With the ubiquity of phone cameras and online sharing there is no question that people are exposed to more beautiful, funny, heartbreaking, and frightening photographs than ever. And people expect digital imagery (or video) in just about all the online content they consume.
In 50 or 100 years, how many of the photos being made today will be as iconic as that of the white-shirted man standing in front of the line of tanks in Tiananmen Square in 1989? Or the photo of Lyndon B. Johnson taking the oath of office on Air Force One in 1963? Or the picture of the sailor kissing the nurse in Times Square on VJ Day in 1945? Like news content publishing in general, news photography has undergone dramatic changes recently.
Imagery in Digital News Publishing: The Opportunity
Imagery in news is as important as ever — and maybe play a more vital role than ever. Photos used in news stories are viewed on screens of many different sizes and resolutions, all with slightly different color ratios. While newsrooms may spend less time correcting photos for the peculiarities of their printing presses, they are nonetheless getting high quality images in front of millions of eyeballs every day, and that represents an amazing opportunity.
One of the most famous of the new media stories in recent months was a six-part narrative by The New York Times titled “Snow Fall,” which won a Peabody award as ”a spectacular example of the potential of digital-age storytelling.” In many people’s opinions, this account of a deadly avalanche in Washington State marked the arrival of multimedia digital storytelling as an art form unto itself.
Imagery in Digital News Publishing: The Fear
At the same time, traditional news photographers have faced unprecedented challenges. On May 30, The Chicago Sun-Times laid off its entire 28-person photography staff, announcing it will use freelancers and train reporters to shoot photos and videos with iPhones. The paper explained its actions by saying, “The Chicago Sun-Times continues to evolve with our digitally savvy customers, and as a result, we have had to restructure the way we manage multimedia, including photography, across the network.”
Among those let go was John H. White, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer. Afterward, the paper was accused of everything from being “hopelessly uninformed” to union-busting (since most of the Sun-Times’ photographers were union members).
Does Advanced Equipment Alone Make Better Photographers?
Everyone having a camera doesn’t mean everyone is a photographer, just as everyone who owns a pen isn’t a writer. The danger with outsourcing news photography to reporters is that news organizations will prefer quantity over quality. While more reporters (and community members) shooting more photos and videos may sometimes result in good images, news professionals fear that the quality of news content will ultimately suffer under the “everyone’s a photographer” mindset.
How News Publishers Are Coping
News consumers want multimedia content, but they won’t be satisfied with low quality images. Even if your news organization doesn’t employ dedicated photographers, you have to find ways to include high quality images in your news stories. Whether that means training reporters on how to get decent shots with their iPhones, or whether it means hiring freelancers, it’s critical that news sites address image quality early and often. Technically speaking, great writing can stand on its own, but today’s news consumer demands graphics too, and if your organization doesn’t deliver, you’ll hamper audience and revenue development.
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Photo Credits: James Barker / freedigitalphotos.net, Idea go / freedigitalphotos.net