Where Is The Photojournalism?

Screen Shot 2013 11 05 at 3 05 54 PM

I love this photograph by Scott Sommerdorf (above). Anyone who has covered a story like this knows how rare this photo is. These situations are tough for good photos, when a political figure is under the spotlight and access is tightly controlled.

I can easily imagine the scene behind Scott’s back at the moment he took the shot – a group of journalists, photographers and videographers are probably sitting around with their equipment on their laps waiting for the press conference to start (often that’s what I catch myself doing). And that’s why I love this one. Scott made a moment out of something we often tune out- the reality of what’s going on right in front of us while we wait for the photo op “to start.”

As the photo appeared on my screen and I felt the delight in seeing a great storytelling photograph leading off the article, I also realized how rare it was to see the best photograph paired up perfectly with an article online these days. It still happens in print, but rarely online.

Where is the photojournalism online?

There is no shortage of talent here in Utah. We are making great storytelling images like always. I see great work on your blogs and in your facebook posts. But tragically, it’s nearly impossible to find the best photographs on the websites of Utah’s newspapers.

These are all actual size:

Screen Shot 2013 11 07 at 12 41 43 PM

I’ve spent the last month reading every Utah newspaper website regularly. The great photographs are often hidden in bloated galleries…

Screen Shot 2013 11 07 at 12 55 04 PM

Or run as tiny thumbnails…

Screen Shot 2013 11 07 at 12 41 55 PM

Or completely missing when a rash of viral content infects a site…

Screen Shot 2013 10 29 at 9 40 34 AM

And in the worst cases, generic microstock imagery is used in place of real photojournalism.

We need to find answers to these trends quickly, before the value of what we do so well is forgotten.

Solutions have been rare. Judging from how the sites all look, local photo editors have little influence with how photos are used when it comes to the online product. Photos are seemingly attached to stories automatically, with little or no photo editing taking place. The main photos on articles often appear to have been chosen at random. And they are displayed very poorly in comparison to the printed newspaper.

None of the Utah newspapers have sites dedicated to their staff’s photojournalism, like you’ll find at many newspapers (LA Times, Denver Post, Mercury News, etc.). The best places to see local work displayed well is on individual photographers’ personal blogs (and only a few have regularly updated sites). Unfortunately, the audiences on those blogs are so small they’re not worth counting.

When the photo staff of the Chicago Sun-Times was laid off in one devastating blow earlier this year, the tragedy was bemoaned across the country. But nobody talked about one relevant fact that may have been behind the decision: The Sun-Times website didn’t use photography well at all. And if photography isn’t playing a big role on your website, why pay a staff of photographers?

That is a question that every outlet, including yours, will be asking themselves in the coming months and years.

Why do they need you?

You need to give them a reason to keep you. You have the talent. You are producing great photojournalism.

But is anyone seeing it?

Your job, and more importantly the visual history of Utah, depends on your response to those questions and what you decide to do about it.

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. How true…From one who knows the recent realities of staff photography job cuts.

  2. Sadly this is indicative of a far greater problem in journalism today; the continuing removal of those who used to “vet” content. The owners of journalism outlets in their race to the bottom line streamlined the process of getting content onto the web. Now we have photos that have nothing to do with stories, stories with headlines that don’t even relate to the story, but will drive more web traffic. Misspelled words, bad grammar, punctuation errors, plagiarism, opinion pieces and advertorials masquerading as news stories and public relations press releases quoted verbatim as if they were actual news.

    Copy editors, photo editors, newsroom editors, all whose job it was to vet content, work with content providers to assure accuracy and accountability are now a dying breed, often deemed inessential by the powers that be running today’s news organizations. According to this recent story by the Pew Research Center. News photographers have taken the biggest hit when it comes to recent job cuts at newspapers.

    Unfortunately there is not a lot to be optimistic about in terms of quality photojournalism on newspaper websites around the country. I look at them too, and very rarely do I see great or even mediocre photojournalism being displayed properly. Ironically the web, by it’s very nature is “visual” and should be a place where great photojournalism can shine. I don’t want to be appear to be overly pessimistic about the current state of photojournalism, but unless photographers can make themselves and their work more relevant, not just to their audience, because they have always done this, but more importantly to the very owners and managers of the organizations they work for, they run the all to real risk of becoming expendable.

  3. The problem with the web is that now each Utah photojournalist is competing with every other bigger-city photojournalist and their where-the-news-is-happening photographs. No matter that we’re covering a reader’s hometown of some-place-Utah; pictures of another press conference or story time at the Provo Library are not going to pull readers away from live updates from CNN in the Philippines or Miley Cyrus’ latest cry for attention, (although pictures of LDS temple construction just might).

  4. Where is an example of a good Utah news website? I’d rather remove my eyes with a hot poker than stare at the Daily Herald site for more than one or two articles. Using the Salt Lake Tribune site is like browsing the web from 1998. Searching is broken. Discovering locally produced content in a sea of redundant national stories is frustrating. The designs are stale. The content is floundering. The least of your worries should be the postage-stamp sized thumbnails. Has it occurred to anyone that there shouldn’t be any thumbnails at all?

    I don’t know you, but I do care about you. I hope you find a solution, and I hope you find the support to make that solution a reality. Please sign me up if you try something new. I’d like to see someone build the web around the story rather than continue to try to stuff the story in to the web. Hungry eyes are out there.

    I wrote a long and detailed response to this important topic. When I was finished I realized that there is so much momentum behind “the suck” that i don’t see how anyone can stop it. Reaching that realization means that I’m going to stop here and walk away. Good luck!

  5. These sites are where “news” goes to die.

Leave a Comment

Close Menu