Photojournalism and Preventing its demise

What will cause the demise of Photojournalism as an occupation is the photographers’ arrogance and laziness. Here is why.
I distinctly remember the day I saw a cell phone photo on a newspaper. I felt like someone pissed in my eye.
Today, crowd-sourcing photos have become a common place.
And that’s not the only reason photojournalists are undervalued.

The Newspaper that Undercuts Return on their Investment

Newspaper is not a Charity.

Newspaper is a business. Honorable work, but it still has to run as a business. Everything has to be evaluated for its financial return. Will having a staff photographer “pay off”? Is it something the public is looking for? Is it something the public value enough to put extra effort into it which turns into revenue in today’s business plans?

The Measurable Value

A lot of people use the 2013 Stanley Cup example of Chicago Tribune vs. Sun Times as the proof that the newspaper should use a photographer. And when they did the exact thing in 2016 over World Series, a meme was circulated, saying “Look, another proof papers should have photographers!”
It isn’t, though. These photos support the newspapers executives’ decision not to use photographers. Because after being humiliated for the quality of the photographs in 2013, Chicago Sun-Times is still the bigger newspaper than Chicago Tribune. This is a proof that not having professional photographers doesn’t hurt your bottom line.

Are there no numbers demonstrating the value of professional photographers in revenue?

Most newspapers use professional photographers in varying degrees. So, there must be a value. Is it measurable in numbers though?
Now, here is the problem. If newspaper uses professional photog, it’s because they value their work, right? But then they let editors and writers re-touch and re-crop these photos. How do I know? Sometimes I’m shocked to see a professional photographer credit below a photo in a paper, and, knowing several of their previous works, I realize the photo had been re-touched and re-cropped by someone else. The resulting quality is negligibly better than that of an amateur. Isn’t it like having a pure-bred Bernese Mountain Dog from the award winning parents but sending her to a dog wash at a high school fundraiser before a dog show and expect it to bring home the prize?

What did I mean by “arrogance and laziness”?

The photojournalists have a reliance on newspapers and online media to carry the journalism. And all the photojournalists I spoke to express surrender to their fate being determined by the papers and the online media.
Is there no other way?
If the business plan of the newspapers doesn’t work for you, can you have your own business plan? Do you have absolutely no way of justifying some time and funds put into increasing or resurrecting the value of photos in journalism? If you can’t justify it, do you mean you’d rather let the occupation and your own job die?

The Public’s Educated Eye

Aside from the system of representing the photo quality at the receiving end, there are two critical components to the financial value of using a photographer. 1. The public has to want it, and 2. the desire has to be big enough for them to put some effort into it.

The hot-house tomatoes

There has to be a concern that the new generation is growing up not knowing what a professional photo looks like. We all heard too many people say they could be a photographer today if they wanted to. Is it arrogance, or is the quality of what we recognize as “professional photo” diminished?

I was recently in the audience at a panel discussion and asked “What is it that needs to happen for the public to keep seeking professional photos in journalism?” and the answer was “The public will always recognize a good photo. It’s a human thing.”

I agree he is right, though I believe his comment is out of context.
We will forever possess the ability to see a striking photo and know its value. But if you raised an entire city on hot-house tomatoes harvested green and shipped across Canada twice before getting to your store shelves, we think that’s what tomatoes tastes like and that’s the standard we not only accept but expect from tomatoes.
Sure if you hand them a field-raised tomato off the vine, they’ll still have the ability to appreciate it. It’s a human thing. After having that tomato, they might actually shell out $1/lb extra on special occasions to get a local farm-direct tomato. Now, the issue is a whole generation has done growing up on house tomatoes. How do we make sure everyone has encountered a good tomato? And how do we educate them that they don’t have to pay $1/lb to put a good tomato on your own table every day if they put just a little effort into it?

Focusing on those that can be converted

So, what is it that we need to do, as the public who appreciate good photos, to affect the bottom-line of the business if they don’t use photographers?

I believe that business is always in capturing the convert-able. Those people who would put the effort into voting with their wallet if they knew what they should be voting for.
Because of this reason, it is arrogant to say “If they want it, they’ll get educated.” Something or someone needs to get them educated to go from their current state to being educated enough to want more education.
What is it that needs to happen to keep the professional photography alive in our minds and feeds within the business of newspaper?

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