Thursday, 31 December 2009

Happy new year to photojournalism?

A large stuffed toy left is all that is left outside the home of a man who was evicted in November 2009. His former employers owed him £5000 when they went into liquidation. The landlord, rather than offering him a repayment plan, evicted him after five years of impeccable tenancy. The eviction notice is nailed to the door. © Magnus Andersson

2009 is almost over and I think it comes as a big relief for many in the industry. Newspaper titles and magazine budgets have been cut/slashed across the world, more and more photographers have found themselves unable to pay the rent using their cameras. Rights grabbing and abuse from the police have escalated beyond what is acceptable. Councils are launching their own free 'newspapers', funded by our council tax they are selling cheap advertising and their own council propaganda, which goes unchallenged by professional journalists, undermining the whole process of democracy and scrutiny, the list goes on.

I read a piece by now retired PJ Dick Kraus entitled 'Rest in Peace: Photojournalism Is Dead'. It doesn't sound very uplifting and trust me, it isn't. There is a huge irony to this piece though, because it wasn't written in 2009; it was written ten years earlier in 1999, and it was already bad back then, let alone now.

Dick Kraus has over 40 years of experience in the photojournalism business and he shares his views on a profession that more and more has been eroded, leaving us shooting mere 'head shots and real estate', as he puts it.

For sure, I am lucky to still be in a job, but I couldn't help feeling that his description from 10 years ago is very similar to my job today and, I'm sure, that of many other newspaper photographers still out there.

The Digital Journalist does us all a favour by a timely re-print for us all to see, a decade later after it was written. You can - no, you will - read it here.

Jean-Fran├žois Leroy, the 'General' of Visa P'our L'image, wrote earlier this year about the death of photojournalism, and both pieces have similarities.

So what will 2010 bring? More industry death or is there a light at the end of the tunnel? Surely the end of recession must come soon and freelancers and staffers alike might see a rise in income/decent jobs.

Multimedia might finally start to make an impact on newspapers and perhaps revenue from online content finally becomes viable? The amount of people with video enabled SLR's out there is growing but it is of course a new profession that needs to be learned and so far very few news organisations are investing in training. Instead they assume that a stills photographer should be able to produce stills plus video content.

Normally a TV crew would contain three people; a cameraman, a reporter and a sound engineer, and quite often a producer too. How can newspapers expect all that on top of stills production from just one person? That's quality control versus shareholders for you, and so far only one winner; the owners line their pockets and readers go elsewhere.

As it is, the proposed pay walls are up for discussion, but one thing is certain - advertising has already moved online and so has readership. The question is: can newspapers regain the revenue they lost at the introduction of the internet when cars, real estate and small ads all slowly went online to separate sites such as autotrader, rightmove, craigslist, gumtree, eBay and the like?

It might be a case of too little, too late for many of the old news empires, but the demand for content hasn't diminished, so there is still hope for us. We just have to see where the money men and women take us. Failing that we have to do it ourselves.

Have you got any resolutions for 2010? I usually don't make them but this year I will endeavour to produce at least two book projects. They will of course have nothing to do with my day job on the newspaper, instead they will be both self-financed and self-published, but hopefully it will bring back some joy into my day job, push me to do better things and see better days.

I don't know a single photographer who does this job for the money (OK, one or two have given up PJ and moved to advertising, but hey, they have a families to feed).

We are always much more motivated by communication, creativity and empathy rather than the monetary factor, and personal projects are often much more rewarding and hopefully also feeds into the newspaper work.

With all this in mind, here's hoping for better days in 2010. Happy new year to you all, especially to the photojournalists! :)

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