Putting news together | Part three: Picture perfect

This is a mini-series looking at the process of putting together news articles on Examiner. See Parts One and Two if you haven’t them yet.

My work flow breaks from the pack a little when it comes to step three of writing news for Examiner. The web publishing tool prompts you to first write the article, including formatting, and then add extras like images, slideshows, and videos. However, I get these extras prepped before writing my piece. I find they take me longer to prepare, and I like having an idea of the visual focus of my piece.

I will try to break this down simply, but keep in mind that what works for my area of expertise (video games) may not work in yours! The video game industry is generally loose with the use of user-made screenshots, screen-captures, and crops so long as they are properly credited, but other industries follow much more strict and regular copyright laws and regulations.

To that point, I offer three simple points of advice:

  1. it is always best to get your own image, taken with your own camera;
  2. press kits are wonderful things; and
  3. if you aren’t using from these two sources, triple-check your rights to use the image.

Where I get my pictures:

The video game industry is a very visually rich medium, and to that end, there’s almost an endless supply of pictures available for every game – so long as it’s not newly announced. If the news I’m covering is part of a press release, very often it will come with a set of media assets which may be used. I make good use of these as much as possible, always using the most relevant or recent assets available.

If assets have not been provided directly to the press (or myself) by the company, my next resort is the game’s official website. These websites usually host a gallery full of official screenshots, artwork, and wallpapers which, in many or most cases, may be used with credit. Many of the game websites also offer press kits and fansite kits, which also have useful media assets.

Even when scrapping for an image, however, I never, ever take an image off another publisher’s or writer’s site – it always must come directly from the official hands of the company. Many images that sites get may be exclusive, watermarked, or specially cropped or edited to their specifications. Even if they got those images straight from the company, it’s stealing to just copy those images away from them. It’s better for you to pop in the game yourself (if possible) and take a screenshot, or just to go without an image entirely, than to take something from another press site or blogger.

What programs I use:

There are two main programs I use to work with images: GIMP and Free Photo Converter. The former does all my cropping, resizing, etc; the latter lets me quickly resize large images for slideshows. Both are free. However, GIMP is a complicated and memory intensive program designed for an advanced user. There are plenty of good, free programs out there to use that can achieve the same effects I do; some are even web-based. Find what works for your level of expertise.

 

Cropping an image

Cropping an image

 

 

The Headline Image

The most frequent question I get at Examiner from my peers is: How do you always get thumbnail images to show? The secret is in the crop formula (cropping is cutting an image’s size down), and I’m going to make it clear and public for you all: use a ratio of 210:170, landscape alignment only.

The headline image on Examiner resizes the image to fit in a 210 x 170 pixel area. Because of issues with the publishing software, images that are grossly out of this ratio will be cut off on the longer sides and, inevitably, will also not show up as a thumbnail. The key, then, to a successful headline image that will show up across the site is to use this ratio when cropping an image.

This requires creativity sometimes, especially when you have a portrait style image. The best thing I have found as a resolution for this is to (if a horizontal crop looks awful) crop widely and place in filler on the sides (black or white, whichever looks best).

Finally, when cropping an image, I think like a photographer. Focus a subject tightly. Make it interesting, alluring. Make it something that if you saw the image, you’d want to click on it to find out what the article was about. The narrower the focus, the more teasing and clear the image, the better it will work as a headline image.

Slideshow Images

Slideshows on Examiner are pretty cut and dry. The crucial difficulty is getting images underneath the 512kb file size requirement. The easiest way to do this is to resize the image down to 800x600px. This will not always work – sometimes images are of too high a resolution and must be cut down smaller or saved with worse quality – but this is the most reliable method.

If I pick a headline image from something within a slideshow, I will place the image I used near the back of the slideshow. I attempt to make slideshows interesting by either following in a logically grouped order, or by staggering active and passive images. This keeps the viewer interested throughout the entire slideshow, rather than getting bored after an image or two that doesn’t suit their visual tastes.

Videos

When I do use videos with my content, I will usually source them from YouTube (even if I upload them myself) due to current issues with the Examiner video upload system. This ensures that they will have a screen capture on the site. I recommend using the 853 × 510 embed size, 640 × 390 is a second best. As nice as HD embeds are, I do not recommend them as the size can cause issues for Examiner viewers.

Note: You can include several embed codes in the gallery box, and the videos will all list together for your readers!

Final Notes:

When using images, make sure they look clean, crisp, and professional. Webcam pictures, blurry pictures, or poor crops can really ruin a headline or a slideshow. If you regularly take pictures for your column or blog, invest in a good camera and/or photography lessons, to make sure that your pictures are drawing in a reader’s interest.

In part four, we’ll address the core of the entire process – writing (and rewriting) a news post.

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