Photojournalists: MVPs of the newsroom
Today, people are prone to looking at images and videos on their phones, but they tend to only spend a few seconds looking at media on their feed before scrolling on. The dilemma news organizations are facing is how to attract people to read their stories and spend more time than they normally would on the page. The answer is simple: news organizations need to create content that grab the reader’s attention with more than just a catchy headline and a static image. Photojournalists are vital to producing high-quality, professional media in the newsroom and deserve to continue to be employed by news organizations instead of using inferior alternatives. I am a photojournalist early in my field, and I have already felt the limited use of photographers first-hand. My skills should not be overlooked just because there are cheaper options. This is degrading to photographers who put just as much time, effort and creativity into their pictures as writers do when drafting their stories. Quite frankly, it’s diminishing the credibility of some well-known circulated papers.
Professionals produce better, more compelling images, attracting people and making them more likely to pick up a paper to stop and read an article. If a consumer is sitting in the waiting room and picks up the paper because they see a crisp, visually interesting image, they’re more likely to keep reading and flipping through the pages. When more eyes look through the paper, more eyes see the advertisements as well. The increase in traffic ultimately means more money, making photojournalists crucial players in the newsroom because more money means the paper is doing well. Two things are currently overwhelming news organizations: the menace of citizen journalism and iPhone photography in which we should not continue to allow them to overpower professionals work. However, there is a solution. New technology is growing: therefore, we must use the tools we have to continue to create images, beneficial for the publications and stop citizen journalism and iPhone photography from becoming the norm.
According to dictionary.com, citizen journalism is “the involvement of non-professionals in reporting news, especially in blogs and other websites.” Thinking more critically, citizen journalism is the acceptance of random citizens using their mobile devices to post and upload photos and information unlikely to be published using correct journalism rules and ethics. “Photojournalists no longer have exclusive control of news images” (Garica, & Palomo, 2015, p. 33). Citizen journalism is becoming more common because of the abundance of online avenues people can use. Hadland and colleagues (2016) 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 image-makers has emerged” (p. 820). This is alarming because it allows for more people, especially those whose media literacy skills may be subpar to be easily manipulated by the things they read on the internet. The ability to create and share information that mocks the style of real reports can cause lots of confusion and can be spread across the internet like a wildfire.
Although journalists frown upon the idea of citizen journalism, at times there can be some exceptions made under certain circumstances. It is now a part of human nature to carry around a mobile device and take photos or record life events, both good and traumatic. Sometimes getting the real, first-hand images or video from witnesses on the scene can add more to the story than the aftermath images created by visual journalists. The problem is that normal people are not trained to create compelling visual components that encourage viewers to continue to view the paper and internet pages for longer periods of time. “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, & Palomo, 2015, p. 43). However, large news organizations are overlooking the talent of their photojournalists to pursue cheaper options such as iPhone photography and the purchasing of photographs.
iPhone photography is becoming more acceptable in our society because of social media networks. Although the cameras in mobile devices are upgrading and becoming much better than they previously have been, their quality shouldn’t be accepted and used in journalism. The photographs taken from iPhones were not meant to be printed in the newspapers. However, some major papers are moving toward using iPhone photography as their primary source of image and video making. For example, when the Cubs won the World Series in 2016, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Chicago Tribune both published celebration photos on the front pages of their paper the next day, the quality didn’t go unnoticed. In a 2016 article “Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times Covers After the World Series” the author Michael Zhang discusses the differences between two images that ran on front covers of the respected newspapers taken at the 2016 World Series and shares tweets from photojournalists across the nation commenting about the quality of the images in comparison. “Perhaps due to these differing views on photography, photo industry pundits immediately began pointing out the differences in the front-page photos immediately after they left the presses” (Zhang). This is not the only time this has happened, there are many examples of the two papers’ images in comparison.
Images taken with iPhones do not have the same great amount of quality as images taken by professional with DSLRs. The equipment purchased for photography and the time spent learning how to use it, is valued greatly by visual journalists whose passions are being replaced, simply to save money. Photojournalists are trained on how to handle and manipulate their equipment to produce quality content. Amateur photographers and citizen journalists take undermine the knowledge and experience professionals have. People may have the mentality that “It’s just a photo, I know how to take a photo.” Depending on the situation, this could possibly put people in danger.
