Saturday, August 7, 2010

Photojournalism Dead? Ridiculous, I Say!

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I recently saw another photojournalist post a link to this article on EPUK by British agency director Neil Burgess urging that it's time to take "photojournalism off life-support."

I've heard a lot of talk from some of the older people in the industry who think that photojournalism is going the way of Old Yeller. And I guess it would seem that way compared to the state of things maybe 20 years ago. But I still don't believe we've reached morgue-levels just yet.

Citing as just one example of the demise of the photojournalist, Burgess notes that of the seven British-based photographers that won at this year's "World Press Photo" competition, none of them worked for British news organizations. I think it's a bad move to use any photo competition as a measurement for the success of the industry. While prizes and recognition are sought after by any professional, that shouldn't be the driving force for good work.

There should be no shame in taking a grant or pursuing a project through an NGO, as Burgess seems to suggest. The essence of photojournalism is accurately telling the stories of lives and conditions to educate people, regardless of who you're working for. If anything, I think it shows that photojournalism is surviving, even if in a different form.

And it's true that many (most?) of the photo positions available at major news outlets have dried up. Nobody knows that better than the average recent photo-j college grad...except for maybe the mass of great journalists who have lost their jobs due to deep cutbacks over the years. But we all need to find a way to adapt, not give up all together.

And then there's this comment: "Looking at all news and current affairs these days it’s so obvious that what you are seeing or reading is regurgitated information fed to the news organisation by someone else’s press department."

I must be either blind or stupid, because last I checked, Pulitzer's were still being handed out for in-depth investigative journalism. While that's not photography, Burgess opens it up by saying that writer's are the next to fall.

I can imagine a world where an automated "Google News Processor" can instantly take press releases, rewrite them for publication, and publish to the web without the need for a human being. But I don't think it will ever come to that, because there will always be a need for journalists to examine our global society, asking the questions that push us to do better.

Instead, I think what's more accurate to say is that photojournalism (and print journalism in general) has become less profitable than it once was. But to say that college students should give up on the profession and find a job somewhere else is unfair. With an attitude like that, photojournalism will without a doubt pass into history. Times are tough. Extremely tough. But from where I'm sitting, the sky doesn't look like it's falling just yet.

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