News is about people. It is about things which people do, and things which happen to people. To tell the news, we need to let the readers know who those people are and what they are like.
A picture can do this if it shows the person’s character and the person’s context. If the news story is about a man’s house being burned down, then we do not want a picture of him smiling: he needs to look sad. He needs to be photographed either in the burned remains of his house or in whatever other context tells the story.
Most of our image readers see only a few places and meet only a few people in their everyday lives. They do not see a lot of what goes on around them, because it happens in places which they never visit. There are many other things which most of the readers do not see because they do not want to see them, even though they may be happening in places which they visit regularly – beggars on the street, people looking in rubbish bins to find food, pickpockets and car thieves. But, they should be at first sight of care.
It is part of the job of all the news media to reveal to their readers or listeners what their society is like, and newspapers in particular can publish pictures that force people to see clearly the society they live in. These pictures may show that crime is committed, that some people live in poor conditions in squatter settlements or shantytowns, that there is social injustice, that there is fighting going on between rival clans in remote parts of the country.
All this may sound very negative, just a piece of news with zero impact, but it is only possible for things that are wrong to be put right when people know about them. When you sweep out a room, the first job is to get all the dirt out from under the furniture into the middle of the room. Only then can it be cleaned right out of the door. In the same way, journalists often need to bring the dirt of society into the open, so that it can be cleaned up.
Not all revelations need to be negative, though. It is just as valuable to make readers look for the first time at the life of a person or a family which overcomes difficulties – perhaps dealing with a physical handicap, or finding ways to make money when there are no jobs available, or getting on with life while tribal fighting is going on all around.
This is why you need to take more than one picture even when the newspaper will only use one picture. There are also some types of jobs that require more than one picture to be published in the paper, and these make special demands on the photographer.