Oh what exciting times

A mate sent me a link to this article earlier today, “For God’s sake, somebody call it!”, in which Neil Burgess, after some explanation, calls “time of death” on photojournalism. (That being “11.12. GMT 1st August 2010”! Yeah. Right.)

He’s the sort of guy you’d think should know of what he writes having been a chairman of World Press Photo and former head of Magnum London and Magnum Photos New York.
Alternatively, with that sort of background, you could also argue that his thinking’s become somewhat entrenched… or polarised maybe.

Mate prob’ly sent me the link cos he knows full well that, had I spotted the article whilst trawling my usual sources, I’d likely not have given it a second glance. Well, not after having read the opening para at least.

It’s just far too reminiscent of the moaning and complaining that professional photography, in whatever marketplace, is finished.

A topic about which I blogged a little while back and I have no intention of repeating it all again here other than to comment that my opinion hasn’t changed significantly during the interim.

Perhaps I don’t feel as panicked by these pronouncements of doom for photo-related industries as some of the folk with whom I associate because, unlike them, I’m not entirely dependent upon my forays into these areas. They’re pieces of a greater whole, the composite of which just about generates sufficient to keep body and soul together… with sometimes a tad more. Ahem.
Consequently my sense of being under threat isn’t as great as theirs. (Well, it is, but for different reasons entirely; age-related mainly. And there’s nowt I can do about that.)

But even if it were I suspect I’d be reacting pretty much as I am now for I’ve been through this whole scenario before, many years ago, as I’ve described in the aforesaid blog post. The process is nothing new; only the details differ.

And, generally, the reactions of those locked into the old ways are fairly predictable. Boringly so in fact.

So why am I bothering to chunter on about it again?

Well firstly the topic’s popped up (unsurprisingly I suppose) elsewhere. On a site I browse far too frequently for my own good; Mike Johnston, over at The Online Photographer, has this to say about it. And he succinctly defines the key issue…

… the old model is quickly becoming non-viable, but it hasn’t yet become at all clear what the new model will be…

…Or if there will even be one.

My opinion differs slightly from his in that I firmly believe there will be a new model… inevitably so (unless we all stop communicating with each other, and lose all interest in events around us). Although what that new model may be is anybody’s guess.

However, there was a second reason that I decided to take this up again. For not so very long ago I stumbled across a blog post about citizen journalism. An activity not directly related to photography… but not entirely separate therefrom either. Particularly where photojournalism’s concerned. Hence my own interest in it. And because of its relevance to blogging of course.

Now there have been loads of pieces written about how citizen journalism is ousting more traditional forms of the profession; and equally there have been many many pieces written (tellingly by professional journalists) deriding this “new boy on the block” and staunchly defending the role of the professional. Many of the arguments mustered (quality, ethics, and so forth) being curiously similar to those that surface in the pro vs amateur photographer debate once the whole “undercutting” issue has been aired, and all little more than manifestations of the animal-like instinct to protect one’s territory against intruders.

But I found this particular blog post (“Academics measure new media (again) by old-media yardstick”) refreshingly different.

Choice phrases, such as…

I don’t know what citizen journalism or professional new media will become, but I know we are seeing a media renaissance whose value should not be measured against imperfect media who have consistently refused to innovate.

… leapt out at me.

Yes, there’s no doubt that a media renaissance is underway… and we bloggers are all an intrinsic part of it! Hey… how cool is that?

I would hesitate to say that a similar renaissance is occurring in photography although I suspect such may be the case. But clearly huge changes are occurring in photography, as they are in news reporting and journalism generally, and in many ways they all go hand-in-hand. With a huge boost being given along the way by the phenomenal growth of social media platforms.

Undoubtedly we’re witnessing a revolution of sorts. And I wouldn’t care to even attempt to guess at what may ultimately arise out of the ashes of the old forms. Nor would I care to predict in what manner all those poor soon-to-be-unemployed photojournalists and photographers will earn a living.

But I will predict that livings (and quite good ones too!) are to be made although likely not in ways we can presently envisage or anticipate.
Though I have this strong suspicion that to position oneself to take advantage of whatever income-generating opportunities may arise one needs to think along the lines of (in an oft-repeated refrain of mine) “repackaging the product”.

And I further suspect that a fundamental part of that repackaging will involve a) a significant use of social media platforms… in some way or another; and b) a ready acceptance (no use bewailing the fact) that folks’ expectations are changing (expectations in terms of accessibility, quality, style, and in what they’re prepared to pay for) and this must be reflected in whatever is presented for consumption… or how it is presented.

I also suspect that control will be a huge issue. Not so much control of the means of delivery but more particularly control of content with issues such as ownership and copyright being hotly debated. In fact that particular debate as it relates to photography has been underway for quite some time now.

Those who imagine that this repackaging, taking full advantage of all these intriguing developments, can be made to magically appear overnight or can even be discerned in just a few short months are, I believe, deluding themselves. Moreover I don’t think such “products” will spring forth ready-made and complete. It’s my belief they’re much more likely to evolve (almost naturally) over time… emerging gradually and perhaps imperceptibly by stages in response to increasingly interactive and user-manipulable platforms as opposed to the “passive consumer” model.

Thus I’m guessing that whatever plans may be implemented at this particular time would require sufficient inbuilt flexibility to change quite dramatically over, say, the next decade for we’re still in a state of flux. Not good news for those who are currently desperate to find alternative stable incomes in the commercial media world as a whole.

And of course the reality is that the vast bulk of the world’s population couldn’t give a damn about the career prospects of either photojournalists or professional photographers.

Oh what exciting times in which we live. A bit scary too.

About fotdmike

Occasional photographer; occasional writer/blogger; occasional activist; occasional computer-geek. Bit of a fool really.
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