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‘Is photojournalism necessary?’

June 23, 2009

I can snap a pretty picture with my iPhone ... but should that/can that replace traditional photojournalism?

I can snap a pretty picture with my iPhone ... but should that/can that replace traditional photojournalism?

I won’t be at Jason Preston’s latest Pitch tonight, but I want to take a stab at his latest question: “Is photojournalism necessary?” I feel like this encompasses a few questions and I’ll answer them now and perhaps update or add to them later, if I’m able to catch the Web/Twitter-cast of the event.

[Update: No Webcast this time and I missed following the discussion on Twitter, but here it is (while it lasts) on the #thepitch hashtag. Update 2: Jason’s wrap-up of The Pitch.]

Is photojournalism necessary?

Jason’s talking “bottom line” when he asks this, which to me means that the answer’s different for everybody. Some news outlets—the bigger ones—can rely on crowdsourcing (Flickr, etc.) because they’re covering national or regional events. But for small, community news sources (something I happen to be well-versed in), crowdsourcing is a lot less reliable.

Are photojournalists necessary?

I’ve been playing with a quick post/plug for the Boston Globe’s The Big Picture and its coverage of the Iranian protests. I’ve found theirs to be the best coverage of Iran by far. Sources across the Internet are doing everything they can to filter and curate information, but there’s an almost unprecedented level of noise and misinformation—but a photo can’t lie.

To be sure, The Big Picture often combines professional imagery with amateur photos and/or video screen grabs for its galleries, but the meat and potatoes of it remains professional photography. (Interesting to note: Photojournalism is perhaps harder to “fake” than written/typed journalism. You don’t have to be a pro to write engagingly, but you almost have to have had some form of training/coaching to shoot good photos. The reason is perhaps that journalistic styles differ greatly between “professional” journalists and “casual” bloggers, whereas the high watermark for photography remains unchanged from a tangible to digital medium.) Both can be effective and valuable.

Are so many photojournalists necessary?

Again, I think this depends on what kind of market/news source you’re talking about, but generally speaking … “perhaps” is sadly what immediately comes to mind. I know I just belittled several thousand jobs, but if we’re sticking to Jason’s point and talking bottom lines here, we have to consider how many photographers your news outlet needs. How image-heavy is your publication/Web site? Do you really need a pro photographer setting up a shoot for a mug of the new school superintendent? It’s all relative, but I think in most cases, the number of photojournalists on staff should be proportionate to the amount of quality space that is ultimately going to be dedicated to their work.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. June 23, 2009 3:08 pm

    Well consider this. The opposite of necessary is unnecessary. If things are unnecessary, they will be abandoned. This is unlikely to happen. However, on the surface, this job has basically no barriers to entry and so more photojournalists than ever will be unnecessary. But the idea isn’t going away.

  2. June 23, 2009 3:28 pm

    Good point. The same could be said for journalism/journalists in general.

  3. Lacy permalink
    June 23, 2009 8:34 pm

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