“The photographers are the eyes, the witness to history in the making.”
Last Wednesday, Fairfax announced plans to cut up to 70 full-time newspaper positions, including 75% of their entire photographers. This led staff to go on a 24-hour strike and to post support for those facing the axe.
— Rania Spooner (@Rania_Spooner) May 7, 2014
Staff were told their work would be outsourced to Getty Images, an American stock photo agency.
Fairfax newspapers are well known for the quality of their photography, but as discussed on Media Watch last night this calibre of visual content is now in danger.
In a brilliant article published by the Conversation yesterday, Andrea Carson, a journalism lecturer at the University of Melbourne, also questioned how far companies can outsource elements of journalism before the quality is impacted.
I had the pleasure of working at the Age for two weeks earlier this year, and one of the main things that stuck with me from this experience was the importance and unique talents of photographers.
It was a slight shock to me that most of my work was done from the comfort of my desk, rather than out in the field. For the most part, it was the photographers that went out and actually observed and documented the events, not the journalists. Due to a shortage of writers and time constraints, it’s simply not feasible for journalists to be at every story when interviews can be done from the office.
I also spent time at the Border Mail, where a photographer accompanied me in the field, finding the artistic, visual side of the story while I found the written side. Many times, the photographer would also discover important information, with the interviewee often being less guarded around them rather than someone they know is a reporter.
Taylor Glascock runs a blog comparing the pictures used by two papers in Chicago: one that sacked all of its photographers last year, and another that retained theirs. The blog provides a damning illustration of the decline in visual quality when photography is outsourced.
This quality and commitment to telling a story and making a real difference cannot be maintained if photography is outsourced. Outsourcing and taking shortcuts to save money is inevitable in the 21st century, but there must be a line drawn at some point to prevent a drastic decline in the quality of journalism.