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The death of the professional photojournalist?

I don’t know the full background of the following comment, so I don’t know whether he was prescient deliberately or accidentally. What I do know is, Andy Warhol was almost right. If you’re not the one being famous, then the chances are, someone is going to make you famous.

“In the future everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes.”
~ Andy Warhol

Or maybe infamous? Most wouldn’t care so long as they get their name in the newspapers and land an exclusive book deal. And that’s a measure of the time we live in.

More recently, I read of where young kids are more interested in being famous as a means of securing their future and avoiding doing ‘real’ work along the way. And who can blame them, eh?

“The rise of the citizen journalist is not a new phenomenon. People have been witnessing and taking pictures of notable events for a long, long time. And they’ve been selling them to traditional news organizations just as long.

[The] movie camera captured the most famous pictures in the citizen-media genre: the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963. Abraham Zapruder, the man pointing the camera that day in Dealey Plaza, sold the film to Life Magazine for $150,000 – about half a million dollars in today’s currency.”

The above is an extract from an article entitled: “The Decline (and Maybe Demise) of the Professional Photojournalist” which in many ways jive with the same sound I’ve been making from constantly banging my big drum:

“News is about the human story. Whether you’re watching an earthquake consume entire cities, oceans lay waste to towns & villages or politicians send young men & women to their deaths, you’re watching a social commentary unfold through peoples’ lives as seen through the eyes and spoken on the lips of those that are the news.

So it is fitting that after all of this time, we, the humble viewer now get to add our commentary to those voices more distant but no less vocal than our own.”

But the author of the article goes further by taking the shooting of JFK and transposing the event into a more contemporaneous setting:

“In Dealey Plaza that day, one man happened to capture a motion picture – somewhat blurred but utterly gruesome nonetheless – of those terrible events. Zapruder’s work, by any standard we can imagine, was an act of citizen journalism.

Now consider what media tools people carry around with them routinely today – or, better yet, consider what they”l have a decade from now. And then take yourself, and those tools, back to 1963.

Dozens or hundreds of people in Dealey Plaza would have been capturing high-definition videos of the assassination, most likely via their camera-equipped mobile phones as well as devices designed to be cameras and little else. They’d have been capturing those images from multiple perspectives. And – this is key – all of those devices would have been attached to digital networks.”

I would urge you to read the full article. Many things are covered which I’ve covered myself previously on this ‘blog [1] [2] [3] [4] which will no doubt cement in your mind the notion of a future where we the people not only make the news, but we cover the news, too.

Maybe then the art-like Pulitzer Prize winning photographs of old are a thing of the past, and instead the visceral, roughly-hewn photography of the layman and laywoman is the future?

By Wayne Smallman

Wayne is the man behind the Blah, Blah! Technology website, and the creator of the Under Cloud, a digital research assistant for journalists and academics.

2 replies on “The death of the professional photojournalist?”

Good write up. And I must agree, the professional photojournalists future looks gloomy. This is sad, because it means quality will go down. However the advantage being, that I have mentioned before: Quantity and speed, you’ll have your news and pictures faster. I don’t think they will go quite exstinct, since there is something about the flexibility of some photojournalists, be it wartime or other happenings, that does let them cover it more enhanced.

Hi Stephen and thanks!

“However the advantage being, that I have mentioned before: Quantity and speed, you’ll have your news and pictures faster.”

Exactly. The price we pay for an increase in quantity is a reduction in quality.

Or do we?

From a purely aesthetic, artistic, composition point of view, yes.

But as we move towards cameras with features that reduce the effect of motion, better flash and colour correction, we might just pull some of that quality back in, if only in small doses…

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