This is why I liked Reuters’ photo service


By the time I started working at newspapers in the ’70s, The Associated Press had become so dominant that about all most people saw of UPI was the unmistakable visage of Helen Thomas at White House press briefings.

In all the subsequent years, I only worked at one paper that subscribed to UPI — The Wichita Eagle-Beacon (now just “Wichita Eagle”).

I appreciated that for one reason — the photos. Time and time again, the photos that came crawling out of our UPI machine were better than the ones AP sent us from the same events.

I knew this because it was part of my job to make such critical comparisons. I was the news editor, which meant I was in charge of the paper from 6 p.m. until the last page went to bed after 1 in the morning. I was also the guy who made most final decisions on what made it into the news pages of the paper and how it was played. That included choosing all the photos, from what our staff photographers offered to the wire services.

And what I learned was that the AP laserphotos got the job done, but their UPI counterparts tended to have a certain je ne sais quoi that made them special. This was due, as I recall it, to the fact that Reuters was included in the package. Those Reuters photogs really had an eye.

For that reason, one night when the UPI photo machine broke down, I spent an hour or two on the phone with a technician in Oklahoma City as he talked me through the steps to fix it (AP would have had someone in town, but UPI’s nearest office was in the next state).

This must have been a rare night when I was fully staffed, and therefore didn’t have to lay out the front page and oversee production of the A section myself. So I learned a new skill. This was an error that I committed over and over in my career — learning how to do something that no one else in the newsroom knew how to do. So whenever that machine broke down again — which it did frequently — I had to fix it if I wanted those excellent Reuters photos.

Anyway, I got to thinking about all that when I saw the above photo from the protests in Baton Rouge the other day.

It was special enough that The Washington Post did a whole separate story about this one Reuters photo:

Jonathan Bachman was snapping pictures of protesters yelling at the officers when he turned and saw her.

The woman in the summer dress didn’t seem to look at the two officers as they ran toward her. Instead, she seemed to look beyond them — even as they arrested her.

“She just stood there and made her stand,” the Reuters photographer told BuzzFeed. “I was just happy to be able to capture something like that.”

Bachman’s powerful photo quickly went viral….

Yeah, it’s good. Every other service got the obligatory photos of people being arrested and such, but Reuter’s Johathan Bachman got this. Good job.

Fortunately for the Eagle, they don’t need that old laserphoto machine anymore to get such shots. If not for the Web, they’d be in trouble, because the repairman is here in Columbia…

7 thoughts on “This is why I liked Reuters’ photo service

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    Double-checking my memory — I was trying to think WHY I got Reuters photos over the UPI machine — and ran across this, so I know I’m not crazy:

    By that time, however, UPI was facing adeteriorating financial condition, and within six weeks, a deal was struck. In June 1984, a10-year agreement was signed with UPI, enabling Reuters to launch a full news picturesservice outside the USA in January 1985. Reuters would pay $3 million to UPI for anexclusive use of its international pictures’ business, with an additional $300,000 for existingcontracts, equipment and other pictures-related business assets for the first five years. Itwould also pay an additional sum of $2.46 million for an additional five years. Under theagreement, Reuters gained exclusive rights outside the USA for UPI’s pictures from theUSA while UPI received exclusive rights for the distribution of Reuters’ pictures inside theUSA.

    June 1984 was exactly a year before I started working in Wichita.

    Oh, one other thing – I was wrong; I worked at TWO papers that used UPI. I’m pretty sure The Commercial Appeal did when was a copy boy there while in college. That paper had more teletype machines by far than anywhere else I ever worked. Since it was my job to rip all that copy and distribute it to editors, I developed yet another of my many now-anachronistic skills — ripping copy in exactly the right spot by holding it down with my left hand over a ridge toward the back of the machine, and slicing it precisely with one stroke of my right thumbnail. Over the next few years, until the machines became extinct, I sneered at other editors who lacked that skill, and had to use a straightedge or (even more pathetic!) scissors to rip the copy from the roll…

    1. Dave Crockett

      You forgot to mention that you had to explain to all your friends why you had a long, right thumbnail compared to all the other nails. I, too, learned to slit with my right thumbnail off of both AP and UPI Model 19 teleprinters. CHUNKA-CHUNKA. ding ding ding WHUMP!

      My last full-time media job at WQOK, though, featured one of those new-fangled dot-matrix printers and you HAD to use the plexi shield to rip copy off of. Didn’t have that convenient slit of the older printers.

  2. Brad Warthen Post author

    You know, until I saw that photo, I didn’t realize that they were shooting a sequel to “Starship Troopers” in Baton Rouge…

    For this version, the costume designers are really going all-out to make the troopers look like musclebound robots…

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Speaking of disappointing movies, on so many levels — starting with the fact that they didn’t even attempt to equip the troopers with mechanical, strength-enhancing suits that, in the book, actually DID transform them into musclebound robots.

      You’d think something like that would be MADE for Hollywood, but they didn’t even try…

    2. Claus

      It helps to have hardened features on your uniform when you’re being pelted by rocks, bottles, and having bricks dropped on your head from overpasses.

  3. Kathy Duffy Thomas

    It’s a powerful picture. It made me think about the hippies putting flowers in guns (like the one you ran yesterday) and the single man at Tiananmen Square

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