Issues in photojournalism

Imagine a world without newspapers and reporters: chaos. Journalism has never been an easy job, but arguably, it is one of the most important. In fact, it is the only profession mentioned in the U.S. Constitution. The first amendment states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press.” Freedom of speech and freedom of the press allow journalists to seek and report on information they believe is significant enough to publish and share with their community. As if our job wasn’t difficult enough, journalists are now having to become even more equipped and versatile to find and secure employment. Todays’ journalists are feeling the burn of layoffs due to new and improved technology such as iPhones and drones and are facing “fake news” allegations, challenging their credibility.


“Fake News” vs. Photojournalists

Within the past two years, the term “fake news” has been thrown around and targeted at multiple newsrooms. Unfortunately, the current community on the internet has not been practicing their media literacy skills. Therefore, many of them tend to fall victim to incorrect information. This era is making some people extremely skeptical of media outlets, pressuring newsrooms to only give them clear-cut information.


For years photographers have used software such as Photoshop and Lightroom to help edit their images. These edits range from slightly brightening photos, to completely making someone or something disappear from the image. The software is accessible and easy to use, and people use them to manipulate images all the time. However, photojournalists are frowned upon if they use the software. Any alteration to a photo can be considered dishonest and cost photojournalists their jobs if they’re caught publishing a fabricated image.


In 2003, photojournalist Brian Walski created a photo that merged two images that he took of the war in Iraq to create what he thought was a more compelling image. After the image had already been published across six columns on the front page of the Los Angeles Times, the photo editor noticed that the image had been manipulated and immediately fired Walski. “From this perspective the Walski incident raised issues related to the proliferation of digital photography and editing software, the visual representation of war, and the uneasy relationship between images and reality” (Carlson, M., 2009, pp 125-139).


Manipulating an image is simple and can be tempting to photojournalists when they’re eager to have the most compelling image. Photojournalists must stick to the journalistic standards so they don’t add to the realm of fake news. News organizations have striven to be the most truthful and trustworthy sources for their readers, and they are continuing to jump through hoops, even when they have the urge to give up. Our job is not easy but as aspiring photojournalists, we must acknowledge the importance of truth and should never fabricate images. This builds distrust within the viewers and can lead to serious consequences.


The Threat of the Digital Revolution for Photojournalists

Photojournalists’ jobs are being threatened because of the masses contributing to online citizen journalism. Newsrooms are shrinking, technology is growing, and photojournalists are attempting to adapt. Although some may argue that web journalism is more helpful because the unlimited amount of space permits more photo galleries and video, it poses a threat because web journalism invites amateur journalists to do the job. Hadland and colleges stated, “The digital revolution has witnessed the transformation of the audience into producers and with technology growing in power and shrinking in cost, a new generation of amateur and citizen images makers has emerged” (2016, p. 820). Citizens can upload videos and photos before the photographer even arrives. “Photojournalists no longer have exclusive control of news images” (Garica, V. G., Palomo, B., 2015, p. 33). Everyone carries their phone with them and whenever something happens, people immediately reach for their device and start recording or taking pictures.


Apple released a new generation of iPhones in September 2018. All have astonishing cameras, with which the depth of field can be changed with the touch of a screen. “The professionals understand that anyone can publish content if they have this type of tools, but that does not mean that anyone can be a photojournalist” (Garica, V. G., Palomo, B., 2015, p. 43). During the era of print publications, professional photographers were needed to capture good, quality images, now the common smart phone can do the job. Newsrooms have even started using iPhone photography instead of DSLR’s. “The Chicago Sun-Times was responsible for one of the most alarming cases, eliminating it’s entire photography department in May 2013” (Garica, V. G., Palomo, B., 2015, p. 35). Twenty-eight news writers with iPhones replaced them.


Photojournalists are already fighting the battle against citizens having the capabilities to report amateurly, but now they’re also having to compete with iPhone photography in the newsroom as well. “They (photojournalists) underscore that a device like and iPhone cannot replace the professional photographic camera, and that it is simply one more useful tool in urgent situations” (Garica, V. G., Palomo, B., 2015, p. 43). In recent years, the iPhone has proven itself to be a tool, one that some people cannot function without. Unfortunately, the iPhone will only improve, and more people will use them to create their own content. Therefore, photojournalists are searching for new technology, something that will help them keep their employment in the newsroom.


Drones in the Newsroom

The growth of technology is not a bad thing, in fact visual journalists are rejoicing because newsrooms are beginning to adopt drones. With these devices, photojournalists and videographers can take to the sky and capture images and video. This creates a new perspective that isn’t common and is more compelling to the viewers. The BBC in Britain now owns three models of drones and they use them to record video, primarily for feature stories, as well of the World Cup (Roug, L., 2014, p. 31). The aviation authorities in the UK are very strict and require planned routes in advance to flying. “Making it impractical in most breaking news situations” (Roug, L., 2014, p. 31).


