A Note To Editors, Publishers And Newspaper Owners

How To Succeed In The Newspaper Industry

It’s alarming to see in recent years the closure of photographic departments (e.g. the Chicago Sun Times and countless weekly local papers) and the way great photography is cut from once brilliant newspapers. If someone with no understanding of newspapers, or business generally, wants to cut costs and increase profitability, the simple and easy thing to do is get rid of what costs the most; often this is the photographic department. The reasons are simple; camera gear and computer gear, including software, is expensive and sending photographers all over the country and the world accumulates in cost. After all, unlike journalists who can work many thousands of miles from a story, rewriting press releases or doing interviews over the phone, the photographer has to be there, in person. This is one of the aspects which makes photography the truest form of journalism; you can’t photograph what you can’t witnessA photograph is the only unaltered truth from a story.

State visit to Britain by US President Barack Obama.  Karl Court & Andrew Parsons in the press area. Downing Street, London. May 25, 2011. Photo: Edmond Terakopian

State visit to Britain by US President Barack Obama. Carl Court & Andrew Parsons in the press area. Downing Street, London. May 25, 2011. Photo: Edmond Terakopian

So, easy, let’s cut out or cut down the photography department and use user generated content; a big mistake; putting aside that often these are aesthetically weak and do not communicate the story, the source of the imagery is also unknown and therefore cannot be trusted. A good and unfortunate example is the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing where the Police were chasing the wrong suspects as they were led astray by “citizen journalists”. The other option is of course to use the wire services; excellent agencies like AP are journalistically, ethically and morally sound, often producing great content. Only problem is, this content’s available to all your competitors, blogs (both proper or run by individuals as a glorified hobby) and available for free on search engines.

There is also the option of giving iPhones to the reporters; after all, anybody can take a picture, right? Wrong! Many more people write than take photographs, so by this frankly idiotic reasoning, newspapers should certainly get rid of all writers as well.

Anyone can take a picture; just as anyone can write a word, sing a song, write a poem, paint a painting, run, jump, kick a ball, make a paper aeroplane; it doesn’t mean that they can do these things well, let alone properly and at a high level. It certainly doesn’t make these people photographers, journalists, singers, poets, artists, athletes, professional footballers or aeronautical designers and engineers. When it comes to things journalistic, a level of trust is needed as it’s important to get the facts right, be they in words or in pictures. Relying on pictures from bystanders (even if the term Citizen Journalist has come about, it doesn’t mean bystanders have the first idea about journalistic practice, value or ethics) and publishing these is a tragic mistake for all the various reasons outlined.

State visit to Britain by US President Barack Obama.  Photographers setting up remote cameras in order to get a second angle to their shooting positions. Downing Street, London. May 25, 2011. Photo: Edmond Terakopian

State visit to Britain by US President Barack Obama. Photographers setting up remote cameras in order to get a second angle to their shooting positions. Downing Street, London. May 25, 2011. Photo: Edmond Terakopian

At this point, you’ve ruined the quality of your newspaper and at best made it generic and at worst made it awful. Content is king. At this point, any businessman will tell you that you never mess with the essence of your product; you product is what keeps the company afloat. Give the consumer a reason not buy your product and they will stop buying. Loads of options there on the free market. Result? Your sales go down, advertisers at first barter for cheaper rates and then stop advertising. Your newspaper fails and closes. Whoops.

Look at the Daily Mail website and how astonishingly popular it is; ask yourselves why? Is it because many millions like to read the paper’s occasional almost racist stance on things or is it because the paper’s web presence has embraced photography and publishes the best photography available, daily, and thus pushes up it’s visitor numbers and has elevated the website to being one of the most popular in the world, often overtaking the NY Times? Clearly, it’s not the writing, it’s the power of photography.

So, “How To Succeed”. Dear editor, publisher or newspaper owner, people are moved by great photography. It catches their eye on the news stand and online and attracts them to your paper and the story. People never remember a great article they read months ago or a great piece of video footage from years ago. They will however remember pictures they saw decades ago. This is how a human being’s mind works and as this is your target audience, you should pay attention to the power of great photography and the effect it has. Just because you see great iPhone pictures produced by professional photographers, it doesn’t mean giving your reporters an iPhone is going to bring similar results. Just as a keyboard doesn’t make people award winning writers and a pot doesn’t make everyone a Michelin Star chef, a camera (be it a Leica, Canon, Olympus or an iPhone) doesn’t make everyone a photographer.

BRITAIN MANDELA 90TH BIRTHDAY CONCERT

In it’s day, The Independent was a great paper. It ran powerful, intelligent photography. They saved costs, got rid of the country’s best photographers. Now look at what the paper’s turned into; such a shame, such a waste. Realise that great photography and writing go hand in hand; marry this with great design and you have a winning formula.

