(Per suggestion in yesterday's Reddit post: http://www.reddit.com/r/pics/comments/9s3cu/dear_news_sites_i_hate_your_shitty_flashajax/ )

I've been a Web Developer for about 12 years now, formerly with amazon.com and msnbc.com among others. I've been working for the Boston Globe for about 3 years now, mostly as a Web Dev. About 18 months ago, I proposed the concept of The Big Picture to the editorial team, created some mockups that look very much like the current site, got buyoff, and just started posting. It took off very quickly and remains one of the most interesting and rewarding jobs I've ever had.

AMA, I will try my best to answer honestly. (And thanks for all the link-love and support on Reddit too, it's been nice to watch as a lurker)

Comments: 491 • Responses: 57  • Date: 

kid_z686 karma

I work at Boston.com too, as an interactive designer (that means I make web ads. woo!). I usually dress like a slob but today I am wearing a nice button down aqua shirt. I am 22 years old but I probably look closer to 18. We have never exchanged words but I see you pretty much every day. I am probably sitting no more than 20 feet from you as I write this.

My question: do you know who I am??

kokogiak549 karma

If you sit 3 desks down from Kathy, then yes. if not, then I'm a clown who doesn't remember names or faces very well, apologies for that.

tholex443 karma

I'd just like to say that it is purely awesome. Thank you!

kokogiak314 karma

You're welcome.

It's a weird thing getting a constant stream of praise for this. On the one hand, it's awesome, on the other, I think a lot of the praise should really go to the photographers who make the magic happen with their gear, their vision, and their efforts. Sometimes I really feel just like a conduit between the amazing stories/images and the rest of the world.

danman1837 karma

How do you choose photographs/photographers? Is there a submission process or do you have photographers under contract?

kokogiak9 karma

As answered elsewhere, they come from wire agencies, or informal contact, like email.

charlesviper6 karma

A classmate of mine in High School got published under the "Remembering Tienanmen". He was simply out and about with his dSLR, taking photos of the festivities. If I wanted to do the same (I'm in Nepal, and Divali is coming up), how would I do it? Who (and when) should I email?

My point is, he's not signed to any publication or wire, yet you still found his photos.

kokogiak16 karma

Hmm, not sure of that exact circumstance, but generally, if they aren't agency photos, I find them by A) email from the photographer to me (contact info on my FAQ page), B) seeking out Creative Commons photos on Flickr / Wikimedia Commons / Government websites, C) Directly contacting photographers to ask permission to use copyrighted photos after some other form of discovery (google, word of mouth, etc).

Saydrah244 karma

Verified! Here's a screenshot of the message to Reddit which kokogiak put up temporarily on The Big Picture to show that he's who he says he is. It's down now, but he gave me permission to post the screenshot here.

kokogiak189 karma

Thanks for hooking me up Saydrah

chozar170 karma

Things like The Big Picture is what I imagined the web was designed for. Too many news sites seem to want to take print into the world of the web, and it isn't working. We have high resolution, full color displays. To see gorgeous professional photographs with the resources of a genuine journalism outfit, makes me think that the dream of the web has come true. Tiny thumbnails off to the side is all most publications have, it is usually worse quality than what you can get in print.

kokogiak121 karma

My thoughts exactly.

develdevil61 karma

What is your favorite Big Picture story? Does more mature content come through the wire and you just tap-dance around it? I could certainly use a bit more graphic depictions of violence, sexuality and emotion. Who comes up with the ideas for the collections?

kokogiak131 karma

My favorite to date is probably the Inauguration of Obama - http://www.boston.com/bigpicture/2009/01/the_inauguration_of_president.html - mostly because of the unbelievable outpouring of comments, over 14,000 to date, and so many people speaking directly to Obama, to his family there. It felt great to be host outlet for so much love and praise.

Yes, much more graphic imagery comes across the wire than I post. In fact, that's probably one of the worst parts of the job, daily exposure to thousands of unedited news photos can really tear you up emotionally. If I feel it's important to a story to run a photo, I will. If I feel it might be sensationalistic or exploitative, I won't. Sometimes I imagine where a photo might end up eventually, lumped into some 'gory pics from the web' folder, dehumanizing the subject, trivializing the event. I'd like to avoid that as best I can by making it contextual and impactful. Less Ogrish, more NatGeo, you know.

nfojones19 karma

I really loved the Inauguration set as well and followed your link for a refresher. I was actually surprised to see how many of the last posts say things like this:

Stay prayerful and serve The Lord with all your might with all your heart and soul and he will direct your path.

