Communicating Information that Matters

Photojournalism, an Industry Losing Validity?

The art of “photojournalism” has been prevalent in American and international society since the early 1700’s. Magazines and newspapers were the first form of publication that allowed such an art to exist. Powerhouses in the industry since the beginning of the game include companies such as TIME, National Geographic and Rolling Stone, another example of early photojournalism is an African magazine called Drum, “Drum became the most widely read magazine in Africa at the time. A 1959 TIME article, entitled ‘Drum beat in Africa’, stated that 240,000 copies of Drum were distributed across Africa, to countries like Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria and Sierra Leone. The magazine was so popular, in fact, that illiterate people allegedly paid educated friends to read them the magazine.” (Jim MacMillan) Nowadays, the majority of photojournalism has migrated to the internet and social media.

This idea of the Web 2.0, the internet being able to interact with you and what you search for and are attracted to as a person, has made it easier for a journalist or photographer to get their work out to the public but has also forced them to evolve to keep up with this ever changing online community. The evolution of technology has also kept photojournalists on their toes as they must adapt to the new cameras and photo editing software that most technologically savvy people are somewhat versed in today. This brings up another point, being able to distinguish the difference between the professionals and those who are not. New technologies, affordable SLR’s and even iPhones and apps such as Instagram and VSCOcam make it easy for someone to be seen as a professional photographer when in reality they are not. There is always a fight against the press and how much freedom they should actually have as well as the morality of what to shoot and what not to shoot, but in the end that comes down to the individual and how far he or she is willing to go.

Photojournalism is an industry threatened by the changing times, and required to evolve with the evolution of media and technology. It brings important content to the eyes of the public and demonstrates issues with humanity in ways words could not.

It’s important to have professional photojournalists and be able to distinguish them in today’s society because they are the ones who value communicating important information.

“At the most basic level, photojournalism is telling stories with photographs. On top of that, the stories must follow the rules of journalism. The images must be true stories and the journalist must tell the story in the most fair, balanced and unbiased way possible”(Jerry Nelson, 12/12/5).

Non-professional images have begun to star on front pages of magazines and newspapers, as well as headlining online articles. “Graphic reporters are no longer the sole providers of visual content in the media (Buehner, 2013). This is because witnesses to events are no longer merely sources and have become producers and distributors of content.” This quote highlights how if you witness an event, especially today, most people have cell phones and if something alarming catches their attention, they are likely to whip out their cell phone and take a picture. Being in the right place at the right time is something that can give regular people a lot of power in the photojournalism industry. There are many factors that contribute to empowering the everyday citizen in the photojournalism industry.

Threats to the industry such as freedom of the press, evolution of media and technology as well as morality issues have become more and more common as of late. Modern photojournalists must be able to evolve with the times if they want to stay competitive in the field and keep producing appealing work. Constant upgrades in technology and online media sites push photographers to be able to produce content at a quicker rate and for a larger more modern audience. “Technology can only do so much. Photojournalism is an extremely competitive field. While having all the right skills is essential to being successful, people skills are the most important. If a photojournalist can’t quickly gain the trust of their subjects and do their work in a way that doesn’t violate that trust, they never will advance past ‘citizen journalist’”(Jerry Nelson, 12/12/15). The discussion of freedom and morality is always active in this field of photojournalism, many people believe that some photos taken by some journalist violate rights that all humans have, its these that discourage freedom of expression when they should realize they are apart of the world at large and some people wouldn’t know about these issues otherwise if they weren’t documented. Some also claim that taking such impactful and exposing photos isn’t morally correct. The image below of the Sudan Famine by Kevin Carter, is one of the famous photos that highlights this issue of morality in photojournalism. Shortly after receiving the Pulitzer Prize for this image in 1993 Carter committed suicide, calling himself “another predator” and referencing the other horrific scenes he’d seen in his suicide note. when it comes down to it, morals are different from person to person and in journalism it’s really just how far the individual is willing to go to get the story or in the case of photojournalism, the shot.

Kevin Carter’s Pulitzer Prize winning photograph of a Sudanese child and a vulture

The transition of photojournalism from newspapers and magazines to the internet and social media is a huge player in how the modern photojournalist must shape his or her career. Images hold their power still today because they express ideas and emotions in ways words can not, recent statistics show that posts that include an image or some visual aspect are fifty percent more likely to get views than ones without.

“And as I launched my own blog, I gradually came to understand that I’d always be a journalist, whether or not I carried an employer’s credentials. All I needed were three things: content, an audience, and revenue.”

Jim MacMillan, a professor and head of Media and Communication department at Temple University, shows us that now more than ever it’s easy for photojournalists to become what is known as “freelance” and work for themselves. They are able to this because of social media and how easy it is to build and hold an audience and following. In order to run a successful blog or have a good online presence, the modern photojournalist must be versed in the basics of online distribution, monetization and branding, these are the keys to being successful in this age where social media is so prevalent. A few other important factors include audience building and and being schooled in the importance of creating and maintaining conversations with the online community. Although again, social media gives everyone the power to be a successful photojournalist, this can be good because it gives everyone an equal opportunity but also bad for those already established in the field.

Throughout my research I have joined linkedin groups, followed facebook, twitter, instagram pages and contacted professionals in the industry. This has helped gather much of the information I’ve been using for this report in real time as the photojournalism industry is ever changing in today’s society. These sources have also helped me find potential jobs in the industry. Many jobs titled “content creator” were listed for various companies. After further research, this job essentially would be writing articles and either taking pictures to go along with them or choosing from the already established photographers images that they have available for use. This is something that I would love to have as a job in this industry.

“When all’s said and done, a professional photojournalist has to own a sense of storytelling that includes an empathy with the subject. A pro knows that photography is more than just technical knowledge. Great photojournalists prepare and plan their shooting. They apply the knowledge and experience and look for what is interesting and they try to tell stories that are true to their subjects”(Jerry Nelson, 12/12/15).

Images and other artwork hold a special power in society, they catch attention and can strike emotional responses from viewers, and can communicate issues and topics in ways words alone can’t. Photojournalism is constantly threatened by new and evolving laws that try to restrict journalists and what they can and can’t shoot as well as the industry being flooded with individuals that are not professional getting their work to the mainstream media and front pages. Social media has completely changed the game for everyone involved in photojournalism. For those already established, they can build their following even larger through social media websites and maintaining a presence in the online community. Up and coming photographers can get their work out there to be viewed by millions of people on the web quickly and easily. The art of photojournalism, threatened by changing times, is something that needs to be kept alive for the sake of society being able to experience this form of communicating important information.