Mother Jones: “Can Photojournalism Survive in the Instagram Era?”

For those interested in journalism, photography, social media, or any combination of those, check out this great piece from Jeremy Lybarger at Mother Jones: Can Photojournalism Survive in the Instagram Era?

The piece is primarily a Q&A with Fred Ritchin and has a provocative subtitle: “Renowned photography theorist Fred Ritchin has a simple message for those behind the camera: Innovate or die.”

From the introduction to the piece:

In late May, the Chicago Sun-Times took the unprecedented move of gutting its photography department by laying off 28 full-time employees, including John H. White, a 35-year veteran who had won the paper a Pulitzer. The nation’s 8th largest newspaper figured it could cut costs by hiring freelancers and training reporters to shoot iPhone photos, to which Chicago Tribune photographer Alex Garcia responded: “I have never been in a newsroom where you could do someone else’s job and also do yours well. Even when I shoot video and stills on an assignment, with the same camera, both tend to suffer. They require different ways of thinking.”

The Q&A comes on the heels of the publication of Ritchin’s new book Bending the Frame: Photojournalism, Documentary, and the Citizen. I think I’m going to have to pick this one up. Again from MJ:

Bending the Frame is a vigorous wake-up call to photojournalists to innovate or die. Photographers, Ritchen writes, should continually be asking how they can create more meaningful imagery rather than just chase the “trail of the incendiary.” I asked Ritchin to fill me in on the details. Interspersed throughout the interview are examples of photographic projects that he considers particularly innovative or audacious.

It’s no secret that the rise of digital cameras, which can capture images that do not require the complexities of darkroom printing and processing, revolutionized news photography. The revolution has actually been slower coming than I expected; I’m puzzled by the number of seasoned journalists who apparently did not see the writing on the wall and did not try to advance their own photo skills.

I’m struck too by the quote from Tribune photographer Garcia above. For someone trained to either be a photojournalist or a reporter, the skill sets might be very different — trying to do both could obviously hamper the ability to do either well.

But what about journalists of the future who learned to capture images from the time they were small children?

And we see radio news producers who are able to gather the news while capturing sound. Is it really so different to gather news and capture images?

There’s obviously a lot more in the piece. Highly recommended. Thanks to Jay Rosen for pointing this out via Twitter.