Please Sir, look up to God only and you will not fail.


Mr. President, be not dismay, for God is with you at ALL times, and He will not fail you. Pay no attention to the satanic critics.

Honourable Mr President Barack Obama and wife Michelle indeed God's seal is upon you and I believe with this seal you will do wonders to unite the world through the help of Our Lord Jesus Christ. My God richly bless you with wisdom to rule. Trust in the Lord with all your heart , never give chance to satan but with the seal of God to pass through the red sea with victory.

however i am confident that if you do the will of God , you can be a powerful tool of GOD ... so my earnest request is dont leave God , always seek Him and may he guide you through this journey that you were destined for.

Belief in god and Christianity aside, this is the #1 thing on these people's minds? That is terrifying. An occasional comment like this is expected but theres so many I want to believe it was a concerted effort as otherwise we're surely doomed.

Back on topic, I've loved TBP since I first stumbled on it. I really appreciate an organization like yours recognizing the value of putting up such nice and high res pictures. It is without a doubt one of, if not the best picture blog on the net. The only other photo blog I love as much is Shorpy. Is it a favorite of yours too?

kokogiak19 karma

Yeah, Shorpy is all kinds of awesome.

sanderant61 karma

Call me a philistine, but the biggest loss if the Globe tanks at this point would be your page. Are you under any financial pressure? I'm surprised, but pleased, there aren't more adds on your page.

kokogiak65 karma

In honesty, every part of nearly every newspaper is under pressure, sure. I'm not under any particular pressure, no, though we'd certainly be happy if sponsorship picked up, you know.

[deleted]11 karma

You said elsewhere that the cost of the images is less than the advertising brought in.

If the Globe tanked, would the Big Picture be a viable venture to run outside of the realm of a newspaper?

kokogiak21 karma

I'm not sure about that. I've certainly thought about the scenario, but nothing concrete.

disgustipated54 karma

You, sir are an internet badass. Everyone loves you. Keep up the great work.

kokogiak58 karma

Do I get a badge for that?

[deleted]47 karma


kokogiak43 karma

Agreed, it's a matter of A) precious time and B) working out the best way to do it.

Edit: More mapping interaction is definitely on my "to-do" list.

MonumentMan40 karma

love the site

how did you guys decide on the format of the big picture? it's such a different approach. I'm interested in whether you had to really fight to get mgmt to approve the design, or if you just went with it.

(i used to work for boston.com as a travel writer and found my management to be inane. all they wanted was clicks and they sacrificed all kinds of content to split everything up into multiple pages to drive clicks. glad to see things have changed!)

kokogiak82 karma

I decided on 990px because that's 1024px - about 34 px for scrollbar (to prevent the dreaded horizontal scrollbar). So it was as big as I could reasonble go and still keep everyone happy (including photo agencies).

I figured the best way to convey the idea was full-scale mockups, which I could show around to everyone. Most people who saw it got it right away, a few weren't that thrilled, but gave me a happy shrugging "go for it". It's hard to explain verbally: "A photo blog, all on one page" "Like a photo of the day thing?" "No, stories - narratives told in big photos", etc. etc.

badge11 karma

Do you think that no-one has used this format before because no-one thought of it (it seems so simple and perfect in retrospect!), or because the pressure for pageviews is so great? Do news agencies have to pay more for higher resolution photos or are they simply trying to find more space for adverts?

Edited to add: as with everyone, thanks for doing such a great job of getting this wonderful and important photography on the web.

kokogiak37 karma

I can't guess why nobody thought of it before, all I know is that I've heard "why hasn't anyone done this before" a zillion times in the past 18 months.

autolex848 karma

would the boston globe consider "Click on" content of pictures as wallpaper sized photographs with a watermark?

kokogiak11 karma

Maybe. Not a big fan of watermarks, to be honest.

