Portions of this column were originally written for the November 2013 edition of News Photographer Magazine.
Mark Loundy is a media producer and consultant based in San Jose, California. Full bio.
The opinions in this article are those of the author alone and do not necessarily represent the official views of the National Press Photographers Association.
November 2013, Volume 124
By Mark Loundy
"The farsighted know an opportunity when they see one
That the nearsighted overlook right under their noses."
The word used most often is, "shortsighted." That's the most common response to a Pew Research study showing that photographers are suffering a disproportionate share of newsroom cuts. Other, less insightful, words have been "ouch" and "ugh."
The days of photo staffs being "trimmed" may be going out of fashion in favor of entire staffs being amputated a la the Chicago Sun-Times and the Middletown Times Herald Record, both of which eliminated their photo staffs earlier this year.
One of the formerly great newspapers of the southeast, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution is following the pattern of many others and slashing its 11-person photo staff by nearly half. According to a story by Poynter, five shooters and one editor will either accept buy-out offers or be laid off. As if management has discovered video as something new, the remaining five shooters will be reclassified as "multimedia journalists."
Traditionally, photographers have been like punters on a football team — a part of the team, but off to the side, doing things nobody really understands. That makes them "different" from the more familiar word-based staffers and therefore, easier to cut. It's also never helped that photojournalism appears easy to do.
For decades, photo staffs have needed to integrate themselves, not only into the newsroom, but also into newsroom leadership. But it might be too late to imprint their value on decision makers. Terrified, compulsively nostalgic and myopic publishers, desperate for ideas to slow the bleeding of red ink, tend to follow their peers. So look for further photo department eliminations.
Photographers are in the accounting department's crosshairs and it is critical that they educate their leaders about the inevitable counterproductive results of crowdsourced visuals. They need to understand the complexity and professionalism required for effective images.
The concept of staff photographer is now officially hanging by a slim and rapidly unraveling thread.
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