Can Photojournalism Survive in the Instagram Era?

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Photojournalism has become a hybrid enterprise of amateurs and professionals, along with surveillance cameras, Google Street Views, and other sources. What is underrepresented are those “metaphotographers” who can make sense of the billions of images being made and can provide context and authenticate them. We need curators to filter this overabundance more than we need new legions of photographers.

via Mother Jones.

There Are 9 Comments On This Article.

  1. But before that, he says:

    “There is enormous need for professionals who know how to tell stories with narrative punch and nuance, who can work proactively and not just reactively, and whose approach is multi-faceted. We need more ‘useful photographers.'”

    I guess everyone’s a little confused about the situation these days.

    • Come to think of it, the difference seems to be with proactive vs. reactive. The overabundance is with the reactive types of photographs. Stories that are proactively sought out and intimately cared for and done over days or weeks or more are completely different and are still pretty rare.

  2. I completely agree with this.
    As I stated in a comment on the “Mother Jones” original post, I think that the key point is neither the technology we chose (mobile, dslr, film) nor the photographer’s category (pro or amateur). It lies more on the accurate selection criteria of the resulting works.

  3. A perhaps more important question is, “Can photojournalists survive”?

    The numbers and relative incomes of persons whose full time vocation is that of “photojournalist” has shrunk drastically over at least, the last decade. The odds of being able to support a family or even oneself as a full time photojournalist are in 2013 very slim. The financial future for those who wish to enter the profession is bleak.

    The “profession” will survive as a discipline but not likely as one which affords individuals the ability to support themselves. There is always a great deal said about the demand but an ever dwindling number of photographers can pay for food, gas, insurance, a mortgage, tuition, utilities and so on based on their earnings as professional photojournalists.

    Statistically, an 18 year old has better odds of eventually playing professional sports whether in a league (NFL, MLB, NBS, MLS, NHL, etc) or as an individual (golf, tennis, horse racing, motor sports) than making $100,000 per year as a photojournalist. Sad but true.

    • I’d love to see the odds at $50k, or even $40k, both of which are over what I’m making now (tech support in the photo industry.)

      For new grads there’s just not much money available, and with increasing student loan debt you have to wonder when people will stop trying to get into the industry.

  4. The best set of stats on photographer incomes, places of employments and geographical dispersion etc are those of the National Bureau of Labor Statistics. They are in my opinion which is based on my practical experience of looking at client’s tax returns and books, still somewhat flawed. I am not a mathematician nor a statistician so I accept the numbers as being “roughly accurate”.

    In any event, the average incomes for photographers are essentially in the 30 -55K range. This does not appear to include part timers but it is tough to tell. In any event there are just a few thousand photographers in total in the 5 states sporting the most photographers – NY, Ca, etc.

    Quick math:
    Their are well over 700 Major League Players on active rosters. MINIMUM annual salary is $500,000. Max around 25 Million.
    About 500 – 650 NBA players and about the same number of NHL players will similar minimums and many multi year multi million dollar contracts at 15 -20 million per year are in effect, There are approximately 1,400 active NFL players. Minimum salary is well over six figures. Contacts in excess of 5 Million per year are common place. There are a few dozen over 10 million per year.

    Add in PGA touring pros, tennis pros, MLS players, Arena Football, Pro Lacrosse, Minor League baseball and basketball and hockey, Boxing, MMA, paid track and field athletes, harness drivers and jockies, NASCAR (and similar) and on and on and you quickly have well over 20,000 “elite” full time athletes in the US with most making at least mid to high six figures, many multi millionaires and at the bottom minor leaguers making 20k or more for a partial season (plus meal money)

    Real quick – how many photojournalists do you know who are making the MLB minimum of $500,000 (plus health care and pension) for a seven month season? How many photojournalists make over 1 million dollars per year?

    When I first rolled out this basic math, I had many disbelievers. Conventional wisdom is that the odds of ever being a pro player are “beyond remote”. True. The odds of being a working photojournalist in 2013 making “just” 100k (1/5 of the MLB minimum) are far, far more remote.

    Don’t take my word for it. Google the National Bureau of Labor Statistics for “Photographers”. Don’t take the numbers you see as Gospel. Just assume an error factor of even 20% and compare those numbers to other professions.

    While the discipline may survive, one would be hard pressed to convince a student or parent to invest in a 4 year college program as a training school for a career in photojournalism. This is especially true as no BA degree is required to be a photojournalist. Photo schools which appear to charge more than colleges but provide 1 year or shorter programs are often likely to be a better investment if one is dead set on being a photojournalist.

  5. Fred Bear

    “We need curators to filter this overabundance more than we need new legions of photographers.”

    I’m sure they used to exist.

    I think they were called Picture Editors.

    • Picture editors are far, far less important in the food chain. The key question is, “How do you compete against ‘free'”?

      Free, utterly usable material is supplied to every major news organization which employs such images daily. The suppliers don’t even ask to get paid simply accepting 15 seconds of fame by (maybe) seeing a credit line next to an image like “Susan B. from Stroudsburg PA”. Frequently the publication’s submission rules deem the submission by a contributor to be a de facto transfer of ownership of the image and/or the right to reproduce (forever) without any compensation being due the creator.