The Death of Photojournalism?

When I first heard this news, I thought it was a joke, a satire by some faux-headline-site, such as The Onion, but no, sadly, it's completely true -- the Chicago Sun-Times newspaper fired its entire photography staff and won't even be replacing them by hiring more freelancers. The punchline (although nobody is laughing) is that they have instructed their reporters to shoot their own pictures for their stories by using their iPhones. You can't make this up!

Possessing a camera does not turn you into a photographer. Even if you have top-of-the-line equipment, a good photographer needs an artistic eye. He or she needs to know how to frame a picture, how to time it just right, how to take into account light and motion. Most importantly, a photojournalist needs to know how to tell a story with a single still image.

Can this be done with a smartphone? Sure, but it's unlikely that an untrained individual can achieve photographic success on a consistent basis without some luck.

Television reporters are also becoming "one-person crews" due to budget cuts, so on-air talent have had to rely on shooting and editing their own footage when costs prohibit separate videographers and sound technicians, but most TV and radio professionals start out with some experience on the tech side too.  Writers and investigative reporters, however, often don't have solid training in photography. To expect them to start snapping pictures to accompany their words is an experiment doomed to deliver lackluster visual results.

Bloggers have had to fend for themselves when it comes to adding images to their stories, so maybe this is another sign that traditional media are morphing more and more toward a facsimile of their online brethren. The dividing lines are blurring.

What does this mean for photojournalism and professional photography in general? The advent of digital images hurt film services, as the bankruptcy of Kodak clearly attests. High quality cameras are now more affordable and easier to use than the bulky pro models of the past, and photo features have become a common component of smartphones and other handy mobile devices. Images can be viewed and downloaded instantaneously, no need to wait for the film to be processed (remember when one-hour photo shops used to seem so convenient?). Desktop editing software such as Photoshop and simple to use apps such as Instagram make it ridiculously easy to manipulate, filter, crop, and correct any picture. Folks now can create high-quality prints at home. Does that all mean that everyone is a photographer? As many of you, no doubt, have seen, the answer is no.  Having good tools at hand doesn't guarantee that the user can properly use those tools. 

Good photographers will still rise above the masses, but if they were looking for work in journalism, their chances of finding a job that focuses only on photography might be diminishing. On the flipside, if you were hoping for a career as a news reporter, you better know how to take pictures and shoot some video too -- preferably on a smartphone (until the latest gadget comes along).