"While real penquins porpoised beside the boat, huge icebergs floated by, with bases of pale blue and sides of mint green. In the ship's glassed-in observation deck, people sat in armchairs at the window, some dozing. One man held out his pinky and first finger as if giving someone the evil eye, but he was measuring an iceberg.Deception Island, though distant, looked close and clear in the sterile air. A crib of ice holding a soft blue wash in its palms drifted close to the ship. Across the strait, ice calved off a glacier with a loud explosive crumble. Pastel icebergs roamed around us, some tens of thousands of years old. Great pressure can push the air bubbles out of the ice and compact it. Free of air bubbles, it reflects light differently, as blue. The waters shivered with the gooseflesh of small ice shards. Some icebergs glowed like dull peppermint in the sun—impurities trapped in the ice (phytoplankton and algae) tinted them green. Ethereal snow petrels flew around the peaks of the icebergs, while the sun shown through their translucent wings. White, silent, the birds seemed to be like pieces of ice flying with purpose and grace. As they passed in front of an ice floe, they became invisible. Glare transformed the landscape with such force that it seemed like a pure color." (A Natural History of the Senses, pages 234-235)Ackerman writes visually and coincidentally this excerpt is on her chapter on vision. See is a writer who "sees" what is around her and remembers her surroundings in vivid detail. Notice how much you learned in this short passage so beautifully written. As you photograph, you too, will see more detail than you have before. Really looking at what is around you will make you both a better photographer and writer.
(Introduction to the Visual Communication course that I taught for 38 years at the University of Minnesota and Indiana University.) What is visual journalism? It is the marriage of word, pictures and sound. Every journalist or public relations practitioner should be able to practice visual journalism. The job market demands that you are one. What skills do you need to be one? An accomplished writer and image-maker has the ultimate flexibility in telling a story with the greatest impact. When motion is an important element in conveying information to your audience, you will choose video. When emotion in the voice is important, you may choose still pictures with a soundtrack (Soundslides). You may well use words and pictures in print and a video or Soundslides on the web. Students historically have entered the journalism programs with a preference for what they want to do in their careers. Those intended careers have had a presumed skill set, and, to a certain extent continue to do so. But, the silos that separated journalists who produced in words from journalists who produced in images and sound are falling. If you want more than anything to write, you will concentrate on crafting precise, compelling, grammatically correct sentences using AP style. If you want the body of your work in journalism to be visual, you need to master capturing the moments that move people emotionally, that help explain situations that are difficult to describe in words, or that preserve history. Students who enter the School of Journalism today must recognize that the communications world today requires you to acquire—and polish—as many skills as possible to be competitive. Aspiring writers have to be able to produce photojournalism, video story telling and multimedia presentations. Photographers have to be able to gather information and present that information in words. You may not excel in areas all skills, but you have to be professionally competent in all. The job market now will tolerate no less. The most important aspect of communication—knowing how to report a good story—is the same regardless of the technology you plan to use to tell that story. You must know how to sell story ideas to editors. Don’t wait to be told what to do. Create your own assignments. Journalists with ideas become indispensable. Those who wait to be told what to do will join the ranks of the unemployed. Technology enables you to produce the story for the appropriate distribution channel. But, technology cannot make the decisions. Without your brain, technology cannot produce a good story. Too often, journalism majors are naïve about what is going on in the university, city, nation and world. If you do not read, you have no chance of succeeding in this field. I might add you will also have little chance of succeeding in most other fields as well. Reading is the beginning of the process. Next you have to think about what you have read. What questions were raised but not answered? What are the really important unexplored questions? These become story ideas for journalism classes. They become term paper topics in other university classes. An informed person will have no end of ideas to explore. This course continues your exploration of verbal and visual communication skills leading to a major portfolio piece. Writing improves with practice in writing. Story-telling in images gets better by shooting. This is one reason the School of Journalism now requires students to have their own cameras. You need it with you at all times so that when you see a visual story, you can capture it. Your camera will help you “see” details that are so important for a compelling story. This course will help you “see” where you formerly only “looked.” Seeing is a process of taking in, and remembering, both macro and micro detail in a scene. You become aware of how a person is dressed, whether perfume is present and what scent, whether the man was clean-shaven. whether the hair is wind-blown, etc. Diane Ackerman is a writer who writes “visually.” See if you don’t have a picture in your mind when reading this passage from “A Natural History of the Senses.”