Photojournalism Is (Still) for White Men, as Revealed by a Stunning New York Times Photograph

Photojournalism Is (Still) for White Men, as Revealed by a Stunning New York Times Photograph

There’s no question that the New York Times photo of American diplomats William Taylor and George Kent, where they detailed their uncomfortable and suspect dealings with President Donald Trump’s handling of a phone call with the president of Ukraine, is going to be one of the iconic ones of our time. There’s also no question about who overwhelmingly seems to dominate the photojournalism field based on this photo: white men.

Take a look at the photo:

Ironically, the photo was shot by a woman staff photographer for the New York Times, Erin Schaff, who thought to get slightly behind the diplomats to photograph the gaggle of photographers from the other side. The photographers, about 27, or almost all of them that are visible in the photo, seem to be white males. There may have been a few minorities or other women in the group, but it’s hard to tell.

Regardless of what the exact count was, it’s stunning that news organizations don’t consider this when sending out photographers. Yes, news outlets have hit tough times, and those tough times disproportionately affect minorities in newsrooms, but it’s still something an editor should think about. This is even more important when it involves an administration that specifically targets minorities when crafting policy.

The Schaff photo reveals that there’s still a huge gender/race gap in photojournalism. If you look at the list of New York Times reporters in the White House Press Corps (or at least the ones listed here), there’s a lack of diversity across the board. It’s a similar situation for the board of the White House Correspondents’ Association.

A look at Erin Schaff’s Instagram post from the hearing highlights that this is an issue not only in terms of the photographers, but also in terms of the people in the room who control the levers of power in government:

In January 2017, shortly before the inauguration and on the cusp of expanded racism that followed the new administration, Fstoppers editor Alex Cooke looked at the diversity problem in the photography industry as a whole and called out an important reason to foster diversity in photography and specifically photojournalism:

When photographs disproportionately carry the collective consciousness and culture of a specific group, they in turn disproportionately bias their consumers toward that group's ideas on anything from sexuality to social habits. Culture feeds into art feeds into culture. Culture feeds into advertising feeds into culture. Culture feeds into journalism feeds into culture.

This particular photo from the impeachment hearings show that, still, no one is listening.

Does This Sound Familiar?

If you’re a longtime reader of Fstoppers, maybe these words seem familiar to you? It’s because it’s almost exactly the same article I wrote more than two years ago about another stunning New York Times photo, one of James Comey testifying in the Senate.

It’s been more than two years since I last wrote about this, and the political press has seen it fit to not pursue diversity in their photojournalists. It’s a sad state of affairs when our history is photographically only told through the lenses of white men. That one of the only women in the group documented this travesty speaks volumes.

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Jacques Cornell's picture

What does "not particularly huge" mean? Does it mean that there is NO race or gender bias or differentials in opportunity? In my working life as a professional photographer in NYC, I have worked with literally scores of other photographers, and NONE of them have been African-American. I find this striking.

Lee Christiansen's picture

"Not particularly huge" simply means that these figures are close enough to allow for all sorts of perfectly reasonable factors to result in such figures. If the figures were 50% and 1% then this would be a big difference, but we're starting with a lowish figure of 13% and comparing it to a lowish figure of 9.5%

Or another way - the difference is just 3.5%

In my whole life I've only ever worked with one TV cameraman from Liverpool, UK. But I'm guessing there are probably quite a few Liverpudlian cameramen, (I do come from that end of the world). But I'll not make a % decision based on that factor. So I'm not sure your personal experience is a measure of what's going on - after all, by your experience, there are zero African-American photographers... :)

Curiously enough, I don't know how many black, white, pink, purple or green people I've worked with because I don't seem to notice. I do notice if they're any good, and that will do me.

There will probably always be some sort of bias in any country. I'm sure it is in our DNA to have a bias towards people we can directly relate to - whether in appearance or upbringing or background etc. I would of course prefer there wasn't that issue, but I do also find that it cuts in more than one direction. I see bias going more than one way.

But it is easy, (and oft satisfying) to get angry about things that don't require anger. My friend called it "Outrage Porn" which made me smile. It is when we look for things to be upset about and we look so hard that we can get annoyed about almost everything. This article would be a great example.

Merely seeing a picture with lots of white faces has resulted in someone getting angry that there were only white faces. It means someone has studied the image closely enough and with the mindset to find issue with the ratio of white to black faces. And then with that mindset, a jump to conclusion was made.

Once we get to the stage where we are counting faces, then we are already in trouble. Be outraged certainly if we find that photographers we not allowed to the WH because they were black. But let's not count faces and make a global decision of the state of the world.

