Editors seem to forget that news photographers can write, too

News flash: Visual journalists know how to work these things. (Photo by Michael Maggs)

News flash: Visual journalists know how to work these things. (Photo by Michael Maggs)

I was going to write today about Bill Marimow’s dramatic ouster from the editorship of the Philadelphia Inquirer. But then I came across an item concerning people who are probably much less comfortably situated to cope with job loss than Marimow, and much less likely to have high-powered lawyers suing to bring them back.

According to Reuters:

Photographers at three Cox Media Group newspapers tonight confirmed severe cuts in their photography departments, with a deadline of only a few days to decide whether to accept offers of voluntary buy-outs before layoffs.

The report indicates that in some cases the photo staff cuts are part of broader newsroom reductions, but at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution it appears to be a photo-only targeting that will cut the staff from 10 to 5. Not quite as Draconian as the Chicago Sun-Times, but still troubling.

As my friend and former colleague Curt Chandler wrote after the Sun-Times slaughter, there’s no question that news photography is no longer the exclusive domain of photojournalists. Technology and training can spread the job of visual journalism throughout the newsroom. Curt said:

Should all still photos and video be produced by photographers? Of course not. Good assignment editors should be matching photojournalists to the stories that have the greatest visual potential. They should also be sending them to really important stories that are visually challenging. That’s the kind of assignment where a professional photojournalist can produce a compelling image while a visually challenged reporter might produce, well, a mundane photo of a protestor sitting in a wheelchair.

There’s another argument for not thinking of visual journalists as luxuries to be dismissed in favor of reporter-shot images or freelance fill-ins: Just as reporters can take photos, photographers can write stories.

I’ve been watching with delight as one of the many Plain Dealer photographers I respect, Lynn Ischay, has gotten a chance under the paper’s reshuffling to show that she’s a terrific reporter, too. A recent feature about a woman who runs a garden center showed something of what the eye of a visual journalist can bring not just to images, but to words. In many other hands, the story would have a lot of quotes from an interview with the woman. Lynn gets some of those. But she also provides real dialogue from the woman’s interactions with customers.

Curt Chandler himself is a graduate of Northwestern’s Medill school like me. That means his education was heavily focused on words. He can handle a keyboard as well as a Canon. Yfat Yossifor covers entertainment for one of MLive’s branches now; she started there as a photo intern. That’s just a few names off the top of my head.

It’s understandable that newsrooms are trying to cut costs, and paying less attention to photos is hardly the only case of editors sacrificing quality. Trying to defend visual journalists simply because they will produce better images than reporters may not fly. But editors need to consider that just as reporters can take photos, so too visual journalists can report stories. And in many cases, report them not only as well as but even better than those who are not used to looking at things with a visual journalist’s eye.

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  1. By Lynn Ischay

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