Is photojournalism getting cast aside in laziness?
It’s getting late. The only noise you hear is the faint ticking of the clock, taunting you. The copy-filing deadline looms over you, like a shadow. As do pages and pages of transcribed segments of an interview that took you hours to prepare for. You need to put together a story that both makes sense, and is the ideal word count. Then edit, fact-check, and spell-check. Finally, you have it, that article you have been slaving over is amazing.
But now you’re out of time, and you need a picture. Thankfully the picture isn’t that important. Right?
Journalists face growing demands to produce more content quicker, but the importance of photos in stories still stands. The quality of the photos must not be compromised in order to save time.
An article’s photo helps to tell the story in a different way, and, ideally, to bring a personal face to the story. With the wrong photo, even the best-written story can suffer.
The Globe and Mail recently got into hot water by using a photo of an unnamed woman overcome with grief in an article talking about the missing Malaysian flight. Some thought it was in poor taste to use the photo of the crying woman in the article.
The Globe and Mail’s ethics policy speaks directly about photos stating photographers should “Be sensitive when seeking or using images of those affected by tragedy or grief.”
In terms of the code, the photo used by the Globe and Mail is a violation. Taking photos of someone who is so overcome with grief might not be treating that person with respect or dignity.
The story only had one brief paragraph talking about grieving families at a press conference, a very small part of the overall story. It was the wrong time for the photo to be used. More thought must be put into photos being used for articles.
Jeff Nash, as the manager of video production for the Edmonton Oilers, knows very well about the importance of photography. In an email interview, he said: “The world speaks in thousands of different languages and dialects but we all see in one.
“The message conveyed in one single image can convey the entire story in mere seconds. Of course the written description and full details of the news story is also essential for the person to fully grasp the gravity of the issue. However a photo is better than any headline or catchy opening line.”
The photo of a story is the first thing a reader looks at, making it the initial grab. The story holds the details; the picture is like a summary. The photo should explain without words, what you are reading about.
Nash says most readers use the photo to get hooked into the story.
“I’m a visual person and I always scan the papers, magazine articles keeping an eye out for interesting photos,” he said. “I seldom get hooked into an article and never look at the visuals.”
However, with most reporters now also taking their own images and videos, photography can often be an afterthought. Reporting and writing an article takes much more time; therefore it’s usually valued more.
Anyone with an iPhone can take a good quality photo that might match what a story is about, but it’s more than that. Journalists know how to find the best way to tell a story visually. They are in the right place at the right time, and know what works for the story.
So why do so many news photos seem dull or simply not appropriate for the story? Have news organizations been focusing less and less on photo journalism?
“The only instance where I think the importance of photos is overlooked is when it comes down to a budget perspective,” says Nash. “Quality shooters and equipment are expensive and people and publishers are always looking after their bottom line.”
As a student journalist who is interested in photojournalism, I find this disheartening.
So how do we fix this issue?
How can we ensure as journalists that our photos are just as telling as the stories we spend hours working on?
I think it can be a simple fix. In journalism school we take photo classes, and are challenged to take photos that can tell the story we want to tell. By using one photo to tell a story, we are forced to think about what the story really is, and how we want to capture that.
Journalists should also be planning ahead, thinking of the types of shots you want will prevent you from picking one last minute that might not fit.
If journalists use photos as a crucial part of their stories, they will only be producing photos that truly work well with their written copy.
Calgary Journal reporter Jessica Phillips is exploring media ethics as part of the Bachelor of Communication-Journalism degree at Mount Royal University.