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Archive for Sunday, June 17, 2007

J-W senior editor uncovers memories upon return to Washington

June 17, 2007

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Editor's note: Journal-World Senior Editor Bill Snead is on leave while in Virginia and Washington, D.C., reporting and photographing stories for a new Web site being developed by WashingtonPost.com. He will write occasional pieces until his return.

It's been four months now since I've been back working at the Washington Post and its Web site. Before returning to the Journal-World in 1993, I had the good fortune of spending 21 years here.

Stepping off the elevator and into the Post's fifth-floor newsroom doesn't feel any less impressive today than it did during the Watergate scandal.

The newsroom experience, the feeling of being in a special place, has been compared to walking across the outfield grass at Yankee Stadium or maybe the Celtics' parquet basketball court at old Boston Garden.

The newsroom is the size of a football field and in 1993 was home court for more than 400 journalists.

Today there is another newsroom just like it on the fourth floor and the news staff, scattered near and far, has more than doubled to over 900. The headquarters of www.Washingtonpost.com is in Arlington, Va., and employs about 300.

Like most news organizations, the Post is pushing to do more projects that combine the efforts of its print and online versions.

This past Monday, the Post published an epic about how teenagers shop for their clothes. The project, similar to the Journal-World and 6News' series on "24 Hours in Lawrence," involved 20 staffers from the Post and 20 from Washingtonpost.com. I was one of the photographers.

We followed 61 pre-selected teen shoppers through Tysons Corner Center in Virginia, one of the nation's biggest malls. All were interviewed, before and after, 11 were wired with digital voice recorders, and some shot photos with their cell phones. Six of the youngsters were chosen for more in-depth interviews. I shot portraits of each of them in their rooms at home prior to their Saturday of shopping.

I found that making appointments with six active teenagers is far more difficult than scheduling adults. Teens have lots more on their plate.

The results covered seven pages in Monday's Post with a huge array of photos, videos, stories and graphics on the Web.

Each teen, grades seven through 11, carried a clipboard to record how long they spent in each store they visited, what they bought, how much they spent and their opinion of the stores. Some offered opinions of stores they didn't visit.

The Gap didn't get good grades. Why? Their mothers buy clothes there.

The girls spent the most money in Hollister, and Abercrombie & Fitch came in second.

Check out www.washingtonpost.com/teenshopping for all of the results.

And, happily, one of my pictures was the lead on the Post's front page, my first in 15 years. I got calls from a couple of old friends who marveled that I was still among the living.

Some might wonder why the stories ran on Monday instead of Sunday, the day newspapers traditionally run their big packages. The answer is a sign of the times. More people look at Web sites Monday through Friday than on weekends, when traffic is weakest. I would imagine more papers will take this into consideration down the road.

Joe Elbert has run the Post's photo department for more than 20 years. We were discussing how messed up traffic gets around the Post when a visiting head of state pays a visit. This reminded him of being "upstairs" at a Post board meeting when he shared a table with Warren Buffett, the legendary investor who helped Katharine Graham take the Post public.

"And what is your job at the Post, Mr. Elbert?" he recalled Buffett asking.

He replied that he ran the photo department, a "fun job that I thoroughly enjoy." Buffett smiled and said, "I have a lot of fun in my job, too."

Joe also recalled pulling me off an assignment at 5 p.m. to return to the Post ASAP where I would pick up a sketch, duplicate the drawing in a photograph before it got dark and have it "upstairs" before 6 p.m. A courier would be waiting to pick up a print.

After roaring through traffic I found the sketch showed the Capitol building. Knowing better than to waste time asking logical questions, I ran off to shoot a head shot of the Capitol, on film. I had a print "upstairs" with five minutes to spare.

I see that picture every time I go to Washington, D.C. It's on every newspaper rack that the Post owns. It's gotten more exposure than any photo I've ever taken.

It seems someone in accounting finally realized that the photo they'd been using for years was from a very expensive New York photo agency that was charging them several thousand dollars a year to use the image.

You just never know.

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