I must confess, I started my career at a newspaper that had a news staff of a whopping three people. The editor, the two reporters—we all took pictures. It was necessary to cover all four communities in our area with the budget of a free weekly newspaper. But when newspapers like the Chicago-Sun Times lays off their entire photography staff, including the Pulitzer Prize winning John H. White, and replaces them with reporters and iPhones—where exactly is the future of photojournalism headed? Nowhere good, from the looks of it.
The American Journalism Review has dubbed this phenomenon photojournalism’s “identity crisis.” From 2000 to 2012, the number of newspaper jobs for photographers and videographers dropped by 43 percent. “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, said The Guardian writer Lindsey Bever.
Instead of dedicated photographers, these newspapers are looking for the Super Journalist. The staff member that can write, take pictures, record video and get it all online ASAP.
“While staff members at smaller newspaper have always worn multiple hats, large newsrooms that used to have the luxury to hire the best writers, the best photographers, the best copy editors and the best graphic designers are now looking for versatile reporters who can do it all. Whether such superhuman journalists already exist or can be trained to do it all—and do it well—is the source of much contention rippling through the industry,” Jackie Spinner wrote in an article for the American Journalism Review.
Sure, giving reporters iPhones allows stories with photos to be posted online quickly, getting the news out that much faster. But faster certainly isn’t always better. I spent years working on my photography before I felt it measured up to what I offered as a writer and I know there were countless occasions where I missed the perfect shot because I was chasing down the story first. There’s an emotional element that can only be discovered with years of photography experience—and patience.
Image: C. Jason Brown