iPhones and the end of photojournalism?

Please first look at this provocative graphic and then read my reactions.

One, I am not suggesting that students at CSJMM or USC buy an iPhone or a smartphone.

Two, as a former photojournalist, I love smartphones. I can remember the days when photojournalists would shoot black-and-white film. If they were covering an event with a tight deadline, they’d have to find a way to quickly send their film back to their newsroom. If their newsrooms were too far away, photojournalists would need to find another way to send photos. Photojournalists would develop their film on site, which was relatively easy if they carried some chemicals and had access to running water. Then they’d have to find a darkroom to enlarge their best negatives, OR use AP (Associated Press) Laserphoto. Laserphoto was a photo paper processed with heat instead of chemistry. But what a headache! It was difficult to find a good phone line for transmission. The transmission took a lonnnngggg time—40 minutes. Often the transmission would be interrupted, so photojournalists would need to resend the image. A few years later, AP introduced LaserPhoto II, which used satellite technology to transmit primarily color news pictures, and unreliable analog phone lines were no longer needed. When photojournalists started shooting all pictures in color, AP invented the Leafax scanner, which was a picture-transmitting device that also scanned photographic negatives and created digital pictures. The final improvement before digital cameras were invented was the Leaf Picture Desk, which AP introduced in 1989. It could transmit a color image in 15 seconds. But photojournalists had to carry this equipment, and it was heavy. With a smartphone there’s no weight, no waiting, and no headaches. http://www.ap.org/pages/history/photos.htm

Three, as the graphic notes, smartphones are indeed replacing point-and-shoot cameras. Kodak will no longer make digital cameras, by the way.

Four, I don’t think that citizen “journalists” using smartphones will put photojournalists out of business. At least, I hope not! News media editors may care less about the quality of photographs as they did not in the past, and, it is true, the number of potential citizen journalists with smartphones far outnumber photojournalists, BUT . . .  As of now, citizen journalists are devoting minutes of time to get a photograph of an event that they stumble upon and then dispersing them via Twitter. Photojournalists, on the other hand, are devoting their lives to finding and taking good photographs and then transmitting their best images to a large audience. I hope everyone cares enough about the difference.


About keithrkenney
Keith Kenney is a professor of visual communication at the University of South Carolina. He is living in Tbilisi, Georgia, for a year. This blog is about several topics. "CSJMM-Journalism" is about the students, faculty and staff members of the Caucasus School of Journalism and Media Management in Tbilisi, Georgia. "USC-Journalism" is about the students, faculty and staff members of the School of Journalism and Mass Communications (SJMC) at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, SC. CSJMM and SJMC are recipients of a "Journalism School Partnership" program grant from the US Department of State. The purpose of this $750,000 grant is to improve CSJMM and ensure its sustainability. "Tbilisi, Georgia" is about Susanna Melo and my experiences in Tbilisi. "Columbia, SC" will be about our experiences in our home town--Columbia--when we return home. "Georgia" is about Susanna and my experiences when we travel in Georgia outside of Tbilisi. "United States" is about our experiences traveling in the US. "Films and Photography" is about two documentary films I'm working on in Georgia. One story follows how Adishi handles the rapid tourism that is being developed in Svaneti. The other story follows Tamaz Jalagania, who is a craftsman of swords and guns, an opera singer, and an extraordinary storyteller. "Scholarship" is about my current books, articles, reviews, and grants.

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