Its not the photo part of journalism that is dying – there are some great images out there-, it is the journalism part. When was the last time you saw a story explained in photographs rather then lengthy text. Today’s photojournalism consists of reading a story in the news and covering it. It is not so much journalism as it doesn’t seek to explain and reveal but rather illustrate. A kind of stock photojournalism. The reason ? Financial, of course.
Photographers read websites and print newsmagazines in search of the next big story. But instead of looking to break a story, they look for the story that everyone will talk about. So they can sell images. The modern photojournalism process is to anticipate demand of a news story and try to cash in on it rather than looking to create a demand by discovering a story. It’s a perpetual search of the big news story of next week. A bit like celebrity photographers chase the next hot celebrity, photojournalists chase the next new hot story. This has two effect:
- Over saturation on one topic as massive amounts of photographers rush to cover what is already been talked about.This can be seen at places like Visa pour L’image at Perpignan where one in two portfolio is about the same subject, who, by the way, will be widely covered during the nightly projections. One can easily catch cornea nausea after three days there.
- Void suction : Behind the mass convergence of photojournalists to the top 2 or 3 hot stories, a big void is created. Huge. A few celebrated and/or truth driven photojournalists still try to break stories. But, either they expose a useless piece of information (very often) , or they cover it with overly “self satisfying photo contest grabbing” images ( for those that are above the news). They have transformed the breaking story part of photojournalism into a large empty playground for their artistic expression.
Sure, that is not the whole landscape of photojournalism today. There are still, here and there, some great photojournalist that still do their job the way it should be. But they are rare and few, as it is still ( it never was easy) extremely hard to make a decent living out of it.
So what is dying today in photojournalism is those news photographers that depend on the news to illustrate it instead of creating it. With everyone, absolutely everywhere having a camera and learning to use it, it is no longer necessary to send specialists. The same way, it is no longer necessary to have a pro stock photographer shoot commercial stock images. In other words, it’s a rebalancing of the forces in place and maybe a welcome one. Maybe some of those stock news shooters will readapt to the news market condition and look to break news with their cameras ( being journalists again) or maybe they will find another profession ( wedding photographer ?). Harsh maybe, but the market is even harsher. And maybe, just maybe, and if the media participate and are willing, we will see the emergence of great photojournalism that actually reveal and teach us something we didn’t know.