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 witness. A photograph is the only unaltered truth from a story.
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.
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.
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.
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.