This philosophy applies to local weekly, regional, evening, and national papers. Respect your readership and give them good material and they will stay true to you.

Now, go and hire some great photographers, produce a great newspaper, win awards, be proud, sell loads of copies, get many hits on your website, sell adverts and make your many, many millions.

Addendum:

As if proof were needed: The Chicago Sun-Times has now hired back four of the photographers it fired. Good to see that eventually they came to their senses (probably spurred on by a loss in advertising revenue) and realised what a vital role quality and journalistically accurate photography plays in a newspaper. More HERE

33 responses to “A Note To Editors, Publishers And Newspaper Owners

  1. Reblogged this on Graeme Barbour Photography and commented:
    A note to Editors and newspaper owners…

  2. Excellent!
    My thoughts written down.
    Expressed very well.
    Thank you

  3. Sadly all run by bean counters who are not interested in quality and our skills. UGC is a make do compromise.

  4. Look at the Daily Mail website and how astonishingly popular it is; ask yourselves why?
    Clearly, it’s not the writing

    Agreed!

  5. Loved this story. I remember going to University of Delaware Library and Borders Books back in the 80’s and early 90’s. They had all the big city newspapers there and you could spend 3 or 4 hours looking at beautiful photographs. Excellent photos in all of them. No so true anymore.

  6. Very well put indeed, every word is true. But I think that time has (mostly) gone, at least for now. It has been killed by Web 2.0’s ad supported model where content is free to use, or steal, and publishers are no more inclined to pay for it than punters. Photographers, writers, creators of all sorts, are the anomaly: we need and expect to be paid, yet nobody wants to pay and to a large extent they can avoid doing so.

    We had better understand: the economics now relegate content in all its forms to a necessary evil, an overhead. This is a long way from the traditional role of journalism as information and education for the public good.

    Your Mail Online example has other, less desirable characteristics. It very commonly forgets to seek permission or pay for the photos it uses. Its success is largely built on having mastered the trick of yanking readers chains – of provoking them into engagement with often caricature reporting, and on the other hand luring them with sex and celebrity. It’s like rats on cocaine – all about maximum eyeballs on ads, not about providing a service to readers. And if that is the only sustainable model the implications for media quality and reliability are dire.

    It’s not that nobody cares, or that nobody knows better, it’s just that ‘free’ is an irresistible Mickey Finn. And that is now spilling into other areas of life where unpaid internships and Workfare are normal and compulsory. Elective slavery in pursuit of the magic shrinking carrot of earning a living is now a proposition that extends much wider than just photographers.

  7. I have a vision that one day in the future, after photojournalists are near extinction, that someone will have a novel idea of hiring a staff of photographers to take photos for their newspaper, and use a centerpiece photo a decent size on every page, every issue to use photos to sell papers and visually enlighten readers. This concept will spread like the USA Today maps did in the 90’s, and every newspaper will feel they need a photo staff to keep up with other publications.

    My feeling is if newspapers went back to the business model of the 80’s, with truthful, compelling local reporting, great use of photos, graphics and design, with no ads on the front page, etc, life will get better.

  8. In the golden days of print journalism, photographs were the most cost effective way to fill a news hole. Although equipment was expensive, the cost of quality photos per column-inch was much less than the written word, which required a more time-consuming, labor-intensive effort. On the Web, the size of the new hole no longer matters and the written word has cheapened with the proliferation of celebrity gossip, opinion, punditry and the pathetic superficial coverage of most newsworthy events.

    • So many times I was told to go out and find a feature photo to fill a hole in the newspaper. I replied once, “Tell a writer to write a story in a few minutes.” I remember once having 30 min till deadline to find a feature photo. This time also included processing the film and making a print.” Today, a photog can send a photo from the location.

  9. Spencer Griffiths

    Excellent article, so true and so sad to see newspapers cutting good photography.

  10. Great article. With that said, here is another note to Editors, Publishers And Newspaper Owners: NEWSPAPER MEDIA IS DEAD. A few-years old Instagram was sold to Facebook for more than a over a century old NY Times is worth. Digital content is everything, printed newspaper is not much more than a novelty at this point, see the sales graphs…

    • Indeed the future of the newspaper industry is digital delivery; web, tablets, flexible displays and so on. Having said that, this is just the delivery method – at first these were cave walls, then came stone tablets, parchment, newsprint and so on. Content is still king and is essential. Quality content ensures sales and visitor numbers, which in turn brings advertising, which in turn brings a thriving business.

