Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Public editor: Superstorm Sandy reminds us of the value of still photography

A downed tree smashed a car on Bellevue Avenue in Toronto. High winds and rain from Sandy caused damage in Ontario as the superstorm came ashore on the Eastern Seaboard.

Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

Like most other readers, I've been riveted by the coverage of the megastorm Sandy and the damage it has wreaked across New York and the northern Atlantic Coast states. Reading stories by The Globe and Mail, The New York Times and others – in print and online – and watching extensive coverage on CNN, CTV and CBC, you see the value of different forms of media.

Print and online are great at telling you what is really happening, what it means to you, how desperate the situation is and what it means for the United States. Television journalism puts you at the scene at a moment of nature's fury. You see the water sloshing over barriers, the sudden darkness of large vibrant cities, and you can only imagine what it's like for the millions of people living through it.

Still, despite how powerful all those forms of journalism are, one of the most evocative and long-lasting in your memory is print and digital photography.

Story continues below advertisement

Professional news photographers and the hundreds of great citizen photographers showing their Sandy pictures on social media give you images that are then burned into your brain. Perhaps because you can truly absorb a single still image better and you can study its composition, you see that news photography by the pros and the amateurs give you the iconic one or two shots that you will remember your entire life.

Take Tiananmen Square, for example: You remember the man with the plastic shopping bag facing the tank. You probably don't remember the television footage, but you remember that still photo.

Dennis Owen, The Globe and Mail's photo editor, says that while video is everywhere, "photojournalism still has a relevance and power that cannot be captured in a moving image. At the moment of creation, great news photography is able to isolate the essential elements of a scene and capture a singular moment. Then at the time it is viewed, the image can be studied with the viewer exploring details and absorbing the mood of the scene."

It is also true that all forms of journalism – reporting, photography and broadcast – show the true value in being there. At times it is unpredictable, even dangerous. But to understand what is happening in New York and elsewhere, journalists have to be there.

Here are links to a great photo slide show of the storm damage and our news coverage.

Please comment if you agree or disagree. Or send me an e-mail to on this or any other issue.

Report an error Licensing Options
About the Author
Public Editor

Sylvia Stead has been a reporter and editor at the Globe since 1975, after graduating from the University of Western Ontario in Journalism with a minor in Political Science. She won the Board of Governors Award there in 1974. As a reporter, Sylvia covered courts, education and Queen's Park. More


The Globe invites you to share your views. Please stay on topic and be respectful to everyone. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.

We’ve made some technical updates to our commenting software. If you are experiencing any issues posting comments, simply log out and log back in.

Discussion loading… ✨