First Annual

When I was a cub photojournalist I was lucky enough to work for some editors that were good at teaching.

The primary method of teaching was by example. Other lessons came via stylebooks and industry best practices.

At no time was there ever the kind of “everyone is a winner” and “participant trophy” treatment that pervades the world of today.

There was no excuse for ignorance and typos and other egregious errors were simply dealt with by posting a copy of the previous issue with any errors circled in red for all to see.

That issue of the paper was appropriately called the redline.

I remember a long-ago summer assignment in which I was covering the “first annual” event in which some organization presented an award to some person for doing something.

I photographed the award winner and the sponsor holding a big plaque with his name engraved in brass. The plaque had room for another 30 years worth of winners. The engraving said something like, “Mr. Somebody, First Annual Winner 1984.”

The photo wasn’t going to win any awards but it was solid daily newspaper photojournalism.

When I read the newspaper the next morning while eating my breakfast I was pleased to see that my picture made the front page below the fold. This had everything to do with it being a slow news day rather than mastery of the medium. But Page One is Page One.

An hour later, with my breakfast barely digested, I walked into the newsroom and spotted the redline and felt a wave of nausea hit me. From the door I could see the cutline of the photo was circled in so much red that I thought the editor used a paintbrush instead of his normal Bic pen.

Upon closer inspection, there was a note that said, “there is no such thing as first annual!”

As I made my way to the editor’s office to take my punishment I was actually unclear as to what the note even meant. Fortunately, I didn’t need to ask the editor to decode his note because when he saw me he began to remind me of all the ways that humanity could be wiped out in the next 364 days before that dubious organization could mount and complete a “second annual” version of their event.

If you’re wondering how to properly name an event that you hope will become an annual tradition, the first version is properly called, “the innaugural” or simply “the first” instead of first annual.

It turned out that the editor was right. There was no second annual event and the trophy shop never had the chance for future engravings.

About the author: I am Stephen Kennedy, an experienced photographer with more than 2300 completed sessions in all 50 US states.

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