July 26, 2005

BAGnewsNotes Writer Guidelines

Are you interested in submitting to BAGnewsNotes?  Perhaps you are just interested in the format I use for approaching a post?

Writer Guidelines for BAGnewsNotes

BAGnewsNotes is unique for its process of photo analysis. Unlike other blogs, BAGnewsNotes is not commentary based on a photo’s circumstances, or the use of an image as illustration simply for stand-alone political critique. BAGnewsNotes is all about the pictures.

The photo analysis works roughly the same way in each post:

1) Details within a photo are highlighted—isolated and pulled out for examination and discussion.

2) This discussion then moves on to speculate beyond these details and explore the “story” within the image as it relates to a fact, meaning, message, or understanding within a specific context (media, politics, culture, religion, etc.) or framework (psychological, sociological, anthropological, technological).

A favorite type of post is one that is “investigative” in nature. In this case, information is extracted from the photo that is newsworthy in itself, raises questions or sheds light on a political story, or provides an insight on political relationships or media practices.

Examples of “investigative” posts:

• U.S. government misidentifies Iranian president as having taken part in the ’79 embassy takeover — link.

• MSM portrays Jack Abramoff leaving court dressed like a gangster rather than as an Orthodox Jew — link.

• LA Times uses U.S. military photos in lieu of independent editorial material by photojournalists — link.

• Analysis of White House “Saddam missile strike” photo suggests not only that the image was staged, but that Cheney was the man in charge — link.

• Does Cheney's footwear raise new questions about his health, or just his attitude?  Link.

While the process of photo analysis begins in the post, it is continued in the comment thread. BAGnewsNotes is like a daily seminar: the comment thread becomes an important supplement to the post, and many commenters are regular visitors to the site. I am always interested in special content knowledge and writers who can offer the BAG community special insight as it relates to a particular area of expertise.


Links to photo sources can be found on the site under “Mainstream News/Photo Galleries.” If your image is not taken from a current political event reported in the MSM, it should connect in some way to a current newsworthy story. (Please steer clear of advertising and commercial imagery.)

The image always leads, the text always defers to the image. This bears mentioning because it affects how one approaches the writing of the post. Images that are visually striking are therefore preferred, because the image you choose must “speak” first—whether by suggesting a story, begging a question, provoking an emotional response, or being surprising or revealing in some way.

I generally prefer a photo, but illustration is also okay.

Image Size

Images must be at least 500 pixels wide or long (depending on whether it is larger horizontally or vertically).  Please send a jpg version of the image plus photo credit, as links often expire or move, but do also provide the original link to the image for backup.

Post Text Basics

Identify the image for your audience. Provide the relevant general context, including where the image comes from, the date of the image, and names of people, location, event.

After identification, there’s no “formula” for writing the body of a post. Again, the goal is to provide analysis. Your analysis must draw out meaning specifically revealed/suggested by the features (or compositional elements) contained in the picture. It’s not necessary that your discussion be honed to an iron-clad thesis point; in fact, your “read” should open up options for further discussion and debate. Focusing on and supporting one main point is fine, but please also provide at least one or two ancillary points (which can be fleshed out or not—that’s up to you).


200-400 words (especially if you haven't done much blogging).

Please be as concise as possible! (Tips provided below.)

Sources/References/Article Links/Further Reading

Generally 3 links are the most readers have time to pursue. If you provide more than 3, you’ll lose your audience, many of whom read the blog at work. Therefore, be choosy. Always provide original story links.

Title of the Post

Word play is encouraged.

Photo Credits

Required. Please follow The BAG format from existing posts: include photographer name/agency name, date, original publication source.


Please indicate how you wish to be identified: whether by your real name or by a pseudonym/screen name.

Writer Guidelines for BAGnewsNotes: A Simpler Way To Go

The BAG also one other format that's a lot easier to follow.  Basically, it involves creating a list of about five bulleted responses (or "quick takes") for a photo.  The approach to the image is the same as above, but the "responses" are each basically a sentence or two.  These responses can be more poetic or political.  They can be more "research or investigative" in nature.  Ideally, a mix is best.  (Links can be included, or not.)  These "quick takes" can use one of two different styles.  One style involves locating and calling out specific features of the image.  (This is usually done with numbers or letters — either supplied by you or filled in by us.)  Or, the response can be more general than that.

Examples: BAGnewsNotes "Quick Takes"

1. Undertaking a New Strategy

2. GWB/MLK Day

Examples: BAGnewsNotes "Quick Takes"  By Specific Picture Element

1. Big Big Snow

2. Department of Redundancy Department

3. Bush On Drugs (a little sillier)

4. The Blog Establishment

Tips for Being Concise

• Lead with the specific.

• Impart the core information first, not the conclusion. Beginning with the conclusion requires backtracking, which quickly devours word count.

• Avoid introductory sentences. (There’s a good chance these are going to be cut anyway, so you might as Ill cut them yourself.)

• Watch the verbs: Are they active or passive constructions?

• Avoid jargon. The audience is Ill-informed and savvy, but too much jargon tends to wander into the abstract and away from the specific.

• Vary sentence length.

• If a post is running long, lop off a paragraph. Usually introductory or concluding paragraphs are good for sacrificing.

Post By

Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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