Photo-Journalism is an Important Means of Conveying Information

Another thoughts on journalism post

Photo-journalism is an endangered form of effectively communicating information. It's a very important form, and the decline of which will lead to a further decline in journalism as a whole.

Photojournalism is one of the reasons I still enjoy reading my local print newspaper The Hamilton Spectator. They even have a great photo blog.

I did some photo journalism for a few years early in my journalism career. For The Silhouette, I enjoyed being a photo volunteer because it gave me a chance to contribute without blurring the lines of my contracts elsewhere.

I even managed to take a few photos professionally for Maclean's print edition. Whenever I wrote a print feature, I would submit rough concepts of the ideas I had for the photos that would run alongside my text.

In 2008, the photo editor emailed me back asking how much effort I put into my concepts, I replied not my fullest. He asked me if I wanted to try and take photos for my story. I would be paid for the photos at the standard freelance rate, in addition to my pay for the text.

Taking a good news photo requires focus, preparation, and patience.

Thankfully, because it was a feature story, I had plenty of time to prepare for the photo-shoot. I framed the photo marvelously, and it ran in the print magazine. I had a few more features in the coming years that I produced photos with.

I got overly confident, and thought I could do everything.

I nearly screwed up one story by trying to take photos and cover the text story at the same time. A few weeks later, I did screw up a story by tweeting instead of staying focused behind the lenses.

I was at a protest, people where getting heated, I let my camera hang on its sling, and I didn't capture a photo of protesters pushing counter protesters.

Here's the other thing, my photos when splitting my focus are not very good.

Smartphones take high quality photos, and are excellent for day to day personal, and for spot news when there are no other options. In the hands of a great photograph, they take great pictures.

Think of three iconic current events photos of the past two years, I'll almost guarantee that two of them will be by professional photojournalists, most likely all three.

Personally, I think of the Jonathan Bachman photo of riot police arresting the woman in a dress in Baton Rouge this summer.

As newspapers further become online-only news site, as they continue to squeeze their budgets, and they lay off more staff, they must not lose the talent that will distinguish them from the "competition".

Photojournalism is a skill that's hard to master, hard to replicate, and stands out in the crowded field of online sites.

When I think about what makes newspapers unique and worth reading - its the visual content and layout. You can't replace that with an unpaid person and smartphone.

P.S. You'll notice I didn't include any photos, just links, I'm big on respecting both the letter and spirit of copyright.

P.S.S. a shoutout to the National Post for great infographics. I've purchased at the newsstand solely on the basis of an interesting infographic.