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Do We Need Photojournalists? Plus Lost Art of Black & White

So if you have a hoard of amateurs shooting photographs, do you need professional photojournalists? I want to use our SoCon08 event at Kennesaw State University as a little test, so you, not I, can answer that question.

Last time I looked at Flickr there were about 300 photos posted about the event. Look through them closely. As you do, be sure to watch the slide show of the black and white photos by Tikigod, who is, in fact, Nik Wilets. Wilets, whose self portrait is on this post, now specializes in interactive media and design at Morris DigitalWorks™ ; however, he has a degree in photojournalism and worked as photojournalist in the past.

Nike Willets by Nike Willets

Over all the years I was a magzine editor, I found that meeting photos were often boring, except probably to the people attending the meeting. However, that might have been because the photojournalists shooting them were bored or weren’t much better than the amateurs, at least, on an artistic level.

Now that takes us back to SoCon08. Look at Wilets photos are they better than the others? Is black and white a lost art that should be revived? If you were a photo editor and Wilets was on your staff, would you send him to the meeting or just let the conference attendees fire away and you take the best of what they shoot?

Is there be much of a future for photojournalists? Should newspaper or web editors be hiring more photojournalists or fewer?  Or should they be hiring fewer photojournalists, but better ones? Or should they use their money to hire people who write, shoot photos and do video, even if there might be a trade off in quality in one of those areas? Would there be a trade off in quality?

Our SoCon08 has been fortunate because we are, in part, about citizen media. So we are getting some of the best of the amateurs to shoot for us. Still would that be enough if you were a news site? If you were starting a web news organization today, what role would photos and great photographers have in it?

I know my answers. I would try to hire as many great shooters like Wilets as I could and knock the socks of my viewers each morning, no matter if I was in print or online. The more amateur stuff out there, the more appealing will be the stuff by the pros because it will continue to stand out.

5 Responses to “Do We Need Photojournalists? Plus Lost Art of Black & White”

  1. Tessa Says:

    Kind of O/T but thought this would be of interest though it does relate to citizen photojournalism: The BBC & Citizen Media: The Fire Of Camden

  2. Tessa Says:

    Another link for you – this one having nothing to do with post but with citizen journalism: CNN to Launch Citizen Journalism Portal iReport

  3. nwilets Says:

    Thanks for the mention Len.

    Some quick thoughts:

    The reason we need professional photojournalists(reporters, videographers, heck, plumbers, chefs, doctors) is pretty simple. Usually, when someone has been trained to do a job, loves it and does it eight hours a day, they tend to be better than an amatuer.

    Amateur ’s stumble across great photos every once in a while, and when they do, most of the time, they don’t know how they did it. Pros know when they’ve got a good one and they make them more consistently.

    I’ve looked at thousands of user contributed photos and they usually lack in these areas – framing, storytelling, and most importantly(especially when people are in the shot) decisive moment. Look up Henri Cartier Bresson on the last one.

    The biggest difference why PJs are needed comes from passion. It’s not the best paying job out there and it requires a lot of thankless hours to get those moments people see in a good photo essay.

    I know I’ve put in my time freezing my butt off in hip deep snow waiting for a 3-second shot of a dog sled race. But the photo was worth it. Most of the guys I know that are still working PJs do the job because they can’t imagine doing anything else.

    Unfortunately news staffs and budgets are changing and these kind of people may not be around much longer. I hope web sites can hep stop this trend…but the Jack-of-all-trades mentality that Len talks about above worries me.

    (Man, all this makes me want to be a PJ again.)

  4. Leonard Witt Says:

    Well, you have seen Nik’s response. I also reached out to Mark M. Hancock, a photojournalist at The Beaumont Enterprise, in Texas. He runs a blog called Photojournalism at

    Here is what he sent me in an email:

    I read the post. I’m not much of a “joiner” of citizen journalism conversations. I’m all for CJ work when it comes to breaking news. They are; I’m not.

    However, most CJs only want to cover sports and entertainment. These are predictable events that can be covered better by a pro. I don’t recall CJs at school board meetings, funerals or most of the other events I cover to inform the residents of this area.

    While program-mode image quality has improved in recent years, the ability to compose and time story-telling images is what sets pros apart from amateurs. I looked through several pages of images. Almost all are evidentiary. The images say an event happened and people were there. They say nothing more. Honestly, I see more missed shots within those images than I see successes.

    I also saw you’re excited about the recent layoffs at Capital Times.

    Congratulations, greed-driven publishers like Capital Times and CJs should make good bedfellows.

  5. Prosthetic Device Says:

    PJs: Who Needs Them?…

    That’s photojournalists, not pajamas.
    Leonard Witt at PJNet asks, “Do We Need Photojournalists?” then answers his own question with a resounding, “Yes!”
    I agree.
    Most snapshooters don’t know how to frame a photo, or …