I’ve known about this one for a few weeks as one of my friends was involved – Southern Community Newspapers decided last month to let their photography staffs go at all of their papers. One was converted to a videographer, but that’s it.
With a few poorly phrased keystrokes, the vision of several communities was wiped out. Blinded by a corporate inability to see.
In May, it was the Chicago Sun-Times. In June, the Gwinnett Daily Post and other papers around Georgia. Where next?
Both publications used the same terminology, the same logic: reporters can shoot photos while they are out reporting, why send two people when the technology exists to let one do an adequate job at both?
And that word – adequate – may be too strong. It’s a different skill, a different talent, to tell a story than it is to show a story. Can one person be strong at both? Of course and there are examples of some journalists who craft words as well as they can visualize a story.
But those people are rare, very, very rare. I say this because, across the table from me, sits my wife – an excellent wordsmith, recently named one of the top female bloggers by the largest organization for women bloggers extant, BlogHer. But even she, a consummate professional at the top of her craft, admits she doesn’t see stories.
There’s a difference. A big difference.
I’ve spent more than three decades telling stories about my communities through images. The technical skills needed now are nowhere near as complex as they were when I started. And, you know what? That makes me happy. I’m happy that I don’t have to spend time in a darkroom, rolling film onto stainless steel reels and watching a glow in the dark clock to make sure I don’t cook the film. I’m glad I don’t have to rock a tray of Dektol back and forth under a safe light.
Because none of that had anything to do with journalism.
That work – much like the ingesting, toning and archiving we do today – is process. It isn’t journalism any more than the type setting, HTML coding or physical delivering of a printed product is journalism.
To lay claim to the idea that your photo staff’s value lay in, “dark room skills to develop film and make prints,” as SCNI’s Michal Gebhart infers, is pretty abhorrent and shows a total lack of understanding of what is happening in his own newsrooms, in his own communities.
Can a reporter shoot a quick and simple mug shot at the completion of an interview?* Yes, they probably can. Can a reporter shoot a high school football game, looking for the key moment of a game that conveys the passion and commitment of the players while taking accurate stats? In the rain? On a poorly lit field?
Now, those who have blinded their communities will say they can hire a stringer to shoot the game, getting the same images at a much lower cost. Similar? Perhaps, but not the same. That stringer isn’t going to care beyond the $50 you’re probably going to offer them.
Imagine this – you’re a stringer, and not a very professional one if you’re working for $50 an assignment, and a parent walks up to you and says, “I’ll give you an extra $100 to get my kid in the paper …”
You can triple your pay with a simple editing decision.
Another question: How are all those reporter-generated images going to be archived? Keyworded? Stored so they can be found later? What about the outtakes?
If journalism is the first draft of history, you just ripped its eyes out.
*That’s assuming the journalist is actually going to meet the subject and not conducting the interview by phone.