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Saturday
Dec242011

What shooters should do to avoid the chop

Here is a link to an article I just finished reading in GOOD Magazine.

It's another piece on the inevitable decline of the photo/videojournalist. The author is talking about photographers who just take photographs, or videographers who only shoot videos.

To make the point that photojournalists are going the way of the dinosaurs, the piece quotes a memo from Jack Womack, CNN's senior vice president of domestic news operations in which he outlines some more layoffs among the ranks of the network's shooters:

"We looked at production demands, down time, and international deployments. We looked at the impact of user-generated content and social media, CNN iReporters and of course our affiliate contributions in breaking news. Consumer and pro-sumer technologies are simpler and more accessible. Small cameras are now high broadcast quality. More of this technology is in the hands of more people. After completing this analysis, CNN determined that some photojournalists will be departing the company."

The article goes on to explain that CNN is laying off shooters because it is "receiving so many photo submissions via its user-generated iReport platform." This is clearly the case. In a breaking news medium, getting pictures from the field fast is paramount. The iPhone 4 can shoot HD pictures, but when pulling in stills or video from the public, quality isn't even that important. You have to get the visuals on the air immediately.

The problem is, then what? When the breaking news has happened and the public turns to CNN or another network to get some coverage, context or analysis, the broadcasters will, at some stage, require photo or videojournalists (professionals) to pick up where the public left off. Viewers of TV news will eventually need more than shaky, grainy video, or poorly framed stills. Plus, not all news is "breaking." Don't expect someone with an iPhone to go out and shoot a feature for you.

While news organizations will, undoubtedly, require fewer video/photojournalists, they will require some. The article quotes Darrow Montgomery from Washington's City Paper: "If the metric is to get the best, most telling, evocative picture of a given situation, and to be able to do that repeatedly, then the professional will win almost every time."

But video or photojournalists are their own worst enemies sometimes. They are, at least in part, responsible for their own demise. The article above quotes a former news shooter, now a wedding photographer: "Photographers need to figure out what exactly separates them from pedestrians with nice cameras." This could not be more true, especially when it comes to video.

There is a pervasive sense of misery among videojournalists who just shoot video. They feel they're doomed and that there is nothing they can do about it. But in fact there is something they can do about it. They have to learn some new skills to compete, it's just that simple. It's true that you're not going to be able to compete with a member of the public with an iPhone that is in the right place at the right time. But a photographer or videojournalist will stand a much better chance of keeping their job if they're able to do more than just shoot. The way of the future in television or online video is the shooter who is a reporter, writer, editor and producer as well.

I hear a lot about quality declining with the rise of the one-man-band reporter. But that rise is just the way it is and people should get used to it. I also hear people say things like "I'm too old to learn all this new stuff." I believe that anyone who thinks that way deserves to lose their job. One-skill specialists who look down on the one-man-band reporter may feel a sense of superiority, but that's not going to get them far when they get a pink-slip.

The answer to the challenge of figuring out how video/photojournalists should "separate themselves from pedestrians with nice cameras" is to learn how do be a reporter, editor or producer too. Learn some new tricks. Make yourself as valuable as three people. If you can't or wont do that then you are "going the way of the pterodactyl."

Reader Comments (1)

Hi Steve,

Why so angry? Of course a photo/video journalist can't always be present for breaking news, it is all the other stories that require a bit more thought that need a visual journalist.

The problem for most video/photojournalists is not a lack of trying to reinvent themselves, to take on more job responsibilities/roles or even to "learn new tricks". The problem from the shooters point of view, is that reporters who barely know how to write or put together a story get sent to "video, photo and editing school" while the visual specialists just get laid off without an offer of training. Where's the writing school?

That said, irregardless of the economic or political reasons of where the industry is going, skilled specialists will always do a better job, at any job! That has been true since the stone age. So getting "used to" a lack of quality is a bit sad and in the long run will be bad for journalism, both written and visual.

January 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCarl

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