[deleted]34 karma

Will you be presenting this thread to your superiors when you ask for a raise?

kokogiak79 karma

Who says anyone working for a newspaper will be asking for a raise this year :)

BrotherSeamus66 karma

Okay, how about a smaller pay cut?

kokogiak68 karma

Ha! Yes please!

[deleted]30 karma


kokogiak58 karma

Mostly, I don't mind. I'm not possessive of the format, it's just a template. If the other sites are good, then awesome - more goodness out there.

What does drive me nuts is when some people (you know who you are) snag the images wholesale, slap watermarks on them, shrink and repost them, without even so much as a link. As far as the rights holders, those are usually agencies like Reuters and Getty, and I think they will selectively pursue some of the worst offenders.

Undertoad12 karma

What about sites that feature one shot, get about 2500 hits, give credit and link back to the gallery getting it an additional 1000 views?

kokogiak29 karma

Those sites = pure awesome (in my opinion). The legality of using even that one photo falls into a gray area of fair use vs. copyright that I'm in no way qualified to respond to.

[deleted]28 karma

Top site, nice one, wish more were as clear and free of BS as yours. Top Quality photography too, do photographers submit them to you, do you have your own paps, or do you buy them from a broker/3rd party?

kokogiak46 karma

Probably 90% come from the news wire agencies Reuters / AP /Getty/AFP . We (The Globe) have contracts with them for photo use, and it's easiest for me to browse through the river of photos on the wires and find what I want to tell a story. The other 10% come from individual submissions, public domain (NASA, government, etc.), Creative Commons Licensed photos and Boston Globe photographers. Exactly one photo taken by myself has ever appeared on the site - from when I was lucky enough to witness a shuttle launch in Florida. I'm a pretty terrible photographer.

sighclops9 karma

I have to say, you do an amazing job of picking out images that go well together. Big Picture is one of the best blogs around - whenever I see a link to it posted, I always follow because I know I will be blown away.

Are you the only one that chooses the photos that are posted?

Also, did you think it would be as popular as it is when you thought of the idea?

kokogiak17 karma

Yep, just me.

How could you possibly plan for huge success. Of course I hoped it would be, but I'm still pretty surprised (and happy) about it.

toadfish3 karma

Would you consider publishing the upcoming topics ahead of time so people could submit photographs for consideration?

kokogiak4 karma

I didn't even know what today's entry was going to be until this morning, honestly. It's very much serendipity + what's happening in the world + what comes across my desk/email.

trukin27 karma

I love that.

how much bandwidth do you use ?

kokogiak57 karma

I'm not sure, but I recall, when it was at a high peak, during the Obama Inauguration in January, one of my sysadmins telling me the images alone were being pushed out at a gigabit per second. it's not nearly that high on a regular basis though. One interesting fact - where most regional or local sites can see a familiar pattern in their usage over the day (high during daylight, low at night), traffic to the Big Picture is very flat, owing to its global audience I suppose.

metroid2323 karma

First off, thank you for doing this!

How are the photos chosen? As the editor, does this responsibility fall to you?

I'll add I'm an amateur photographer and that site is remarkably inspiring when it comes to my creative needs. The picture size has a lot to do with it. It's so refreshing to get a nice, big look at something. Oh, and I loved the series that gave before/afters (it was a disaster piece I believe).

Nice work! :)

kokogiak64 karma

Yes, the choice does fall to me - I am the blog team in entirety. I select the stories, select the photos and their order, shrink and sometimes crop to fit, edit the captions (sometimes heavily, sometimes lightly), generate the HTML, upload the images and publish. The major thing that I do not do: take the photos.

[deleted]15 karma

A couple sets back you featured a photo from a redditor, did you find the photo here or had you come across it elsewhere?

kokogiak21 karma

I believe she sent me an email letting me know about it - the photo was so great, and I had planned to do a story on the flooding, so it worked out very well.

[deleted]17 karma

I love the big picture! A couple o questions:

  1. How much exposure is the site getting these days?
  2. Have you considered something like 'the Small Story' where you focus on one photographers work/photojournalism rather than a news story or theme?

kokogiak26 karma

  1. It continues to do very well, but it's all relative. We average about 5-8 million pageviews every month, with a fairly high level of uniques. Most referrer traffic comes from Google Reader (something like 275,000 subscribers there).
  2. Yes, I've focused on individual photographers a couple of times. It's great fun. I have a couple more planned for the near future as well.

