It’s Not All Doom and Gloom for Photojournalism Students

Photojournalism students, as well as those in other mass communication programs, are worried there won’t be jobs for them when they graduate. The news media, trade journals, and even educators are forecasting the collapse of newspapers and downsizing of jobs in other media.

This has caused many students to rethink their career plans.

I don’t think the picture is all doom and gloom, though. In fact, I think many mass communication programs are preparing students well for the future ahead.

Giving Students Options

At Winona State University, where I teach, each student chooses an emphasis among five options: advertising, broadcasting, journalism, photojournalism or public relations.

All students take a media overview course, a visual communication course, a journalism class, a course in issues and ethics in media, and then several electives from across the department’s catalog. They gain depth by taking a series of courses in their particular emphasis.

Because students receive a broad-based education, they have the flexibility to move seamlessly between media-related positions. Just as importantly, this approach prepares students well for the new breed of “hybrid” jobs in the media, which defy easy classification.

The One-Man-Band Professional

Many media companies no longer have distinct positions such as writer, still photographer, videographer, sound technician or editor. An employee at a newspaper may shoot still images, capture video and write an article.

They may also edit the work — words, audio and images — and prepare packages for the print edition or website.

Similarly, employees at radio stations capture and post video and still images to websites. TV station newsrooms, well-versed in working with images, audio and video, are hiring more one-man-band professionals who can do it all.

Web-Based Opportunities

The place in the media world where there is tremendous growth potential is in web-based media not affiliated with traditional media. New websites are developed each day, and all need content on their pages.

Some of these developing sites may have a journalistic mission and rely on advertising, like traditional media. Others may have a different business model, but still rely on effective communication with a target audience.

Skills taught in mass communication programs are perfectly targeted to new web-based media. Well-done websites need skilled professionals to write engaging copy and create meaningful images that communicate an intended message.

Combining Skills for Success

While mass communication programs evolve to stay in sync with changing delivery methods, the basic skills needed to succeed remain the same. Those students who want to gain an edge would do well to master multiple disciplines.

There is tremendous opportunity for modern photojournalists who can combine skills to create, edit and deploy compelling stories that explain and/or interpret the day’s events, or give insight to life on planet Earth.

Because of the down economy, media growth is perhaps less dynamic than it otherwise might be. Nonetheless, use of the web and its new possibilities will continue to flourish, providing ample opportunity for mass communication graduates in the years ahead.

11 Responses to “It’s Not All Doom and Gloom for Photojournalism Students”

  1. Absolutely... I shoot sports, make videos during and after (interview) the match and write about the match in two languages.
    But it is not that easy. Although everyone can study to do everything the positions need but it does not mean that it will be the same quality.

  2. I write, I shoot the pictures, I do the interview - and I'm a self employed freelancer. I think the resylt often get's better if you have to do only one thing, specially the pictures. When done with an interview eg. 1 hour I'm tired the IP is tires and the photo doesn't get at good and perfect as if I 'only' should shoot the pix. BUT doing pix, text, interview and video is the future - we need to get better doing it all. And take the time to do it well.

  3. Tom,
    I applaud you for the upbeat and cheerful outlook, but I don't think the problem will be finding the work. You are correct that the nose for news is always going to be a skill that will be in demand.

    Until the online news outlets themselves become viable and profitable, they won't be able to pay much, let alone provide any kind of health benefits.

    With so many so-called news outlets just aggregating news from one multiple sources and passing it as their own, original content has lost a lot of its luster.

    Journalism graduates today have, as you say, a much larger skill set. They are capable of writing, shooting video and stills and editing both.

    But that is borne out of necessity because of downsizing. They are being asked to do much more and paid much less.

    With such uncertainty and inequity, I can't in good conscience steer my own photography students into journalism.

  4. All: Thanks for your comments. I maintain a positive attitude as I help students learn and grow in the field about which they are passionate: telling stories with words and/or pictures.

    It may be further into the future than I envision, but I truly believe advances in technology will result in opportunity for highly skilled journalistic story-tellers who create original content; rather than simply searching and linking or copy-pasting found content; which, as Peter Phun correctly states is happening too frequently.

    (I enjoy your articles Peter, and have shared some in my classes.)

  5. Good article.... I'd also like to mention the demand for good photography/video will skyrocket as the popularity of the tablet grows. Just take a look at Wired and Rolling Stone on an iPad. I'm hoping this is a trend that continues to grow.

  6. I've written this before at RIT, and I'll write it again, here. In photography, you don't make money by following your dreams. You make money in photography by convincing other people that you can help *them* follow *their* dreams. In photography. In anything.
    Caveat emptor, dudes and dudettes, and learn how to sell yourselves.

  7. A one-man band is usually reserved for humor or light-hearted mockery. The musician who is clever at playing all instruments, but none very well, isn’t going to provide for his family. Nor is the attorney who handles any and all cases. Nor the physician who treats all illness. Nor is the photojournalist who attempts all varieties of present-day photojournalism and those that are sure to come. Choose one and get known for your expertise. -RE

  8. so what you are saying is- photographers dont limit yourself be becoming a photographer only. Be a writer, editor, and videographer all in one and spreed yourself thin to accommodate the market and scrape together a living.

  9. My opinion is still the same... quality is more important than quantity... 🙂

  10. I enjoy reading all comments ... Thanks. My main point is: opportunities for all journalists should increase as more web sites seek to publish content. My second point: journalism professionals with more than one skillset may have an advantage.

    I agree there is room for individuals to specialize and become masters in one aspect of journalism: still images, video, writing, etc.

  11. Tom,

    I think you are spot on.

    Just because the way we deliver the "news" has changed doesn't mean that there will no longer be a demand - as a society - for good reporting. I don't think it matters which tools we use to deliver the message - a pen, keyboard, photograph or video clip. I don't think it matters how we distribute it whether it be in a printed newspaper or magazine or online.
    Where others see gloom and doom and suggest that future journalists seek different professions - I see big opportunities.
    We need to get past the devices and tools of delivery and remember why we use them.

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