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  • Tiago Costa

This is what I learned with Mr. Morris, and I'll take to AAJA17

For most of you, young and old fellows, probably the name of the picture-editor John Morris is unknown. While searching for his name on Google, the results show a bunch of different John Morris, but not the right one. Not the one I want to search for.

According to Google, there's a film producer called John Morris; there's John Morris, the actor who performed Andy's voice in Toy Story; there's John Morris, a baseball player from the 80s, and a few more John Morris in different fields, but not the one. Not the picture-editor. Truth is, John Godfrey Morris is one of the most important personalities in the history of journalism and even not being well-known around the globe, this centenary life-experienced man is an inspiration for a lot of those who work actively in visual journalism. He is an inspiration for me.

shares some of his experiences. Interview by Contrastobooks, July 2012.

Mr. Morris lived so much and he certainly shouldn't be just an inspiration for the journalistic world. Morris turned 100-year-old last December, and with him he carries more than the history of journalism; he represents the history of this planet as well.

Morris was working for LIFE Magazine when the attack in Pearl Harbor happened, and it was while working for LIFE that he lived in France in order of being closer to the journalists who covered the II World War. In June 1944, he was the first person to have contact with the photos taken by Robert Capa in Normandy, in one of the most well-known invasions named "D-Day."

Capa was actually someone that Morris had a big respect and empathy. Morris considered Capa his “Hungarian” brother. As a result, it was Capa that introduced Mr. Morris to the (apparent) unknown Henri Cartier-Bresson. It was also Capa who invited Mr. Morris to be part of the Magnum Agency, probably the more recognized photojournalism agency worldwide. Besides this, Morris was working as picture-editor of The New York Times when the Vietnam War clashed; and in addition, it was Morris who changed the visual of this newspaper, which was before known as a writing newspaper, but became a more progressive newspaper with an important visual component.

All the classical and major photojournalists respect John Morris like, for example, all the jazz musicians respect Frank Sinatra. However, Morris never worked in front of a camera, as well as he almost never signed articles or photos. For this reason, he is barely recognized when compared to other media stars. For one side, I look to the name of John Morris with sadness, because I know all he lived and fought is not going to be a reality anymore. I live nowadays in a technological world with more content, but less authenticity. For another side, I look to him with happiness, because Mr. Morris has been teaching me that photojournalists should have a strong humanitarian purpose, and this makes me look to the future with optimism. His work and thoughts represent energy for me.

At the beginning of the movie-documentary "Get the Picture" based in Morris' book and lifework, he says, "I can't resist being an optimist, I don't know why. The world is in terrible shape, but... maybe it's because there's much to do that I'm optimist."

Watch the full-documentary "Get the Picture" on Youtube or on Amazon Video. Runtime: 1:12 hour.

Advice: Don't watch the documentary if you're sensible to graphical content. Contains cruelty.

So, and in a week where a bunch of important media companies and journalists will gather to talk about the present and the future of this industry, I packed my luggage and traveled to Philadelphia in order of being part of this active debates.

The AAJA17 "Rise & Revolutionize" is a four-day event where multiple panels, workshops, group-meals, competitions and other meetings will make journalists think about the difficult time that media is living. This type of events became even more important, because I think we are living in a time where many important leaders are willing to separate their people's opinions, instead of appealing to union, creating cultural barriers to our diversity. I think it's great that AAJA makes this call for different people to get together and debate journalism.

I just had to read the very first sentence in a long text named "Why AAJA?" at the convention's website, to immediately feel myself connected to this cause. The authors at the Asian American Journalists Association write "We know diversity matters" and I reply, Indeed, it's so important! Topics like the cooperation within the muslim communities, the fake news era, the Trump Administration, Political biases in the media offices, journalism crisis in general, among many other topics, will be in discussion between July 26-29 in Philadelphia. Institutions like the CNN, CBS, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Bloomberg, Facebook and several colleges and agencies will be present.

At the Starbucks Coffee Shop, in Manhattan, New York City, a man

reads The New York Times. Photograph by Jim Pennucci.

Journalism is in crisis. That is a fact. However, journalists need the public audience more than ever. Journalists (the good ones) work for the masses. They go whenever they need to go and do whenever they need to do, in order of getting a story that for different reasons need to be told. Journalists put themselves in difficult situations—risk their life sometimes—because they believe the people should know.

But, journalists need to know how to adapt to this world in constant evolution. In an article by Jason Tanz for the WIRED Magazine, he says "Before social media, a newspaper editor had the final say as to which stories were published and were they appeared. Today, readers have usurped that role. An editor can publish a story, but if nobody shares it, it might as well never have been written."

For this reason, journalism became more emotive. Journalism always meant reality and facts, but today it's a lot biased. Many readers now question the ethical professionalism of many journalists without understanding that this may be a normal result of their lack of support.

I think events like the AAJA17 are important to put in discussion what is more difficult to understand. I hope AAJA17 could be an important moment for journalism; and "I'll take Mr. Morris with me." I'll add my young technological desires with the wisdom of the old times.

With no more to say at this point. Let the show begins.

This article was re-edited on May 1, 2018.


The "Weekly Journal" blog is updated every Sunday.

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