AlLnAtuRalX13 karma

I'm just going to hijack this to tell you that you understood what the rest of the industry didn't. Great content, one page, big photos. I emailed you once, but I'll say it again here... Thanks.

Now a question. Is your success acknowledged at the paper, or do people put it off as something that will never work (obviously that would be a misconception)?

kokogiak18 karma

It's recognized, I've gotten more than my fair share of accolades and acknowledgement both inside and outside the company.

MyPendrive11 karma

What about setting up a "reddit like" space for comments under the pictures? Meaning, with up and down arrows.

Sometimes the comment are very smart and add details to the pictures, sometimes they are just "My prayers are for you", or "Hope this will end soon"..

kokogiak28 karma

I'm afraid a lot of my answers might end up being "if I had the time, I would". Comment moderation, ranking, promotion and demotion, etc are all Good Things that I'd love to have, but fall a bit low on the priority list at the moment. I'd love to be able to do "editor's pick" comments as well. For the moment though, it remains a Movable Type chronological comment flow.

xenmate11 karma

So you just sit there all day trawling through hundreds of pictures sent by the agencies and choose a bunch that are cool and get paid for that?


kokogiak9 karma

I know, pretty nice, huh?

[deleted]10 karma

What criteria do you use to decide if a photo is too graphic to show without clicking on?

kokogiak27 karma

Tough one. I don't have hard and fast rules there, and ask the advice of other editors when I'm undecided. For instance, there was one entry that had a photo of a horse that had been killed in a brush fire. It did not appear to me to need a warning, but others thought it should be covered, so I agreed. The best thing about that click-to-view system is the ease of use. If you want to skip it, do nothing, if you really want to see it, it's just one click.

Elda3010 karma

Do you work at the Globe Offices on Morrissey Blvd? If so, I work across the street from you. :)

Also, thanks for what you do- I work in journalism as well and know the frustrations of bringing print journalism into the online world. You've done a lot to inspire us in my company.

kokogiak10 karma

Yep, howdy neighbor, and thanks.

[deleted]9 karma

How do you consistently kick so much ass? For example, do your bosses ever come up to you and say, hey, we need to break up those photos into one page per photo so we can show more ads? What do you say to get them to back off?

kokogiak7 karma

Answered elsewhere, but honestly, nobody has asked me to break it up yet. And I'm blessed with a lot of great photography to choose from, to make my job simpler.

npinguy7 karma

The Sacramento Bee has completely lifted your entire concept for their page called The Frame

Their servers are slower, their photo editor(s) are inferior to you in terms of picking stunning and worthwhile images that truly capture attention, but the concept is identical.

Have you seen this? How do you feel about it?

kokogiak21 karma

Seen it, and actually like it, but don't visit very often (same goes for other photo blogs), mostly because I want to maintain my current group of inspirations, and don't want to feel competitive/influenced by the other sites. My gut instinct for what's good has served me well. Seeing other sites makes me start second-guessing, you know, and I don't need that.

peletiah6 karma

when you implemented the site - did you think about including photos with portrait-orientation as well? Isn't it difficult to throw away many images because they don't fit the predefined resolution/orientation?

kokogiak6 karma

I have yet to see an elegant solution to presenting both portrait and landscape photos. I made a hard choice to favor landscape almost exclusively, and yeah, sometimes it stinks to throw out a great portrait-oriented photo. One in a while I include them if it makes sense.

FurryMoistAvenger6 karma

Nothing to ask, just wanted to take the opportunity to say to you personally that the content is always excellent and the format is great. My coworkers and I always look at The Big Picture during lunch.. As a web dev myself, thanks for anti-slideshow! Thank you thank thank you.

lizzard5473 karma

I really appreciate the QUALITY of the photographs and photographers on Big Picture. I would like to see the photographers names on their work and sometimes links to learn more about them.

kokogiak11 karma

I always put the photographer's name in the caption when I can. Sometimes it is not provided to me, and I can't pass it on.