Another important aspect of being a photojournalist is not only knowing how to use equipment, but also where and when to use the equipment. There may be some situations that’s too dangerous to send reporters with iPhones to, and the result is either a poor-quality image, or depending on the amount of danger, no image at all. For example, if there were a sink hole in the city, it may be too dangerous to be closer than 20 feet to it. Using a DSLR with a telephoto lens will allow the journalist to zoom in and maintain good quality. If the reporter with the iPhone is sent out to capture that photo from the same amount of distance, it will be zoomed in and the quality is diminished.
Another danger reporters may face when using iPhones to photograph is the ethical values they may not be as educated on as well as photojournalists are. Photojournalists are trained to do most of their editing at the scene where they are photographing. The lighting and placement need to be well thought out before entering the newsroom. This is something a normal reporter may over look because people can edit and add whatever filters they want on their own personal photos. Photos that are being published cannot be manipulated and is important not only to the photographer’s credibility but to the papers as well. Allowing for a reporter to manipulate their photo, even if they didn’t know better, is dishonest journalism and can risk losing the trust of subscribers and readers. Consequently, when there’s less readers, there are less ad revenue, making the budget lessen and overall leading to less jobs, across the board. When the paper isn’t preforming well, it may be bought out by a bigger company. In this case, the higher-ups will look at leaders and editors to blame and will begin to fire there.
Although people may not believe citizen journalism is harming news outlets and their reporters’ careers, it is; Papers from all around the nation are experiencing major cuts and replacements. In fact, major publications like CNN and Sports Illustrated have even sacrificed many of their photojournalists in recent years due to layoffs. In May 2013 the Chicago Sun-Times fired their entire photo department, replacing them with writers who would be trained in iPhone photography (Garcia, & Palomo, 2015, p.35). Twenty-eight news writers with iPhones replaced them. This is a national epidemic, and it’s infecting every newsroom. At the 2018 ASNE-APME-APPM News Leadership conference in Austin, Texas, Jeremy Harmon, director of photography at The Salt Lake City Tribune said his newsroom lost 40 percent of its staff last spring (personal communication.) At the same conference, Pat Traylor, senior editor for photography and multimedia at The Denver Post said his newsroom is down by about a third from just six years ago, including losing the entire video department in the spring (personal communication.) The Denver Post is the 15th largest circulated paper in America (Agility) and losing half of a staff means losing half of the power to produce the same amount of important content. A news organization cannot function properly on a crutch.
It’s important to look back at the times when photos were intentionally used for revenue sales. The Sunday paper used to be sold with spreads of images for the public to be able to see what’s going on in the world and what celebrities were wearing. The Sunday paper was able to sell ads for more money because people knew the spreads with the photos would be in the paper, they looked forward to it. Today, people can find this information on their social media sites. Therefore, it’s vital for photojournalists today to produce content that is still compelling and more appealing than the normal everyday images they can find on their feeds.
I have experienced the layoffs first hand as a photographer for The Ball State Daily News at Ball State University. Just recently there was a meeting telling all writers that they were required to undergo a photography workshop conducted by the photo-editor. The writers were told that from that point forward, they would be required to bring a camera and take their own images when interviewing for a story. I was appalled by this news. I am in many photography classes where the opportunity to take pictures for the paper could very well be advertised, instead they gave the job to the writers. Although the writers shouldn’t be discredited or striped of their capabilities to take photos with a camera, this takes away the opportunities for photographers.
Replacing all photojournalists with iPhones lessens the opportunities to submit images into photo contests, with the opportunity to be rewarded and awarded great recognition. Winning contests and being noticed for the good work the paper is producing helps the paper to become more popular, but this cannot happen with amateur photographers and poor images. Contest winners work hard to create their photos just as a sculptor works hard to mold his art. Good images go viral. With every like and retweet, the revenue goes up, making the paper more money. Good content attracts viewers and great content gets surfed all over the internet and good images can also help local stories become nationally recognized. Visuals can help people recognize stories and create a bridge for memory to the stories they’re joined by. Today, newspapers are struggling to create interesting content that people want to talk about and be able to share with others. It’s human instinct to communicate. Therefore, when newspapers produce good content, they want to be remembered for it.
Every newspaper wants to be the best and the first to create new, fresh and engaging content. Visual journalists are the key factors in this process. Readers don’t want to pick up a paper or click on a story if they can’t look at good quality images or video. Readers want something to look at, something to help bring context to the story, or to give them a factor that will help them remember and relate the story to themselves. With the wave of citizen journalism and iPhone photography drowning the opportunities for photographers, visual journalists are desperately reaching for tools to keep them afloat, and drones could possibly be the solution.
