Outsourcing the news: how far is too far?

“The photographers are the eyes, the witness to history in the making.”

Tamara Dean, Fairfax photographer.

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.

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.

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5 thoughts on “Outsourcing the news: how far is too far?

  1. amandajdc92

    Photographers are so much more than just photographers. They have to be journalists, artists, technicians, all while maintaining a heightened sense of awareness in the field.

    Tamara Dean made a great point on media watch last night that you touched on- that journalists are increasingly required to be at their desks or on the phone meeting deadlines. As a result, much of the actual witnessing of events unfolding is done by photographers.

    Fairfax can’t put a monetary value on their photographers’ dedication, quality of work and often their willingness to take substantial risks.

    Awesome piece Denham, and with great personal insight as well.

    Reply
  2. Max Pfeifer

    There seems to be a growing trend towards cost-driven specialisation in news reporting and photojournalism. Fairfax’s move towards outsourcing of photographers is only further evidence of this. Michael Bodey’s piece in yesterday’s Australian (link below) criticises Getty Images’ model of chasing the most cost-effective shots, to the detriment of the wider coverage that would have been offered by the 40 outgoing Fairfax photographers. More broadly, I fear this cost-driven specialisation may spell the end of quality local coverage in favour of questionably independent large-scale money-spinners. Local news plays an important role in the public debate of a democratic society and should not be solely relegated to the likes of iPhone photographers and citizen journalists.

    Great piece. Great use of online content. Would read again.

    Getty’s business practices cast a pall over deal: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/media/gettys-business-practices-cast-a-pall-over-deal/story-e6frg996-1226913745549#

    Reply
  3. Emerald Cowell

    Would have to agree on the point you made about photo journalists doing more of the work most of the time. I definitely think they are not credited enough for the amount of work they put in to tell an entire story through a single image. I also think that Fairfax are not putting enough value towards what is actually attracting people to news coverage in todays society. Half the people of our fast paced, media savvy generation would only ever read an article if the photograph drew them to it first. To get rid of 75% of photo journalists is ridiculous, if anything they are the future of Fairfax media.

    Reply
  4. Emerald Cowell

    Great article btw, the online and interactive content was fantastic and excellent first hand sources!

    Reply
  5. Pingback: Outsourcing The News: How Far Is Too Far? | Denham Sadler

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