Keyframe6 karma

I love your picks! Also, the china 60th anniversary - why are all pictures so saturated, did you do the post or you got them like that? Seems like every picture out of china is saturated a bit over the top (not that I don't like it - it's just odd).

kokogiak5 karma

I don't do any manipulation of color levels deliberately, I've heard a couple complaints about oversaturation, and all I can figure is that I need to tweak my photoshop settings to address certain modern browsers better.

virtualet5 karma

what's one story that hasn't gotten a lot of attention that's your favorite?

kokogiak10 karma

Good question - I'm blessed to have most of my entries get a lot of attention. I personally think that overall coverage of events in Afghanistan is not what it should be, and that's why I started a monthly focus feature on Afghanistan itself. It's so complex, so important, so current, it really feels like the right thing to do, to make it more understandable, more present, more human.

Papshmire5 karma

From a user standpoint, what would you like us to do? What kind of contributions can we make?

kokogiak6 karma

Great question - and one I haven't thought much about. I will definitely think some more about this, thanks.

duckduckgoose5 karma

Why didn't you do one of photos from the G20?

kokogiak11 karma

As it happens, there were not that many good photos available to me of this particular event. I did do an entry on it last year. More often than not, when something is left off or left out of an entry, it's due to lack of availability more than an editorial decision or ulterior motive.

zelpop5 karma

Has there been any more talk about the revenue prospects of the site? I remember an article where you guys discussed it but I can only find this reference: http://www.pbs.org/mediashift/2008/12/big-pictures-help-tell-big-stories-at-bostoncom354.html

kokogiak5 karma

It is still a work-in-progress, is the best way I can put it.

Raerth4 karma

Which past TBP was your favourite?

Are there any subjects you've wanted to feature but have been unable to?

kokogiak7 karma

I answered the 1st part elsewhere here (the Obama entry)

Glad you asked the 2nd part. I always wanted to feature the photographs of Mt. Etna taken by Thomas Reichart. Unfortunately, he died while climbing to take photos in 2008, and I was never able to secure the rights to republish from his family. Please go have a look at his Flickr feed: http://www.flickr.com/photos/thomasreichart/

kentdunne4 karma

I am a student of photography and looking to do photojournalism to make my income. Is this a wise idea? I love The Big Picture- what is some good advice to break into the industry?

kokogiak6 karma

From what I hear, it's a very tough road to take these days. I wish I had more advice to give.

ArturoBadfinger4 karma

This is one of my favorite features on any newspaper website. Why do you think most other major papers have failed to adopt something so effective and interesting and instead rely on small, low res, photos that you have to spend several minutes clicking through each one?

kokogiak5 karma

I'd only be speculating, but some of it might be sheer momentum - existing templates and frameworks, outdated concepts of what the majority of users can tolerate or want, or an aversion to disturb the success of current click-click-click photo galleries.

abj4 karma

Thank you for creating it. I love the blog, I have had tears on many occasions after looking at some of the pictures.

Would there be any way to get high-res versions of some of those photos, for prints?

kokogiak4 karma

You'd have to contact the idividual photographer or agency. I have contact info tfor them here: http://www.boston.com/bigpicture/about.html#faq

ScannerBrightly4 karma

as an photographer myself, I just gotta say that the Big Picture is one of my favorite sites out there. And that was before I found the "j/k" key bindings.

Question: Do the pictures resize? It seems like it fits my widescreen extremely well, but it also looks good at work.

kokogiak4 karma

Thanks. No resizing - all are 990px wide, regardless.

CaffiendCA3 karma

What kind of editorial oversight do you have? Or are you soley responsible for the content?

/Love it. Wish every photo essay was done your way!

kokogiak11 karma

I'm responsible, with some oversight by the Globe editorial team. They have given me a ton of leeway and trust, and we have a great relationship.

Protophobic3 karma

Shouldn't you be working right now?

kokogiak17 karma

That's what multiple-tabbed-browsing is for. Multitasking.

bobbybrixton3 karma


kokogiak5 karma

I think I know what you mean, and don't know how to coax further context. Further use of maps and integration with other sites/services are certainly in the plans.

dzdaddy3 karma

Does the Globe have to pay for rights of the images you choose to post? Do they cost more because they're large? This would explain why this hasn't been done much before. Also, what's your bandwidth bill like?

