Multimedia Photojournalism: Why Is It Taking So Long to Catch On?

The world of photojournalism, since the grand old days of Life magazine, has changed dramatically. Beginning in the late 1980s, photographers have steadily moved out of the darkroom and into the brave new world of digital media. For visual communicators, the digital technologies have intensified processes, especially given the immediacy of the digital camera.

Research shows that not only are photographers more productive in a digital environment; they are also more creative. With digital media, photographers are experimenting with the medium more and taking more chances by adding audio and video to the range of techniques and skills they have to offer.

Even if none of this comes as much of a surprise, it is still intriguing just how long it has taken for some photographers to bring their work onto the Web. Although attitudes toward multimedia storytelling are beginning to change, some journalists remain reluctant or even fearful of the new tools available to photographers today.

As Brian Storm, one of the pioneers in applying multimedia to the Web, observes:

I’m seeing both fear and excitement out there right now, but honestly, there’s much more excitement now than there has been in the past. I think as a profession we still have a long ways to go before we get a command of this toolset and all the opportunities that now exist.

Storm, who was director of multimedia at from 1995 to 2002, argues that people need to understand how photojournalism must “grow beyond the single image to fully realize the possibilities of the Internet.”

He continues:

The barriers really depend on the environment. Freelancers are aggressively adding audio now because they see the audience reach and financial benefits. Newspapers seem to be pushing only on video because the pre-roll video ads are lucrative. I think this is probably the area that’s creating the most tension right now. Seasoned photojournalists are being told to put down their still cameras and shoot video. In many cases, they aren’t receiving any training and the metrics for success are based on volume instead of quality.

At the same time, the evidence does not support an urgent surge in the adoption of providing readers/viewers with rich content. According to a recent study by the Project for Excellence in Journalism, only six of 38 news Web sites offered a rich range of media formats. The 2007 report notes, “In short, the Web, for now, is still largely dominated by the content that fills newspapers — text and still images.”

Another early proponent of using video and audio on the Web was former Time magazine White House photojournalist, Dirck Halstead. In his Platypus Papers and later in his online magazine The Digital Journalist, Halstead paved the way for many photojournalists to take on the new skill sets needed to produce compelling visual narratives for the Web. But the migration to cross-platform multimedia photojournalism has been relatively slow.

Halstead comments:

The reality is that video at newspapers is still a toddler. Some like The New York Times will have the luxury of turning photographers into video journalists, assigning them to do that skill set. Most papers will be more cautious, and expect photographers to continue to take stills as well as do video.

Richard Koci Hernandez, in an interview about his new book Multimedia Journal, explains that many journalists seem apprehensive or fearful of new technologies and multimedia storytelling. He believes that thinking about journalism in the traditional sense is holding us back in terms of the art of visual reportage.

“It’s like trying to paint with the same brush with the same color all the time,” Koci Hernandez says. “We have an opportunity to approach journalism in a way that we never have before. If people don’t seize the opportunity, we are going to miss out.”

[tags]videography, photojournalism, multimedia[/tags]

4 Responses to “Multimedia Photojournalism: Why Is It Taking So Long to Catch On?”

  1. People need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable sometimes ... we can "comfort" ourselves into an early retirement if we're not careful.

  2. I'm going to say something that's probably not well-accepted.

    But I have many journalist's web sites that focus on multi-media (including Storm's) on my reader and I almost never watch any of the selections.

    I don't think the problem is at all the fault of photographer's not embracing the technology. David Leeson and his myspace page is a great example of the 'new' photojournalist.

    But for the average viewer, multi-media is neither immediate or relevant enough.

    A lead sentence is much faster. A single image carries more impact. Both can hold my interest and entice me to keep reading or viewing.

    When it's published, multi-media is always DOA. I don't have the time or inclination unless...

    1. it's a burning interest to me
    2. it's over-the-top well done and generates word-of-mouth appeal online
    3. there's a novelty involved. Ed Kashi's flip book comes to mind as does Jonathan Harrison's whale hunt

    (And even then I didn't stick around to watch the entire whale hunt, I picked and choosed until I got bored)

    There is a place for it though. It seems to me it will take a bit of time, but I don't think well-produced daily pieces.

    I think minute-by-minute reporting in real time... Or does that already exist?

  3. Multimedia requires TIME.

    News outlets with withering underpaid staffs have less of it every day.

    It's just that simple.

  4. maybe not TIME so much as some software to streamline the often complex workflow. something like the one richard hernandez used :

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