I've always admired news photographers. Over three decades, I've been fortunate enough to work with some great ones, and I've always believed that the power of pictures in a paper provides a reader with a permanence that TV cannot match.
Television is an incredible instrument. It can bring us anywhere in the world in a moment's notice. But TV images are like electronic skywriting. They disappear instantly, and I don't know a whole lot of people who tape the news. Here's Martha Stewart. Here's her lawyer. Now here's the weather.
A newspaper is there in the morning. And it's still there at night, complete with pictures taken by newspeople out covering wars, fires, accidents, political campaigns, dog shows, ballgames as well as hundreds of minor moments, many of them unnoticed except by the photographer's eye.
That's why I was stunned this week to see a front page photo of a 19-year-old New York University student leaping to her death. It wasn't a news photo. It was a snuff shot, an awful picture of a young woman killing herself. And I'm pretty sure the average reader can figure why it was splashed across the front page: to sell papers.
But while it was shocking, it wasn't memorable. I doubt it caused many readers to think about the life that was being erased, the event that triggered the action or the narrative - the story - that led a 19-year-old to arrive at the desperate point where she felt the only thing left to do was hurl herself off a roof.
Good news photographers manage this trick - telling a story, making a reader think with a single shot - every day. Tell me there aren't at least a dozen pictures that instantly come to mind out of just one disastrous day, 9/11, or now 3/11 in Madrid.
Then, there was Feb. 9. Daily News photographer Sam Costanza was in Brooklyn when Juan (Angel) Estrada and Victor Flores were killed, hit and crushed under the wheels of a dump truck at the corner of Ninth St. and Third Ave.
Costanza's camera caught the horror of the moment; the bodies lying on the pavement, covered by a white sheet, the sad faces of the firefighters and emergency personnel.
That was powerful. It stayed with me for a month, and when I think about it, I wonder about the parents - two immigrant families. And the truck driver? What about him? It was an accident, but two boys are dead. Has the guy returned to work? Can he work after this?
Angel, the 10-year-old, had three older sisters. Victor Flores' mother was four months pregnant with twins on the day her little boy died. All of this, the sadness, the questions, the tragic tale of two boys simply walking home from school, probably laughing, thrilled to have the classroom behind them moments before dying - was contained in the power of one picture.
It's called news photography and it gave the reader - the customers - a glimpse into the drama of a single moment.
It made us think. The suicide shot? That made us sick.