IMO, the best blog online. I'm just a very visual person; a thousand words, &c.

kokogiak4 karma

Based on my understanding, the Globe has paid a blanket license to publish these photos, and are not charged separately per use, or per size.

cansbunsandpins3 karma

Cool to see you engaging the community. Do you know what percentage reddit users hold in terms of unique visitors to the Big Picture?

kokogiak4 karma

Not sure, but on some days it's the #2 referrer (after Google Reader)

[deleted]3 karma


kokogiak6 karma

Off the top of my head, the WSJ has it's Photo Journal, Denver Post has "Captured", Sacramento Bee has "Framed". I know there are others, just can't think of 'em right now.

orbitgum3 karma

Have you guys been keeping up with Google Wave, or got to play around with it?
Do you think you'll incorporate it into your site in any way?

(I replied to one of your replies elsewhere with a suggestion in similar context, but I figured I should turn it into a question.)

kokogiak5 karma

I played with it in sandbox form a while back... Some real impressive stuff, some stuff that I wasn't that excited about. A lot of potential. I think I'll watch and see for a bit.

mmurph3 karma

Do you work on the rest of the Globe? I'm from Boston and one of my biggest issues with boston.com is that any time an article mentions a website they never link directly to what the article is talking about. WHY?

kokogiak4 karma

I do, but not that part. I don't know the reasoning behind it, sorry.

epsd1013 karma

You said somewhere here that you want to tell a story - a narrative - on The Big Picture. With that goal in mind, how do you decide upon the order of the pictures? Are there criteria that apply for all stories, or does it change from story to story?

P.S. You're doing a great job! Keep up the good work.

kokogiak6 karma

"Roughly chronological" is the best way to put it. I might switch up the actual chronology a bit, if it makes the story flow better or more understandable.

No criteria fits for every entry. I lay them all out in Photoshop and basically find a good one (usually not the best, just most representative) to be the lead, then try to sequence the rest with a balance, avoiding repetition, weeding out 'weak' ones, trying to keep a rough chronology going, it's a lot of gut reaction. If I can, I like to wrap it up with a bow at the end, always trying to be subtle if possible.

Avarith3 karma

I've wondered for a long time what a large, decentralized community connected by the web can accomplish. Whenever I research forms of internet collaboration for the common good (World Community Grid, Kiva, Tor, and so on) I find myself always coming back to your fantastic website. It's structure is fascinatingly simple. But at the same time, the pictures you gather are crucial to my appreciation of world events. So a few questions:

  1. Can you conceive of a reality where the majority of your pictures came from unaffiliated individuals? You mention elsewhere that a whopping 90 percent of your images come through the wire. Do you see this as a somewhat permanent arrangement?

  2. Is there anything you want us to help with? Think creatively here.

  3. Do you think other people could do the work you do (parsing though images to create a narrative about a world event) and come together to share their picture-based stories?

Thanks for posting here. Your work is remarkable and important. Also, you seem like a swell dude.

kokogiak6 karma

  1. It comes down to money, like many things. I spend a good deal of time looking through photos that are either public domain or are share-alike licensed (basically free for use), and the quality level is nowhere near what I see with the pros who work for the news agencies. If you want to pay for the quality, then you need to have a nice revenue stream in and out. The arrangement we have now makes that practical only for the agencies we currently deal with.

  2. I'll think about this more. I have some plans for more audience-participation types of entries in the future.

  3. Absolutely. I have no formal training, humans are natural storytellers.

koavf3 karma

Do you think The Boston Globe will still be in print in a year or two?

kokogiak4 karma

The way I like to phrase the answer is "The core of the storytelling operation that is The Boston Globe will still be around then - the distribution format(s) have yet to be decided"

[deleted]3 karma

Have you ever printed a story that turned out to be fake? If so, how did you deal with it?

kokogiak9 karma

I debated running the (now infamous) photoshopped Iran missile launch when it first came out last year. Almost did, but didn't really have enough context, and am wary of single-source images, especially government sources. I'd love to say that I spotted it as a fake, but did not - just didn't have enough to run with it. one of these days, something likely will (or already has) slip through, and I'll have to answer honestly that there was a breach of trust, apologize, and leave up what I can as evidence of what happened.