Social media users can learn from photojournalism basics

Duane Dailey

Photos and words go together. It’s called photojournalism, I learned decades ago in basic journalism courses.

Now, I continue to teach the concept. Most media get it done, if not always completely.

Facebook users can do better. There are lots of cellphone photos posted on Facebook. Too few give answers to questions the pictures raise. Who is this? Why is it posted?

Often there’s a photo of three people posted over just one name. Facebook users assume all viewers will know those other two dudes. No, tell us.

Even perfect photos leave unanswered questions. Viewers may think they know what they see, but need words to confirm they got it right.

There are many photos of beautiful sunsets. We think we know what it is. But is it a sunrise? The photo can’t tell that, it takes words under the photo to satisfy the need.

Also, where was this photo taken? Was that today, or a year ago.

In olden days, we said “Photos don’t lie.” Now digital photos can be falsified easily. The White House recently used a tainted video. They have more technicians than we do.

In reporting on Facebook, there’s no escaping the basics of journalism: Who, what, where, when, why and how. Stories should tell the five W’s and an H. That includes picture stories.

At the opening session of the Missouri Photo Workshop, I must tell photographers that the name misleads. We teach photojournalism, words and pictures.

In recent workshops, with a new generation of photographers, that becomes more vital. Many get their start in cellphone photography. That’s where no-word photos flourish.

By the end of the workshop, all can put together the combo. We also teach another aspect of journalism: Fact checks. Are the names spelled right? That trips a lot of people.

I made an error in writing the name of our new secretary. I wrote Becky; no, it’s Becki. Oops! Fact checking helps in all steps of journalism. That would help on Twitter and Facebook. Does anyone know that?

Back when I was a Professor, not a Professor Emeritus, I helped teach a course in the MU College of Agriculture called “Fundamentals of Communications.” That included basic journalism.

Years later, I’ve had former students report they still use those basics, even though they are not journalists. Recently, a successful ag salesman said he uses those fundamentals in his selling.

In the sciences, the articles start with all of the details and then tell how the end was reached. Then a conclusion tells the results. The news is put at the end.

He finds it works to start with an attention getter, news. You must get the attention, before you sell how to use the product.

Attention getters must be used by Extension agents. The farmer must be stopped long enough to hear the message. Too often, beginners start with the scientific background. Not with what this mean to farm profits. Tell the news.

Twitter and Facebook need more journalism.

I’m not strong in Social Media. But, I have learned to tell a lot in the short character count of a tweet.

Facebook offers more flexibility, but, few users take advantage of the space. Get attention with photos, but, then fill in the details that make a story.

Social media users would do us a favor by sharing homegrown wisdom and knowledge. Be cautious in “sharing.” In the 2016 election, I received an inbox full of well-crafted messages. Only later did I learn these were created by high-paid professional liars in other countries, mostly paid by Russians.

Send more homemade fundamental wisdom.

My readers help keep me straight. On a column about John McCain, I got help. One reader said I’d been duped by lies. Within hours, another reader sent word that column was the most beautiful I’d ever written. Perceptions vary.

Share your Show-Me knowledge with  I need that.