Neil Burgess says in his article “For God’s sake, somebody call it!” that magazines and newspapers are no longer putting any money into photojournalism. They no longer fund photo-reportage. They only fund photo illustration. I’m sad to say that I agree. But does it really stop there?

Last Friday I held a presentation at the Swedish Picture Of The Year Award where I talked about what I believe is the biggest threat to staff photographers. I just put together this blog post that sums up what I was talking about. Happy reading!

Shootitlive workshop Eivind Vogel-Rödin

Are staff photographers really needed?

With an increased focus on the web the staff photographer’s role on a newspaper has dramatically changed. A web editor often need the content as quickly as possible. When the staff photographer can’t fill that need the web editor is forced to find other ways. A photo illustration can easily be obtained by using stock-photos, reader images or screenshots. If you visit any of the biggest news sites in the world you will see that they are bursting with stock images. Even worse is the publication of screen shots from televised broadcasts wich isn’t a new phenomenon. Even though the newspaper have a photographer on location taking great shoots, the photos are simply not used in the online edition. Total waste of time, resources and money.

The online edition of a newspaper have always fought in the backwater of the paper edition. As staff photographers generaly works for the paper edition the web editor has to settle with leftover pictures. When editors have become used to get photos in other ways, they’ll ask themselves whether they really need staff photographers at all.

I recently met an online manager at one of Europe’s biggest news sites. I asked him how many photographers they had. He looked at me and said:

“Photographers? We don’t need photographers”

Note. This newspaper has a photo department but they dont work for the online edition.

This is a big problem as we all know that the future is online. If this trend continues, it means that news photographers will no longer be a part of the editorial work inside the news room. The cold truth is that staff photographers must claim their place in order to prove their existence.

Make photographers profitable

The photo department is often seen as a unnecessary cost, which has resulted in cut backs and little or no investments in new employees. But hey, wait a second! How about creating new revenue streams for the newspapers?

Real-time reporting is becoming more common and something that readers expect. The next step for real-time reporting is to add real-time photos. A live photo feed in a minute by minute coverage is an attractive advertising opportunity. This transforms the photographer on location to an untapped resource.

With the ability to provide content filled updates faster, better and cheaper then ever you can create a live photo feed where on-the-field photographers publish photos and video clips of current events live as they unfold, from any location with 3G coverage. This is done without changing the photographers or the editors workflow and with existing resources.

This is a brilliant opportunity to monetize and show the strength of a powerful photo department. By using new technologies we are able to directly measure the revenues generated by the photo department. We have to embrace and accept that the craft for news photographers isn’t what it used to be. Those of us who don’t see these opportunities and are willing to change does not only dig his own grave but for all photojournalists.

The photojournalism “golden age” was between 1920 to 1950 and was based on technological breakthroughs such as the first compact camera, electronic flash units and light sensitive films. In the 21st century, photojournalism is on a down fall but the possibilities are so much greater. All these possibilities are open to all, but are they explored by the photo departments?

Who holds back, is it the executives or the photographers?