A photograph that ran on our front page Thursday didn’t seem like anything special. It was of President Barack Obama speaking to the country about his plan to withdraw troops from Afghanistan.
Surprisingly, it was the first still photograph taken in decades of a live presidential speech.
Unbeknownst to many of us, presidents as far back as Ronald Reagan prohibited the taking of still photographs during their speeches. The sound of the camera shutters would be distracting, they said, and photographers would get in the way of their teleprompters. Instead, presidents posed for photographs after delivering their speeches.
The practice came to light after Obama’s May 1 speech about Osama bin Laden’s death.
Here’s what Reuters White House photographer Jason Reed said about it in a May 4 story by Al Tompkins for Poynter.org: “As President Obama continued his nine-minute address in front of just one main network (TV) camera, the photographers were held outside the room by staff and asked to remain completely silent. Once Obama was off the air, we were escorted in front of that teleprompter and the president then re-enacted the walk-out and first 30 seconds of the statement for us.”
Being good journalists, the photographers accurately reflected their actions in their captions. The Associated Press transmitted this caption: “President Barack Obama reads his statement to the photographers after making a televised statement on the death of Osama bin Laden .”
But oftentimes newspapers don’t run full captions under a picture of the president’s face. Because of that, readers likely believed the picture was taken during the speech.
A small point? Not to the larger journalism community. Tompkins’ article called on the press corps to end the practice. Photographers could put sound mufflers on cameras, he wrote, take screen grabs from the video tape or stand farther back with telephoto lenses.
By June 1, the presidential press office and the White House Correspondents Association agreed to create a “single-camera pool” – designate a single photographer to shoot each speech and make pictures available to all news organizations.
On Wednesday night, according to the National Press Photographers Association, the AP shot Obama’s speech live using two cameras, one held by a photographer sitting off to the side and a second mounted below the video camera operated by remote control. Both had mufflers.
Our front-page caption accurately read – in present tense: “President Barack Obama announces his plan to withdraw 10,000 troops from Afghanistan by the end of the year .”
NEWSPAPERS IN EDUCATION
Here’s something else that may surprise you. More than 30,000 students a week during the school year read The News Tribune in class.
The TNT participates, along with about 700 other newspapers, in a program called Newspapers in Education. Through it, we supply newspapers for free to students at every grade level.
We also provide lesson plans to help teachers use the newspaper as an educational tool in math, language arts and other subjects. We hosted a regional NIE conference last week where program coordinators strategized about how to help teachers and keep the program funded.
Our program, now in its 13th year, serves public and private schools, adult literacy programs and two- and four-year colleges. Nearly 400 classroom teachers used our NIE program in the 2010-11 school year.
In addition to learning about current events, the program teaches youngsters to differentiate among the many sources of information. It also encourages lifelong learning.
Several local businesses help sponsor the program. You can support it by having your papers go to NIE when you call in a vacation stop.
Karen Peterson: 253-597-8434