Drones in the newsroom
Visual journalists work tirelessly to create content that viewers want to look at. They want to be able to provide the public with images that help give the story context and the ability to use readers imagination to insert themselves into the story. A tool that has recently become popular among journalism and for recreational use as well are drones. Drones can allow for visual journalists to reach a new perspective to capture images and video. Aerial images are not unheard of, but before drones the only way to capture an aerial image was the use of the expensive helicopters. Drones are cheaper, can be piloted through mobile devices and are more convenient. Drones can leave the ground and be into the air, above a scene in seconds. Drones aren’t as noticeable as helicopters and are overall the best piece of technology that has surfaced for journalists in a while. Lewis Whyld, a British photographer told The New York Times in 2013, “The newspaper was for still images, but the internet is for this [drones]. Whyld documented the destruction from Typhoon Haiyan in Philippines with his drone.
Newsrooms must first begin to adopt drones and train visual journalist to pilot them. Although drones could be beneficial factors for reporting, newsrooms are facing ethical and legal limitations when trying to use them. Louise Roug (2014) wrote an article for the Columbia Journalism Review discussing the positive influence drones can have on the newsroom. Roug talks about Pedro Rivera, a former reporter for his local CBS affiliate in Connecticut and his negative experience with using a drone for reporting. Rivera left his home on his day off to attend a fatal crash a few miles from his home. Rivera parked a block away and took to the sky to capture the crash when he was approached by police officers and immediately asked if he worked for the media. Answering yes, he was then told to land the drone and leave, so Rivera did as they said and went home. At work the next Monday, Rivera was pulled into his supervisor’s office and questioned about the incident and was ordered to go home. A few days later Rivera noticed his work email was cut off, and the television station released a statement saying they do not own or condone the use of drones in their newsroom. This story shows the rules are not changing as fast as technology is, and although valuable equipment is available, it’s not permitted to be used. Roug states, “Photography is photography, a protected right that shouldn’t be revoked because new technology came along” (p. 31). That was four years ago. Today, bigger newsrooms such as The New York Times and BBC are using drones for reporting, but drones are still not overwhelmingly popular.
Using drones in the newsroom can allow visual journalists to produce images to help viewers understand the scope of the scene. New York Times photojournalist Josh Haner said in a May 2018 interview with the paper, “I was able to get an aerial angle of the giant moai statues on Easter Island showing their proximity to an eroding coastline, which would not have been possible any other way.” Newsrooms can gain more viewers by producing images unlike others have seen before.
During the 2018 ASNE – APME – APPM News Leadership conference in Austin, Texas, Austin-American Statesman photojournalist, Jay Janner said, “It’s such a valuable tool for certain spot news events because it can get you places that you could never get before.” Janner became a certified FAA Part 107 commercial drone pilot in 2017 and has used his drone to cover spot news events like Hurricane Harvey, and the Austin bomber (figure 5). Janner uses the drone to capture images his competitors don’t have access too.
In 2016, CNN announced the debut of their new division dedicated to imagery and reporting using drones, which consisted of two full-time drone operators and almost a dozen drones of various sizes (Mullin, 2016). “The media now have a new means to approach and cover a story, providing consumers with new angles, both literally and figuratively, on the news as its happening” (Business Insider, 2017). Viewers prefer things that can react with. Videos and photo galleries make them stop and watch or scroll though the work, and hopefully make them go back and read the story if they feel compelled too. The more interesting the photo, the more page views it will receive. This ultimately creates more revenue for the paper and this is the main goal.
The use of drones and growing technology like iPhone cameras is inevitable. The only option moving forward for photojournalists is to join forces with the rapidly growing technology and use it to its full potential. As photojournalists, it’s important to encourage the growing technology as a blessing instead of a curse. Newsrooms should become more accepting of the use of these tools. Newsrooms need to keep hiring visual journalists instead of buying citizen journalists’ work to close the skill gap and continue to fill the newspapers will good content. Although some news organizations are becoming more open about allowing visual journalists to report and execute packages of information to distribute in the news using the new technology, we need to make this a more common thing. This process is currently being maneuvered through a chain link fence and needs everyone to be on the same page for new ideas and creations to blossom. The idea of using new technology is only being used by a handful of organizations, if media outlets could just reach over the fence and pick up the idea, the struggle of trying to produce good content without dropping to the bottom won’t be an issue. Photojournalists are vital players for newsrooms because they help liven the stories with their creative visuals and need to continue to be valued as so.
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