Join Richard Koci Hernandez for an in-depth discussion in this video Working at the San Jose Mercury News, part of Creative Inspirations: Richard Koci Hernandez, Multimedia Journalist.
(Music playing.) Richard: My time at the San Jose Mercury News started as an intern. After my internship was up, the timing was right, and they had a full-time temporary position. And I was like, I am on it. This is perfect. I'll stay.
There was something going on around me that interested me and fortunately didn't really interest any of the other photographers. I was beginning to get these kind of business assignments. And on the face of them, they weren't very glamorous. They weren't very exciting, and oftentimes I found myself laughing at this assignment. What's the name of this company? I can't even pronounce it. Google or whatever it was, and we would go, and it would be nothing. This was the thought of Google in a very small, a very small office they could fit all of their employees in.
And to photograph that and come back, and it was an assignment. No big deal. We did it. We put it in the Merc. We moved onto the next one. You walk into a little silly place called Yahoo! and people were sleeping under desks in sleeping bags or whatever. They weren't on the radar, but their exposure in the Merc and everything they were doing-- the valley was just changing. And it was fun to be there at the time. And I got to once walk into Google where it was a handful of people and then go back to this ultimate campus that sprawled several cities, more or less.
It was a really, really amazing experience. Nothing is ever just one person. So I had somebody at the Mercury News, his name was Dai Sugano. And Dai came and worked with the Mercury News right about the same time all of these wonderful things were happening in the valley, and I was covering the boom and had all this energy, and we just started talking about, what could we do? What could we learn. How could we kind of up our game, and try new storytelling and all these kind of things.
And it was at that point that we kind of conceived this idea of kind of making our own kind of school, learning on our own. Well, let's just teach ourselves these things. We'll just stay after work, and we'll just---we'll learn Dreamweaver, and we'll learn Flash. We'll learn all the technologies that could possibly help us tell stories better, and let's just do it. And then at the end of it, it was like, now what do we do with all of this stuff? We know this stuff. We taught ourselves this stuff, but now what do we do? For us, it was about creating a showcase for not only ourselves, but for the photographic staff of the Mercury News, to showcase their stories and our stories that we were telling that were in print but weren't being served well in print.
At that time, the newspaper, the pages in newspapers were shrinking. There wasn't enough room in the paper for three or four good pictures; there was just one picture. And people were telling amazing stories. So the web was this wonderful thing. It had infinite amount of space. We could put infinite amount of pictures and audio. So we did. What we did, what myself--and when I say we, and I say it all the time, because we really are that team; it's probably closer to Laurel and Hardy than like any other Hewlett & Packard--but we created what was MercuryNewsPhoto.com, which it wasn't an easy thing to do build, and it wasn't an easy thing to sell to, at that time, the San Jose Mercury News as a viable way to present content.
(Video playing.) (Inaudible speech.) (Female Speaker 1: I wanted to take my kids to New York. I didn't want them to be on a plane. And for all they knew,) (Female Speaker 1: they could be in Santa Rosa, you know.) (Female Speaker 2: For 500 years, scores of India's widows have been flocking to holy places like this one,) (Female Speaker 2: Vrindivan, the so-called City of Widows. Upon a husband's death, many widows find themselves--) (Female Speaker 3: Critical Mass. It's the best, like, movement of solidarity within bicyclists. It's awesome. You get to see) (Female Speaker 3: all your friends that rides bikes. And you get to claim the streets for once. Because usually, (Female Speaker 3: we're not, we're not in charge on the streets.) Mercury News Photo became a great place for our photographers to tell stories that had breath and could breathe, and you could tell them longer, and you can get into them deeper, and you could show more pictures, and you could hear the voices of the people whose stories you were trying to tell.
The power of storytelling in that form was really, really, really, really a powerful, a powerful thing. Dai Sugano found a story from the newspaper, a daily story, where we had gone out and shot one picture from this story. It was about a mobile home park that was closing. And it was just one picture and a story. Powerful story, powerful picture. And he said, "There is something more here. I want to do something more. There is more of a story here." We launched a project which is called Uprooted about this mobile home closing down and the story of the people, not only how it affected them on a daily basis but how it affected them kind of in the long term.
We were able to do that because we had more time to spend with them, and we also had--we knew we had a home for this story. (Video playing.) (Video playing.) (Music playing.) At this time there is video. Still some video. There is some music.
All of these things were-- (Female Speaker 4: This would've been my home for 26 years. And I anticipate to live in here til I die.) That, to me, that is powerful, to be able to hear this woman's voice as part of this story being told through audio, video, stills, all together. We are here in the first one minute, and we are kind of trying to use, to the best of our ability, all of these things together. (Female Speaker 5: When we moved into this mobile home) we thought we were going to stay here until the kids--) We are jumping around in time.
We are doing a lot of things that I mean, traditional cinema has been doing it for a long time, but not photojournalism and not particularly traditional news. There is no narrator. There is no "we're at the home of so-and-so and so-and-so." We wanted to see if we could let the story and the people tell their story, which is really what we were going for. I mean, it's a saga.
I mean, learning to cut to particular pieces of music. Why I am excited? We didn't go in our film school for this, we didn't read a book on this; we were figuring this out for ourselves because we wanted to. (Matt Frei: The nominees for new approaches to news and documentary programming documentaries are as follows.) (Male Speaker 2: The ethnic balance of Russia--) (Male Speaker 3: From Russian with Hate, A Vanguard Special Report.) (Male Speaker 4: I never support the immigrants.) (Male Speaker 5: A year ago in Afghanistan.) (Male Speaker 3: Afghanistan: The Other War. FRONTLINT/World.) (Male Speaker 7: Prongs are on the host. That's where we were shooting from yesterday.) (Female Speaker 4: This has been my home for 26 years, and I) (Male Speaker 3: Uprooted, Mercurynews.com, the San Jose Mercury News.) (Female Speaker 4: I anticipate to live in here 'til I die.) (Matt: So, the winner, that's what we're interested in. Mercurynews.com Uprooted!) (Applause.) (Dai Sugano: Thank you very much.) (Applause.) (Dai: Thank you. I just want to thank--) (Laughter.) (Dai: I just want to thank my Director of Photography, Geri Migielicz, and colleague and good friend, (Dai: Richard Koci Hernandez, and reporter Julie Patel who worked on this project with me.) I used to think actors get up and they go, "I am just honored to be nominated." And you are like yeah, yeah! You really want to win.
It's like no, no when you're nominated, and you are nominated next to Frontline and PBS and CNN, and you're nominated within the News category of the Emmys, News and Documentary, it's flattering, and it is wonderful just to be honored. And we went there, and we thought, "Come on. We are competing against a PBS Frontline documentary with a name like 'From Russia with Hate' and a wonderful piece by--about the Marlboro Marine, about a marine in Afghanistan and all of these heavy-duty things and here we are, that little engine that could, the little story about some people who were evicted from a trailer park in Sunnyvale, California." We were really obsessed with, how could we tell stories better? It really was.
We wanted to tell stories better. And all of a sudden, the Internet gave us the opportunity to tell them with audio and tell them with video and do all--and that's all we wanted to do. And we wanted to have a place, a home that we built, right, that we built, and we said, "Here are the stories. Let's put the stories there. The world can see them." And then we wanted to maybe be a very small part of an example to the industry in all those other photo departments and storytellers out there to go, yeah, we can have a home here, and we can tell our stories in this way, and maybe that this is the way you can do it.
In Bonus Features, Koci is interviewed by Graduate School of Journalism colleague Jeremy Rue at the Pacific Film Archive Theatre, University of California, Berkeley.