Telling the Truth Through Pictures

Daniel Okrent talks about the editorial challenges of selecting photographs in The New York Times.

The surpassing power of pictures enables them to become the
permanent markers of enormous events. The marines planting the flag at
Iwo Jima, the South Vietnamese general shooting his captive at
point-blank range, the young John F. Kennedy Jr. saluting his father’s
passing coffin: each is the universal symbol for a historical moment.
You don’t need to see them to see them. But in every case,
someone needs to choose them. Photo editors (The Times employs 40) and
their colleagues make hundreds of choices a week. Stories may whisper
with nuance and headlines declaim in summary, but pictures seize the
microphone, and if they’re good, they don’t let go. In most cases, a
story gets a single picture; major stories may get more, but usually
only one on the front page itself – and that becomes the picture that
stands for the event.

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