There should be little doubt now that the changing media landscape has deeply affected traditional news photography. Increasingly, photographers at many newspapers are being let go or given reduced work hours. For those lucky enough to have a job, the workload has become more demanding. The bottom line is a focus on productivity, with a slight nod toward creativity as long as it doesn’t interfere with getting the work out.
The shift toward economization in the news industry is nearly complete as media outlets compete for audiences. Recent circulation declines across the country, from New York to Miami, Los Angeles to San Francisco, range from 3.5 percent to more than 11 percent — all of which continue to pressure a beleaguered industry. Even more problematic is that younger audiences continue to shun newspapers as an information source.
A 2004 study by the Pew Research Center found that less than 25 percent of people under age 30 read a newspaper. At the same time, despite the change in preference — from print to online — getting some form of the news remains a vital part of our lives. In the Pew study, more than 70 percent of Americans still start their day with some sort of news. Even so, the amount of time people spend on news is changing. According to Nielsen Online, even though traffic to newspaper Web sites remains high, the time people actually spend reading news is on the decline.
Immediacy Trumps Intimacy
The next phase of computer-mediated communication is around the corner in the form of instant mobile technologies. Some news organizations have already begun to experiment with sending content taken with video camera phones directly to Web sites and mobile phones.
Recently, the Sacramento Bee used mobile technology to stream live coverage of the Olympic torch using Qik, a software program that enables streaming videos directly from a phone to the Web. Other social communication platforms, such as Kyte, Seesmic, and Ustream, offer live video streams that connect with social networking sites.
What’s clear is that dramatic changes in how the news is produced are being driven by similarly dramatic changes in how it is being consumed.
What will photojournalism look like 20 years from today? I envision that much of our news will be customized and delivered directly to mobile devices. In other words, we will get the news we want, when we want it, through personal devices as well as the Internet. And in the torrent of images washing across our screens, an increasing percentage of pictures will be from amateur and freelance sources using video camera phones.
In such a future, how will professional photographers compete in an environment where immediacy trumps intimacy? What do you think?