“If Pulitzer Prize-winning photographers such as the Sun-Times’ John H. White can’t hold down a job in journalism, maybe it’s a sign that the collapse we’ve all been fearing is finally upon us.”
Lindsey Bever, 2013/Summer Intern, Chicago Sun Times (excerpt from article; Identity Crisis in Photojournalism, Jackie Spinner).
We know that media positions have been lost in nearly every major publication, from the Chicago Sun Times to Sports Illustrated. Yet, there are more images to see, in more publications by more photographers. My last blog provided links to 3 established reporters and photojournalists who regularly publish using digital technology in innovative ways. They have adapted to this uncertain environment.
So, which is it?
Is social media and digital technology to blame for job losses in media? Or, have these tools spawned a new version of media that is more accessible and perhaps even democratic?
And most importantly, does anyone care?
Well, the answer to the last question is easy; I care and apparently millions of other people do too. This, we know from iphone sales (to photographers), instragram’s success and many colleges now offer photography courses. This is new. And I haven’t even mentioned the benefits enjoyed by media junkies who currently have access to multiple perspectives. The more complicated question lies in the first two points raised above.
Social media and digital technology have enhanced photojournalism in ways that only software engineers could have imagined. Kevin Systrom and Michel Krieger, the founders of Instagram recognized the limits of taking and instantly sharing images (see my last post) This excerpt from the British Journal of Photography provides insight into the motivation behind instagram’s development;
(The New Economics of Photojournalism, Olivier Laurent),
“When we sat down to start designing our product, we looked at digital photos and realised very few exciting things had happened in the last five years,” (2010),
Systrom & Krieger, Instagram Founders.
“mobile phone users found that even though the megapixel count on their devices kept going up, most of their images lacked a specific “mood and tone”. Enter Instagram’s filters.
“The developers also found that people didn’t always know how to get their images from their phone to their friends. “Some of your friends want to follow your every update in life; others like seeing some occasional posts on Facebook,” they said. “We made it super-simple to share photos, not only with your followers in the Instagram community, but with Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and Tumblr, all with a tap of the switch.” Systrom and Krieger also made sure the “uploading, sharing and viewing experiences” would be “as smooth and speedy as possible”.
Systrom & Krieger, Instagram
There it is.
Problem solved; how to seamlessly capture, edit and upload images instantly, and disseminate over a wide range of online platforms. Who knows if, Systrom and Krieger anticipated the applications specific to photojournalism, but it’s clear the obstacles of simultaneous image capture and distribution were solved. Of course it’s the Photographers who contribute with technical skills and creativity.
In the not so distant past, writers wrote articles and photographers took pictures There was a distinct division of labour between these disciplines. This line has disappeared, leaving us with the single dutied, Reporter-Photographer. Sure many media organizations maintain old formats, however many more require reporters to capture the subject in context. The photojournalist remains, although the role has been transformed along with expectations. Today, we want to know when and how the story evolved in both pictures and words. Often, the journalist is part of the story or at least the back story. Frequent updates about the reporter/photographer (Super Journalist) are required by editors and readers especially via twitter.
To illustrate this merger of roles (Spinner calls them Super Journalists), it’s helpful to examine the workload of a White House correspondent. It’s one of the most demanding and prestigious jobs in journalism. Work days are long and competition is fierce. Again, I refer to an article by Jackie Spinner (Identity Crisis in Photojournalsim, American Journalism Review).
Spinner describes the experience of Washington Post reporter and White House newbie, David Nakamura. During the summer of 2013 President Obama took a trip to sub-Sahara Africa and Nakamura went along. Of course he covered the trip, but more importantly editors set up an instram account so he could upload live images and text. By the time Nakamura returned, his instragam subscribers had increased from 250 to 30,000. Notice, I did not mention his writing. The images captured a new audience and ultimately his readership also expanded.
There is nothing significant in the photography of the Nakamura example except that it illustrates the power of the online image and the relationship to social media as a vehicle. Also, Nakamura is not technically a photographer, although he fulfilled that role. Another example of can be found in the work of Canadian, Globe and Mail photojournalist, John Lehmann.
Lehmann has covered, everything from pro sports to sensitive issues (Residential Schools) and he is an award winning photographer. More importantly, he utilizes both “big” digital cameras and his smartphone for professional and personal work. Each type of equipment offers advantages and disadvantages; the smart phone was used to photograph a sensitive issue about forgotten refugee’s in Hong Kong and his massive digital camera, provided the power to capture amazing images of surfers at Tofino in British Columbia.
Lehmann’s experience is featured in an terrific youtube video. He explains how the simplicty of the iphone enables him access to subjects while maintaining intimacy.
Next time I plan to discuss the photographic process that is currently used by professional photographers. Social Media platforms make it possible to achieve high artistic and journalistic standards like never before. The only question is; does the viewer know how to read the images?
Links to sources and full articles from this week’s blog;