What is photojournalism and where is it going?
Julianne Newton’s “The Burden of Visual Truth: The Role of Photojournalism in Mediating Reality” defines photojournalism in two ways: “generally: as a descriptive term for reporting photographically via various media, and more specifically, as newspaper photography.”
As a freelance journalist, I think Newton’s short definition of photojournalism answers the question quickly. However, the rarely discussed photojournalism industry standards, the fast-changing media landscape, and increasing ways to disseminate information, which the author also discussed in her essay, make the field much more complex than just “newspaper photography.”
In the Philippines, I think photojournalism is only seen as a supplement to written words. Although I believe that the role of visual images and written work should be of equal footing for effective reporting and archiving accurate information. Based on observation, local desks scrutinize written words more than visuals, but what the current media landscape often mistakenly disregards is the power of images to leave a lasting memory. UC Berkeley Prof. Hany Farid said in his interview on Deepfake Videos that altering visuals can also alter history, yet at present, due to lack of resources, I think local newsrooms are also struggling to pay attention to images.
I wanted to become a photographer because I was fueled with the hope to induce action by telling visual stories. And as I spent more time practicing the craft, I learned that photographing simply isn’t enough to incite change. John Taylor argues that photography may be a useless humanitarian tool if viewers do not understand that they also bear the same responsibility for what they see in photographs. But this failure shouldn’t be blamed on photojournalists, photography, and the viewers, as photography also operates in a larger failing system.
For decades, I think what we know about photojournalism has also been defined mostly by privileged white people in Western countries, most likely as a result of our history and the dominant structures that maintain the system that shapes our world today, but I remain hopeful of the possibilities we could explore from learning the history of the industry and by taking steps to make it better for emerging photographers.
I hope that we, media workers and visual journalists, recognize our power to contribute to shifting not only the narrative of the stories we tell but also the industry itself, which is why I’d also like to end this short essay by borrowing a quote from one of the photojournalists in Newton’s work, “He or she with power in the newsroom is going to direct what we see.”
And I hope that more compassionate people can utilize that power to empower.