I'm not sure if I saw any photographers who looked over the age of 60. Is this picture suggesting ageism in the journalistic world?

I think it is a dangerous premise to assume the journalistic world won't employ black photographers without absolute and demonstrable proof of specific examples on a large scale. To assume that a white journalistic environment is racist because they are white, is in itself a racist view.

We tackle real world issues as we find them, and it is right that we do. But let's not find issues where there are none suggested. And I don't think this picture weighs with enough real evidence that there is an issue on the basis of this picture.

I saw no one wearing a hat in the picture - is the journalistic world hatist. :)

Jacques Cornell's picture

A difference of "just 3.5%" is actually a difference of 3.5 PERCENTAGE POINTS out of a total of 13, which is a 25% difference between the level of participation in the industry and the level of representation in the general population. I consider a 25% gap significant and indicative of influences worthy of investigation.

Jacques Cornell's picture

I am aware of this. It does not, however, fully explain the lower income of women photographers, and it says nothing about why only 45% of photographers are women, vs 55% who are men.

Lee Christiansen's picture

Again, a relatively small difference. 45% vs 55%
Are we only to be happy when job titles are exactly matched by population demographics?
The world is more complicated than this.

(And there are many professional where there are more women than men working in them. I find there are more women working in PR, more women working in video production companies - at least from my 30 yrs experience in media in the UK. But I don't particularly worry about the % figures.)

Jacques Cornell's picture

Did I say we were to be unhappy about this? No. I said it was interesting. So many folks here jump from the simple observation of disproportion to 1) conclusions about explicit bias and/or 2) denial out of fear of demands for correction. Why can't we just have a conversation about the actual facts and possible explanations? As a sociology major with a Master's in economics, I find the whole topic interesting, complex, and worthy of study with an open mind.

jonas y's picture

"interest, personal decisions regarding childbearing and work-life balance " and more.

Mike Yamin's picture

I would be much more surprised if things were 50/50. I mean, what are the odds of that? Why would you expect that? There are so many reasons people choose different careers and most of them are perfectly legitimate, having nothing to do with opportunity or anything negative. It's especially clear between the genders. Unless you were born yesterday, you will have observed differences between men and women.

Here's a good paper on the income gap (jump to the conclusion if you'd like): https://scholar.harvard.edu/files/bolotnyy/files/be_gendergap.pdf

Jacques Cornell's picture

"There are so many reasons"... Yes. What are those reasons? As for the genders, there's a huge body of evidence that many of the reasons why women make different career choices than men have to do with cultural and institutional factors beyond mere gender differences of interest in subject matter. Many differences are accounted for by the traditional differences in childcare roles, but others are clearly the result of soft barriers. Everyone thought women "weren't interested" in being firefighters until barriers in hiring were removed, then all of a sudden women were "interested".

Women have always had upper hand in everything, it's a myth that they were oppressed, especially in the developed countries. Now they want preference and not equality. In fact, they have preference over men these days and they deliberately make a choice.

https://youtu.be/Ll1HCBck25A

Mike Yamin's picture

What are those reasons? As many as you can imagine. Barriers or not, your responses tell me you think men and women are the same, when they so clearly are not. EDIT: You're using firefighters as an example, so I went and looked up the numbers and women only make up around 4% of them. If you think that's a barrier thing, I can't take you seriously anymore.

This idea that everyone is a victim has been incredibly damaging to our society. The idea that if they don't get what they want out of life, it's someone else's fault. But you know what, you can't control the world, you can only control your response to it.

Jacques Cornell's picture

"your responses tell me you think men and women are the same"
Brilliant. Sigmund Freud, move over: there's a new mind-reader in town.

Mike Yamin's picture

Therein lies the root of your astounding ignorance.

Another meaninglessly divisive article.

jonas y's picture

Are you trying to recruit for dumbasses like Richard Spencer or something? Cause that is how they think and your message is how they show everyone else you guys wanna destroy the "whites race". Stop identity politics, ALL OF THEM!

jonas y's picture

#thisweekinstupid

Wonder Woman's picture

In shocking new report, "Stunning" has lost all meaning.

Studio 403's picture

This sardonic post is so beneath what I thought Fstoppers was above this rhetoric. Suggest you take your camera to China and capture Muslims being in internment camps under an authoritarian, sadistic regime. China’s policy for Muslims is evil. I am too chicken to go. Anyone caught faces the death penalty.
Yes I buy “stuff made in China” to my lament. This maladroit writing is so full of racism toward white folks. Remember, Martin Luther King wants a world where we are color blind. Your racist remarks are laughable. Like to see all this minority reporting; give it a rest. At least till 2020. Thanksgiving is around the corner, Christmas is next. Let us give thanks and gratitude for a wonderful country, Warts and all. This white American, you see I had no choice in my skin tones, of course photoshop can change me. To the minority folks, I hear and see you. Your are getting treated like leftovers. It breaks my heart. Change is so slow. But you folks in minority land, please give it a rest for 3 months.

