The other day, on Mother Jones, another article was published on whether photojournalism could survive in the age of Instagram. For some reason, Instagram is always positioned as the photojournalism killer when other platforms, like Twitter or Flickr have more potential to destroy it. If it can be destroyed.
A few clarifications: It is not, nor does it ever been the tool that has defined photojournalism. No one ever worried that the instamatic would destroy photojournalism, nor that the Polaroid would end photojournalism. In fact, up to recently, no one cared about what equipment and platform photojournalists were using to carry their messages to the masses. The only thing that mattered was the result. And it still does.
Instagram, like a few years ago the lens baby craze, is just a passing trend in photojournalism. Some might continue to use it, others will move on to newer tools. It is not a revolution and hardly an evolution. There will be no before or after Instagram because it is just not that important. What is important is the change in access, something we wrote about here before.
With Instagram or any image sharing platform, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and others, photojournalists now have direct access to an audience and are no longer limited by the publishers . So, when a few years ago one had to get the approval of a writer, a photo editor and an editor in chief to get images published and seen, it is no longer the case. The downsize of this is that anyone can publish anything anywhere. Thus when a magazine offered a carefully curated content, social media offers you a cacophony of unregulated information. When a magazine guarantees credibility, it is hard to define on social media.
Thus, the real question is how does photojournalism keep its identity, authenticity, credibility, objectivity and impact if there are no more gatekeepers? The answer is quite obvious: its all in the hands of the photographer. More than ever.
Photojournalists new added role is to become their own trusted beacon of information. Regardless of what tool they use, they have to, time after time, abide by the strictest rules of journalism to become a trusted publisher themselves. It is not an easy and rapid process as trust is build over long period of time and can be easily lost. But the bests and the brightest will emerge from the masses and become trusted sources of information . What photojournalism is losing is not the photojournalist but the credibility gatekeepers . As it evolves from the one to many model to the many to many
, new beacons of trust have to be established that no longer just rely on past experience. We trust the New York Times because of its long history of providing truth. We are doubtful of that one photographer who just posted an image because we have no experience with that person.
Maybe one solution is for Twitter to create trust accounts.Via an algorithm that would check for past postings, along with confirming with other sources, numbers of trusted followers, amounts of legitimate retweets, it could confirm the veracity of source and assign a confidence level. It would be lower for a first time poster but upwards to 100% for an established one. We could then start trusting sources with higher confidence as it would discourage and weed out the fakes and jokers.
In other words, photojournalist, via twitter, could become their own publishers. Twitter would benefit by helping creating new channels of journalism with massive following, whose presence would bring legitimacy to their platform. The same could be done with Twitter and Facebook.
As we transition to the many to many publishing model, the importance of photojournalism is not disappearing. In fact, it has never been so important. What is shifting is how we create new trusts channels inside the huge amount of information we receive daily. How we hand over the power of information not to those who aggregate it but those who actually create it.