- Jerry Burnes, the news editor of the Williston (N.D.) Herald, said, “Without the heart of a photojournalist, a camera is just a camera. A picture is just a picture. A newspaper is just a publication without its heart and soul.”
I stumbled upon this blog post written by Jenny Lark who writes a blog here in Memphis at @ https://jennyslark.com. She had seen something I had written for our Thousand Words editorial spot, while I still worked at the newspaper, The Commercial Appeal a few years ago and she blogged about it.
I had written it when The Chicago Sun-Times laid off its entire photography staff and replaced them by giving reporters iPhone's. Now, I will admit that there is occasion to use an iPhone to cover news. But it can not ever be considered a replacement for a photojournalist. Since then, so many more newspapers have laid off award winning photographers, reporters, editors and many others who make the wheels of a newspaper turn. The Commercial Appeal newsroom is now a tiny fraction of what it once was. There are more layoffs coming this week. The newsroom that was once over 300 people may soon have as few as 50.
In this week's Commercial Appeal, the editor, Louis Graham, admits to a news casualty that he blames partially on some of those problems. "Too few people looked at the front page before it rolled off our presses," Graham says. http://www.commercialappeal.com/news/ca-editor-we-got-it-wrong-37714a7c-a344-09f5-e053-0100007f252d-386525811.html
That is a frightening thought.
Great headline writers as well as great photography is most often what pull readers into a great story. Top management has decided they can't afford those skills. They now ask reporters to write their own headlines and take their own pictures.
Accuracy, credibility and objectivity is what a newspaper sells. That is what should separate them from much of the other information out there. It has always been a journalist badge of honor to never let your personal opinion shine through on any story, ever!
Accuracy is what we sell.
Newspapers are fighting for their survival and trying to keep up with the changing landscape, and the news business is scrambling to figure out what it needs to be and what people want.
I'd hope at some point the pendulum swings back and the power of photography and great photojournalism is appreciated once again in newspapers. It is my hope that once again great daily photojournalism will be seen, not as a luxury, but as the necessity that it is.
A great photograph is more powerful than a thousand words.
Most often great pictures can't be forced, often they can't be gotten quickly, superficially and/or just by anyone. Most great photojournalists have the ability to gain the trust of their subjects. Truly great photographers have a gift of seeing in a special way that is not shared by everyone.
“It is an illusion that photos are made with the camera… they are made with the eye, heart and head.” – Henri Cartier-Bresson
There are several principles that have guided journalists throughout time. We need to be accurate, fair, honest and objective. We need to make people care. For the 25 years I worked for Scripps Howard, the owners of the Commercial Appeal for 150 years, the motto was "Give light and the people will find their own way."
The Commercial Appeal has been sold twice since Jenny's blog post about my mentor being laid off in Chicago, along with the entire photo staff at the Chicago Sun-Times. The Commercial Appeal has also continued to shrink their staff and it's product and readers have noticed.
Something a college professor told me once has always stuck with me "you can't publish an excuse," he'd say.
People love photographs. Readers value photography. We are in a world and place in time where there is even more demand for visuals. I have remained very busy since leaving the newspaper. My clients value great visual story telling.
There has been many times in history that a single photograph has influenced people and has been the catalyst for change. Usually it was a photojournalist who was hired to create a visual record for history that was responsible for taking the photograph.
Boss Tweed, the head of New York's Tammany Hall machine, once complained to a newspaper editor: "I don't care much about what you print, my constituents can't read-- but stop printing those damn pictures!"
Think about the images that you have seen in your lifetime that influenced you and that also have changed history. Then think about that again next time you look to your newspaper.
This blog post is being posted without a photograph on purpose.
Nov 3rd, 2016-
Today is the day after the Chicago Cubs made history by winning the World Series against the Cleveland Indians.
In a continuing discussion about the state of the news business, specifically the choice of many major newspapers have made to let go of their photo staffs in favor of using reporters with iphones. They have made choices about how to cover the news. Here is another comparison of coverage . The news business has completely changed since I got into the business.
This was posted by a former co-worker of mine, Kevin Robbins, who always understood the power of great photography. "Working alongside elite newspaper photographers has been my great privilege. This just leaves me sad. Grateful now and always for Robert Cohen, Ralph Barrera, Alan Spearman, Lance Murphey, Karen Pulfer Focht, Laura Skelding, Laura Kleinhenz, Laurie Skrivan, Jay Janner, Rodolfo Gonzalez, Nell Seiler Carroll, Andrew Cutraro, Erich Schlegel, Kelly West, Brian Diggs and the other badasses who made me and journalism better."