      • I wholeheartedly agree, content will always be king. I just believe that in the internet age the new, smaller and faster players will take the traditional big newspaper companies out of the game, just like amazon surfed a waive that Barnes and Nobles didn’t see coming, or like yahoo news or google deliver information to a much larger audience than traditional newspaper websites. But no matter who are the players or what is the media, good photography will always be important.

  11. This is a great article, that highlights an ever increasing problem. However one that will not diminish, but will more than likely increase.One of the major problems is that there are a slew of new,young editors and sub-editors that are being hired by papers, in order to appeal to the next generation. This is a generation that has grown up with reality TV and the internet, they don’t put any value on great images, because digital camera companies have made it so simple to take good photographs these days, and lets be honest, everyone gets lucky every now and then and captures a great image. The key to professional photographers is that they have the skills to consistently capture great images, which is what these papers should be looking for. Reality TV, gossip magazines, intrigue with celebrities (which ironically is where a lot of pro photographers make there money), all of this has led to people placing less value on great images, however in the art world the opposite is true, the more traditionally made the image is, the more valuable it is.

    • If what you say about camera companies and their products is true, then all professional photographers should pack up their businesses and fns other work!Thankfully, it’s not true. A modern camera can aid in getting the exposure right and the focus right. However, it has no aesthetic sensibility or journalistic sensitivity. In photojournalism (and most other forms of photography) these two points are the two crucial aspects of photography, above technical accuracy.

    • Well stated, especially the “consistently” word.

  12. Sad but true. Thank You and what next?

  13. Pingback: Why You Shouldn’t Cut Photographers | Visual Journalism

  14. Well stated! My old newspaper fired 66% of the photo staff, and 43% of the writers. If I hadn’t been forced to medical disability, I’d be one of those photogs. They went to the regional blog by free writers. I once stated I missed covering sporting events, and my old comrade stated I could shoot stuff, but would have to be for free. Photograph for free what I used to get paid to do? It is very sad the state of photojournalism! In my opinion it is a dying profession which I dearly love!

  15. ALL GOOD JOURNALISTS APPRECIATE A GREAT PHOTOGRAPHER AND ALL GOOD JOURNALISTS WOULD LIKE TO GO OUT AND ABOUT MORE – A STORY ON THE GROUND WHICH ALMOST ALWAYS BE BETTER THAN A STORY AT A DISTANCE. IT’S NOT AN IDEAL WORLD OF COURSE BUT AWFUL, AMATEUR IMAGES WILL TELL IN THE END.

  16. Keep in mind that while this is happening, newspaper execs have been busy congratulating each other for their “wise” decisions, so before the inevitable demise and painful, slow death of the newspaper, they have secured for themselves a comfortable retirement and generous pensions. As for the remaining young journalists, you’re on your own.

  17. Brilliant Edmond, uttterly brilliant. And bang on too. Well done for neatly summing up what a bloody stupid idea it is to sack all the photographers, I just hope they’re listening…

  18. To propagate news you no longer need the canvas of newsprint, this well written blog is evidence in itself of why photojournalism is finding its way onto the WWW for much needed oxygen. Lets face it, the business model for newsprint is sinking into the digital abyss as why would advertisers pay for newsprint when the canvas of the WWW is virtually free and accessible to anyone.
    The writing has been on the wall for some time now as an army of bean counters have come to see newsprint as a very costly, inefficient medium to propagate the advertising message. Newsprint is an anachronism form the 20th century. This leaves photojournalism out there looking like a lost puppy seeking a new business model to carry them. I say create your own business model because navel gazing for the good ole days will see you grow cobwebs. One thing is for sure photojournalism now and in the future will imply that you are multimedia savvy. I will be interested to see what phoenix business model arises from the ashes of newsprint. But I envisage it will be far more interactive with it’s client base and democratic. Media empires are beginning to crumble and already the vultures are circling, adapt or follow the dinosaur. And unless a photojournalist produces a steam of exclusive media, than then those rare photographers can afford to be inflated with their own self-importance otherwise photojournalism is seen by the wider world as just another pretty picture swimming in an ocean of pixels.

    • Indeed the days of newsprint are numbered. That’s for sure. However, as far as how quickly and properly newspapers adapt to new mediums, it’s quite worrying. Just looking at some newspaper websites shows this; it’s as if the internet was launched yesterday! As far as multimedia, yes indeed, I agree. Today’s photojournalist needs to be multimedia savvy and learn to use audio and video to help tell the story. However, at the end of the day, photography (a still image) has a power that nothing else has.It communicates quickly, deeply and with impact. People remember images from many decades ago, but do not remember TV footage, radio interviews or articles. Seeing that people react this way, it would be unwise to not use photography as the prime visual communicator, adding multimedia when it helps, not just because we can.

      As far as who’s doing it properly now, I think the iPad edition of National Geographic magazine shows us perfectly; photography is used massively and multimedia and interaction are used to expand and add to the stories when and if needed.

