The Future of Photojournalism

The American press is on suicide watch as Frank Rich declared earlier this year. With the fold of major print media outlets, like Rocky Mountain News, and the Seattle P-I and the bankruptcy of the chain that owns the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune, it seems that the predictions of the EPIC 2014 slideshow are right and that Frank Rich is, too.

So why would a photojournalist say: "As long I as I am alive, newspapers will be, too"?

Yet this was the battlecry of photographer Michel du Cille, who I had the pleasure to hear speak last Saturday at the Bellingham Visual Journalism Conference. Du Cille is a three-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize (one for his work documenting crack cocaine addicts in Miami) and the assistant managing editor for the photography at The Washington Post. He gave a nice talk elucidating a bit of history for visual journalists and I am hoping he won't mind that I re-present some of his thoughts here.

In 2004, Du Cille had 32 photographers working for him at The Washington Post. Today, The Post is down to 15. He got choked up about his colleagues who lost their jobs but also agreed with Rich that part of these wounds were self-inflicted. He seemed to say that journalists had a duty to cover the most important stories and work for the people (often in direct conflict with profit).

He explained that newspapers may not look and feel how they used to, but that they would exist. However, he gained 5 videojournalists, 5 multimedia editors, and some technicians. If anything, they are getting MORE visual. It's just a different type of visual.

In the 1880s, the Washington Post began running a few images using woodcut drawings. In1880, the New York Daily Graphic published the first half tone photograph.

Then he showed this clip from 1981 on the future of news (which Frank Rich also referenced):

A friend and editor recently told me he couldn't wait to get his New York Times on a newspaper-sized Kindle, which got me imagining one day owning a tablecloth that each morning uploaded the Times. I could eat and pull the articles toward me, iPhone style.

"The newspapers we love will prevail," said Du Cille, which seemed part assurance, part self-reassurance.

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The future (or what little is left of it) of print journalism is photojournalism. Text is already all online (and so are the audio and video clips). Long after the newspapers stop printing news on cheap paper, the glossy magazines dependent on high quality photography will keep getting printed: bridal gowns, real estate, sport, fishing and hunting magazines will thrive for quite a bit longer - they are selling glamour that Kindle and laptops are still incapable of reproducing as well as the dead-tree technology can. For a little while longer...

Shower curtains would be efficient.

Then there is also a whole other area of news event delivery technology that is not so well understood, at least according to an acquaintance who is a psychic detective. This person has worked with the FBI, and in one situation that involved a serial sniper case where 11 people were killed this person dialed in precognition âNewsâ from the ethers that was ahead of the actual events.

What fascinates and sometimes terrifies me about news for the general public, is understanding what type of news content people want, pay attention to and why. Neil Postman takes a substantial look at why modern media / news consumers are, âAmusing Ourselves to Death.â Definitely some interesting collateral back ground understanding in why science and or resource depletion news rarely makes it to the top 100 most read news stories, and if it does, it most certainly quickly becomes an old and buried news item when some celebrity sneezes in public...…

On second thought, shower curtain news delivery might not be such a good idea, it might encourage wasting water. Damn.

Coturnix does not have it quite right. Magazines are suffering just as much from a decline in print advertising revenue. The number of magazines, covering all genres, that are shutting down is indicative of the required evolution of photojournalism away from just print.

It's not about the medium, it's about the content. Journalists and photojournalists, brainwashed by the established media, are too attached to 'formats' and are too quickly to compromise their content, not to mention ethics, for the 'slant' or the pre-ordained angle. Ever heard of "the story gets in the way of the news?"

And who am I to say this. I'm just another journalist, who happens to be an NUJ member too. And a multimedia editor too. And my other half is a film-maker.

True, news is getting visual again (thank goodness for that). Photojournalism will not die if photojournalists stay true to their content, and don't cave in easily to the demands of the bean counters at their publications. The public stop buying papers not just because they're dumbed down. They are angry. So they voted with their feet. They still want the same content, and they can find it on the web or in videos.

If print dies, so be it. Story-telling will not die, and people always seek the truth. Photojournalism still has a big role. Just eat the humble pie, don't get too hung up on that Getty/Magnum/NatGeo hallowed crap and start telling stories ON BEHALF of the real people.