already fixed on it as prose with your byline. Could we find a compromise that works for you, me and the reader? I'm not sure. You might see the reader who waits breathlessly for the next marvelous turn of phrase; I see her as somebody who wants us to get to the point.
• I worry that sometimes you'd forget to tell me about a great story you've got working and we'd miss its visual potential. I worry that, on deadline, we wouldn't have time to cut your story, so we'd have to jettison a carefully crafted visual element. I worry that your work would be seen as primary and mine as secondary.
The word-visual marriage is riddled with conflicts, Roy. We can't help it. It's in our newsroom DNA. Reporters resent having to initiate visual coverage, and visual journalists resent having to take all their cues from "word people."
I think visual journalism has been grafted onto an old production process and that the traditional newsroom marriage roles need to be redesigned.
For us to be on equal footing, I think we need more than a pre-nup, Roy. But I'm in for the long haul. So here is my counter-proposal:
Let's embark on a year of premarital counseling, where we try to work on stories together, experience the glitches and work them through.
Your proposal is a great starting point.
I especially like your suggestion that we "focus our energy and creativity not narrowly and narcissistically, but magnanimously and altruistically on 'the job that has to be done.'" Amen.
And from this visual journalist's standpoint, you have much to offer. You see the whole of the journalistic product, not just the text. You seem open to alternative story forms. You seem to understand that pictures and graphics and even pure design can communicate real information; they're not just eye candy for lazy readers. You find visual thinkers interesting and fun, not flighty and dangerous.
I want to keep talking, Roy. But let's look at the deeper issues before we jump into a commitment.