We’re a visual society. It seems like every year new statistics come out about how many images we are exposed to on a daily basis and how many more photographs were made in the previous year than in all the preceding years put together. People respond to images, and they seek them out.
And yet photographers aren’t valued.
The latest case: The New York Daily News. Owned by Tronc, the Daily News staff was cut in half last week. The carnage included the elimination of the entire photography staff as well as two photo editors. Yep, the entire photography staff of the newspaper is gone. A 100% reduction.
Tronc isn’t the first owner to cut staff, and the Daily News isn’t the first paper to let all its photographers go. The Chicago Sun-Times famously did it a few years back before rehiring some visual journalists. Other papers have eliminated their photographers as well. It seems a little more galling in that the paper was first founded as the Illustrated Daily News. It’s slogan below the name for years was “New York’s Picture Newspaper,” and a camera has been in the logo of the paper since it was founded. It’s still on today’s edition.
The rationales have included having reporters take pictures with their smartphones, relying more on agency/wire photographs and publishing pictures from the public. Those rationales overlook a few key points. Agency/wire photographs aren’t necessarily locally oriented, which is the reason a lot of readers turn to their local paper. And while reporters and citizens can be in the right place at the right time, pointing a camera or phone and clicking at something (as we’ve done since the introduction of the Kodak) isn’t the same as recognizing the moment that visually relays the story and uses the tools and grammar of photography to highlight the important elements.
Photographs can make an impact on readers, and local photographs matter. The industry continues to face challenges, but newspapers are also important sources of local information for their readers. Good visuals should be part of that information. Getting rid of the people skilled in making them shouldn’t be the path to success.