It’s been a rough time for photojournalists, with many large metro newspapers laying off entire photo staffs. Quality is bound to take a hit, but does the public notice? A new study says that they do.
Researchers Tara Mortensen and Peter Gade, in a study published in Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, analyzed photographs from the Middletown (N.Y.) Times Herald-Record pre- and post-layoff of the photo staff in 2013. From this set of photographs, 488 were identified as taken by a professional and 409 were not. These photos were then classified on a scale devised by Ken Kobré, a professor who wrote the seminal photojournalism text, "Photojournalism: The Professionals’ Approach." The scale rated photos as informational, graphically appealing, emotionally appealing, and intimate.
Generally informational photos point the camera in the right direction of events that are happening, but aren't very creative or graphically appealing. The study found that about 80 percent of the time, nonprofessional photographers were taking these types of shots, compared to just under 50 percent of the time for professional photographers, who leaned more heavily on the other three categories of photography that generally provided for better photos. It was also noted that professional photos provided more action and conflict than nonprofessional photos.
It’s something you see playing out on the local level every day. While reporters are good at what they do (words), photographers are specialists at what they do (photos), and to prioritize one over the other results in lesser news coverage overall. Bean counters at newspapers may not feel the effects right away, but as less professional photos appear day after day, a publication’s credibility drops.
You can check out a synopsis of the study over at the American Press Institute.
What do you think about the decline of professional news photography? Sound off in the comments below.