Spot on satire, well done.

There are many thing in play here which all these SJW reporters miss;

#1. Minorities in US are majority elsewhere (in those countries white men are minorities too, if they do go there - surprise)
#2. If you visit any other country where white folks are not the majority, it is going to be predominantly not white
#3. Women make choices like men albeit, their reasoning and their incentives behind selecting jobs are different compared to men (for the majority of them, if not all) and hence, certain industries are dominated by men because majority men in that country/city created/formed such industry
#4. As races mix and women take up different roles (change in situation, incentives), it will eventually become equal or at least reasonable. No one can force this onto one particular population (like socialists, communists and other ists did)

What's going on currently is pure "identity politics" whereby some group intimidate (a.k.a bully) using means that were never intended (rather just happen to be because of various factors), push one sect to the bottom in order to climb to the top now that the path to the top is well definied and the industry norms are clearly defined (because of the hard work of the majority of the folks in that country/city) and it is less laborsome than before.

People should be hired for their qualifications, experience and job at hand. Everyone has to work for it. I bet none of these companies have policies which say "we hire only white men".

We need to stop being cry babies and move on.

And... please stop reporting such news, now that you have got enough clicks (your click bait and recycled news worked out well).

Luke Adams's picture

Well said. It is so frustrating as a Canadian, that every job application I fill out (looking for offseason work) states that they prioritize hiring minorities, native americans, and females, and gives you the chance to mark on your application whether you belong to one of these groups. If someone belonging to one of these groups is the best person for the job, fine. But in my mind, that’s just straight up discrimination while meanwhile, I’m trying to feed my family. Is this what you’re advocating for Wasim?

It's weird isn't it? It's the same group's claim that they are against racism and for equality, but they increasingly marginalize one group over other coz of these 'quota'.

Just stick to 'the best talented person for the job gets the job' and let the hiring process do the hiring.

This is why we need small government. They suck all our money, grow big and bloat and then suck on you by intervening in every damn thing.

liliumva's picture

It's an interesting notion, however, you're only taking one moment and possibly not knowing all that is there.Who's to say that the networks sent out who they had on hand at the time. No one knows TBH. But, I'd like to know how much money from ad-sense that this article will bring will you donate to notable charities for marginalized people or for the change you want to encourage more POC to work in the journalist career? It's easy to sit on the sidelines and complain about the issues, but unless you're actively trying to solve/fix a problem, you're doing nothing to bring about change.

Wasim Ahmad's picture

OK, here's another moment: https://twitter.com/AP_Images/status/1197235222070345734

And I'm actively trying to solve the problem by teaching and recruiting the next generation of photojournalists where I teach.

Scott Wardwell's picture

So going forward, you are only going to mentor non-whites?

Scott Wardwell's picture

So going foward, you are only to teach and mentor non-whites?

liliumva's picture

Wasim, again another moment that is only taken at face value. Even in the comments an editor for NPPA talks about the increase of gender and ethnic diversity. NY Times is incredibly diverse as well. So, again, you're going off a photo, a single moment in time. You're suggesting that the field is racist because those are the photographers on that assignment that happen to be white. Again, have you considered that they are just one of many, or perhaps they run their own news-outlet?

Yes, statistics can say a lot. But a sample portion of a whole population does not mean necessarily mean that it's true. Have you tried to find all of their news-outlets to see if there is diversity within their ranks? Pulling news articles that are over 5 years old does not necessarily show the current climate and it does not given insight to the photos you keep showing. Do you have any sources from the past year or two? I mean, I can just go to ASNE (shocked you never took the time to actually pull statistics from there) and look over the ratio of POC per *participating* news-outlet. Have you any statistics on POC and their choice to enter this field?

You teach, great. You get paid to teach people how to be a journalist. Great. However, what are you doing to help bring change outside of being PAID to do so? Again, are you going to donate the money you get from this article to a charity for marginalized people?

Luke Adams's picture

The comments on that twitter thread are racist, sexist, androphobic, etc. in and of themselves if you want to start slinging around the name calling words: "Sausage fest. Sack the lot of them." Yep, classy link Wasim.

Brainwashing students with your embarrassing victim of the past mentality doesn't help anyone. You're one of the reasons people think college is a joke these days. Congratulations Wasim, you have become the thing you pretend to hate.

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