The issue is; drones create concerns around privacy, safety, and ethical concerns. “The main concern with drones is safety. It’s imperative that people understand the laws in their country and in any country where they are considering using a drone. This is one of the most important parts of my job — applying for permission from international governments to safely use a drone in their airspace” said Josh Haner (2018), a New York Times photographer during an interview with the paper. Visual journalists must consider the well-being of others when using the drones, including others safety.


Drones allow for visual journalists to take to the sky and view places they were once unable to see. This includes the backyards in neighbor hoods, restricted areas and other private property that couldn’t be viewed before. During the ASNE – APME – APPM News Leadership Conference in Austin Texas in 2018, Jay Janner, a photojournalist for the Austin American-Statesman said “Just by getting the drone up maybe 50 feet or so, it just makes all the difference in just being able to see the scope of different events.” When journalists use the drones, they must think ethically and take people’s privacy into consideration. The drones are a tool to help report and shouldn’t be used maliciously. Journalists must still listen to officers if they’re told to land the drone or leave the scene, depending on the circumstances.


In Eye in the Sky: Drones are cheap, simple, and potential game changers for newsrooms, Louise Roug (2014) writes about Pedro Rivera, a visual journalist for Channel 3 in Connecticut and his encounter while using his drone to cover a breaking news event near his home. Rivera was listening to his police scanner late at night when he heard a report of a fatal car crash a few miles away from his home. Although, this was his day off, he headed to the scene with his drone. Rivera parked a block away from the crash and took to the sky. Not long after Rivera was in the air, cops approached him and ordered him to land the drone and leave. Rivera obliged and went home. The following work day, Rivera was pulled into the supervisor’s office and was told that the officers complained about the drone and he was sent home. A few days later, he noticed his work email was cut off and was told he was on leave. The station released a statement to the public that they didn’t own or condone the use of drones and no longer called Rivera for reporting. Rivera filed a lawsuit against the police department for infringement on his first and fourth amendment rights, but the department hasn’t responded to the suit, leaving Rivera without work.

“Photography is photography, a protected right that shouldn’t be revoked because new technology came along” (Roug, L., 2014, p. 31). Visual journalists are working hard to make drones more of a necessity in the newsroom.


Conclusion

The world is changing at an extreme pace and isn’t slowing down for anyone or anything. The best way for photojournalists to cope with all the change is to change with it. Photojournalists are continuously having to create good reputations for themselves, produce good content while simultaneously being blindsided by pocket journalism and learn how to reach new heights: literally and physically. The war against journalism and the “fake news” allegations are causing tremendous cut backs in the newsrooms, and with budget cuts, come job cuts like those in The Chicago Sun-Times. Also, with pocket journalism growing rapidly, visual journalists are having to use new resources, such as drones, to create new content for readers. Although photojournalists are facing some muddy situations, they’re proving that if there’s a will, there’s a way. The field of photojournalism is shrinking and may sometimes be hard to find work, but journalists are adamant about reporting, therefore, the career lives on.



References


Burton A., (Photograph). (2018) Figure 4 [digital image]. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/02/technology/personaltech/visual-journalism-drones.html

Carlson, M. (2009). The reality of a fake image: News norms, photojournalistic craft, and Brian Walskis fabricated photograph. Journalism Practice, 3(2), 125-139.

Culver, K. B. (2014). From battlefield to newsroom: Ethical implications of drone technology in journalism. Journal of Mass Media Ethics, 29(1), 52-64.

Garica, V. G., Palomo, B. (2015, March 8). The crisis of photojournalism: Rethinking the profession in a participatory media ecosystem. Communication and Society, 28(7), 33-48.

Hadland, A., Lambert, P., & Campbell, D. (2016). The Future of Professional Photojournalism. Journalism Practice, 10(7), 820-832.

History.com Editors. (2012, August 29). Steve Jobs debuts the iPhone. History. Retrieved from https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/steve-jobs-debuts-the-iphone

Janner, J. (2018, September 11). Drones covering breaking news. Lecture presented at the ASNE – APME – APPM News Leadership conference in Austin, Tx.

Roug, L. (2014 May/June). Eye in the sky: Drones are cheap, simple and potential game changers in the newsroom. Columbia Journalism Review, 52(7), 28-33.

The New York Times (2018, May 2). Taking Visual Journalism to the Sky with Drones, The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/02/technology/personaltech/visual-journalism-drones.html

Walski, B. (Photograph). (2003, March 31). Figure 1, 2, 3. War on Iraq [digital image]. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/photo/essays/vanRiper/030409.htm?noredirect=on

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