      Depending on which way publishers go, these can either be extremely exciting times or catastrophic times.

  19. G. Barry Stewart

    Interesting thoughts and comments here. As a regular freelance photographer and writer for a small town weekly paper, I have gone through some big changes from the 1980s to the present.

    Our transition from film to digital was in about 2002 and the first few years were quite lucrative, as digital photos were easier to take and were basically print-ready. Paid at the old rate per photo, my new camera was paid off in a few months.

    By about 2006-2007, the pressure from free services like Craigslist and Facebook took a lot of the ad revenue out of the paper — and, as Bruce Oren says above, space on internet sites is so generous. How do you put a value on a full-page ad on the internet?

    Bean counters were going nuts in this new digital era. At one point, the beans got so tightly-held that I was down to one story and one photo per week. I used to be on the lookout for spot news photos… but I knew I would n’t be paid for it, so I just put the blinders on.

    Thankfully, that seems to have loosened up. I’m not sure if it’s just a local phenom, or if the news industry is finding a new path. At present, I certainly wouldn’t encourage anyone to embark on a career in the news industry.

    (BTW, ‘it’s’ and ‘its’ could use some tweaking in the story. It’s otherwise excellent.)

  20. Congratulations and good luck pursuing that career in photography you’ve always dreamed about! But wait a second, did you NOT pay attention to all the signs in 2013 that pointed to the death of professional photography?

    – In May of 2013, incoming Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer said “There’s no such thing as Flickr Pro today because [with so many people taking photographs] there’s really no such thing as professional photographers anymore.” (Pssst, Marissa, who created those snazzy portraits of you, upside-down on a backyard lounge chair, that we saw in Vogue in August 2013?)

    – Also in May, 2013 the Chicago Sun-Times laid-off its ENTIRE photography staff. Instead, reporters who had never taken pictures before were asked to be photographers and videographers in addition to writing. (Pssst, Sun-Times, who took those “striking, one-of-a-kind photos” in your paper’s archives that you are just now beginning to sell to the public?)

    – In November, 2013 Larry Kramer, President and Publisher, USA TODAY said, “While I used to carry four expensive Nikon cameras with interchangeable lenses when I was a news and sports photographer a long time ago, the world has changed dramatically. Much of what I could accomplish then can now be done with my iPhone.“ (Pssst, Larry, do you think legendary war photographer James Nachtway would rather enter a war zone with an iPhone or a Canon? Or famed sports photographer Walter Ioss rely on a smartphone to capture the peak of action in a baseball game?)

    Sadly, there is a growing school of thought that just because nearly all of us carry cameras around (via smartphones) then we are all capable of being professional photographers. The bean counters of the slowly-dying traditional news media are betting that people will climb over each other to give away iphone photos for little-to-no money. Their idea is that the masses will now be the witnesses and documentarians of history. To me it’s nothing more than the Infinite Monkey Theorem: place an infinite number of monkeys in a room with an infinite number of typewriters and in time they will almost surely type the complete texts of Shakespeare.
    Monkeys, obviously, don’t take photos and neither do cameras. People decide what moments are worthy of capture. BUT iphone users tend to capture moments that are important to just them. A professional studies, slaves and sometime puts him or herself in harm’s way to capture “decisive moments” that matter to everyone.

    The professional will always be necessary to be our eyes when we cannot bare witness ourselves. Unlike the monkey, we must evolve.

  21. Great Photographer is an Asset, Good Picture make our Newspaper or Magazine stand out, and make people to see and buy…

  22. It is odd that the media business cut down on content as the only reason to get a newspaper, a magazine or visit a website, is content. It’s been going on for some years.

    The cutting out of typesetters in the 90s and letting the writers check their own spelling was a quality degrade. Then media grouping up in chains and re-using the same stories and pictures made every media look the same.

    In many aspects of entertainment, information and even product sale, I think the question one should ask is, “Is our product worth not only the users money, but also will the user find his time well spent on this product?.

    I think for the majority of media these days, the answer is that they are not worth the time spent. Time is valuable. Hence we stop using traditional media.

    As in many other aspects of life, change bring about new things and new ways. In some regard it is sad to see media houses that lived like gold mine owners 50 and 100 years ago, struggle to survive today.

  23. Speaking of which. Jan Grarup in Denmark has an interesting business model for his photography, after the media stopped sending photographers out. He finances his own trips, and thus decides where to go and what is important.
    Here is a story in the largest Danish newspaper with his photos, made because he choose to go there and thus put focus on a newsworthy story the media at large does not see.

    http://politiken.dk/magasinet/feature/ECE2217490/fanget-i-helvedes-helvede/

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