A sign of the times? Newspaper replaces the picture desk with iPhones
On April Fool’s Day this year, one story caught my attention. A US College Newspaper (unfortunately I can no longer find the link) said it was firing its picture desk and replacing them with iPhones.
It was one of the better April Fools’ I’d seen because it was the kind of thing you could imagine happening.
In fact the day before, a photo on the New York Times made headlines.
Photographer Nick Lanham took a picture of baseball player Alex Rodriguez and it ended up on the front page. Nothing special about that, except the photo was taken on an iPhone and edited in Instagram.
However, Nick Lanham is a photographer. He simply used a different tool of the trade than he would have a year or two ago.
What if someone like Nick really were to be replaced by an iPhone? As it happens, The Chicago Sun-Times is doing exactly that. Earlier in the week the paper announced that it was giving its entire photo desk the sack.
And today, website Poynter.org tells us that editorial staff will be given mandatory training on “iPhone photography basics.”
In other words, the journalist is now a content creator responsible for both words and images.
Not surprisingly, the reaction so far has been fairly negative. In a blog piece for rival paper The Chicago Tribune, photo-journalist Alex Garcia had this to say:
“The best reporters use a different hemisphere of the brain to do their jobs than the best photographers. Visual and spatial thinking is very different than verbal and analytical thinking.
“Even if you don’t believe that bit of science, the reality is that visual reporting and written reporting will take you to different parts of a scene and hold you there longer. I have never been in a newsroom where you could do someone else’s job and also do yours well. Even when I shoot video and stills on an assignment, with the same camera, both tend to suffer. They require different ways of thinking.”
Of course, the Sun-Times’ decision is motivated purely by money. Anything done purely for cost cutting reasons is almost bound to fail.
And it is a big ask to expect someone to both write the copy and take the pictures. I agree that the journalism will probably suffer and more to the point, talented people have lost their jobs.
Is mobile photography taken by amateurs like home cooking?
So, the photos gracing the Sun-Times will now in part be taken by people with the skills level of the mass of enthusiastic amateurs (I’m one of course) on photo networks.
That in turn reminded of something Alex Massie wrote in the Spectator a few years ago answering some of the criticisms professional journalists (at the time) had of bloggers and their ‘home made’ content.
“”home-made” should be no more pejorative a phrase than “home-cooking”. That is, some of it will be terrible and some of it will be better than you’ll find in most professional kitchens or, in this instance, newsrooms.”
Fair point, except when you go into someone’s house you expect things to be a bit hit and miss. When you pay money in a restaurant, your expectations are somewhat different.
However, I suspect this won’t be the last time we see this happening as other media owners look and learn.
(Top image - from Jesus Leon via Creative Commons)