Why It May Be Time for Me to Quit the NPPA

The National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) will vote at the end of May on seven amendments to its bylaws, including whether to change its name to The Society of Visual Journalists, Inc. (SVJ). The reason for the proposed change is to acknowledge how the industry and NPPA membership have evolved over the past 50 years. The current name “no longer adequately represents the Association or its membership.”

My knee-jerk reaction to this news was to speak out against it; I did not want to lose my old friend the NPPA. My response was fueled by more than nostalgia, though. Like many print photojournalists, I have questioned whether our television counterparts are truly committed to the NPPA’s ethics code.

Print vs. Television Photographers

Many TV photographers routinely set up shots, have subjects “redo” things or pretend to do them because they either missed the shot, want a different angle or want B-roll. I cringe at being equated with videographers who train their subjects to ask “What do you want us to do?” instead of taking the time to allow reality to unfold.

Despite my misgivings, the fact remains that videographers have been part of the NPPA for years. Starting in the late 1990s, I began to notice more News Photographer covers and stories dedicated to that side of the membership; I began to believe they were overtaking the organization. Today, the balance seems to be 70-30 in TV’s favor.

I originally suspected the shift was the result of TV people being elected to the NPPA’s board. But then I realized it was actually the result of print photographers being forced to learn about videography and multimedia storytelling as part of their jobs.

While I am not crazy about this trend, there is no denying the facts. We cannot continue to define ourselves as just “photographers” anymore, because we are now required to be “visual journalists.”

And I began to see why the NPPA name change made sense.

A Fait Accompli

Photojournalists are facing a re-definition of their jobs. With video becoming a part of the lives of both print and TV photographers, we need to address the new work requirements, ethical situations and other challenges we will face. If the NPPA wants to continue to represent the visual media, I agree that it needs to change its name because the term “Press Photographers” is simply no longer accurate.

Of course, those of us who don’t particularly want to shoot video — the ones who wish to remain “just photographers” — will feel left out by this change. I, for one, may quit the organization.

It’s not that I don’t think the NPPA — or SVJ — has an important calling in navigating the new multimedia demands on the visual press. I just prefer to continue to focus on my passion — still storytelling.

NSPA, Anyone?

Where is the organization for me and others like me? SportsShooter caters to the still photographer, but it is narrowly focused on sports photography. Perhaps we need to form a new organization — one that continues the original focus of the NPPA and promotes the value of capturing powerful still images of real-life moments.

We could call ourselves the National Still Photographers Association, or maybe borrow the abandoned NPPA name and just create a new board focused on the concerns of print photojournalists. If anyone wants to start a new association, you know where to find me.


5 Responses to “Why It May Be Time for Me to Quit the NPPA”

  1. I believe if you believe you are only a photographer your days are numbered. If you are a visual story teller then you can migrate to whatever medium we will use in the future to tell the story.

    This is a great opportunity because now the space (primarily the web) allows for more in depth reportage than ever before.

    NPPA has done some great changes. Most notable to me is what happened under Alicia Wagner's term as president. She helped them to embrace educating photographers about the business aspects of the industry. Now there is great resources for photographers to understand the cost of doing business.

    The magazine has also done a much better job of connecting the past with the present and helping us to see into the future.

    Sadly the social media aspect of NPPA is lacking. SportsShooter has done a great job here, but now that the standards for membership there are pretty open, veterans comment less and less on the forums.

    I am glad to see NPPA move away from just a awards program and seminars where the award winners just show their work at things like the Flying Short Course. They have been moving more and more to educating the profession.

    I hope they also do things like commission a team to write text books for colleges.

    Change is needed and if people liked what NPPA, well then you would most likely be out of a job in a couple years any way.

    Those who see change as inevitable and want to try and help forge ahead will be the leaders of tomorrow.

  2. Heather and Stanley:

    We at the NPPA appreciate your comments and your interest.

    The NPPA is VERY aware of the changes in the industry,

    As a journalism professor myself, I am very aware of the disconnect between journalism education and the professions. I believe the NPPA is in position to fill that gap, and it's in position to fill many other needs as well, including advocacy, outreach and education for all aspects of visual journalism.

    Yes, we know we need to do a better job on the forums etc.. We need to be more interactive. But we need to do it deliberately and strategically. We want to do things right.

    We spent the last year reviewing industry needs and we came up with a strategic plan which we will review at our annual board meeting next week as part of our Convergence event.

    We call it convergence for a reason. We all know how these things are coming together under one roof. To meet the needs of the converging media market, we are focusing more on issues that affect everyone whether he or she is primarily broadcast, print or online. We are all going to be a mix of all three sooner than later.

    These issues include advocacy on access and copyright. We have been successful in many of our advocacy efforts for the field in the last year.

    We are trying to do more hands-on training such as our very popular immersion program headed by the Roanoke Times' Seth Gitner.

    And we are doing more outreach, including even an NPPA Facebook page.

    The bottom line is that we hear you. We are the voice and clearinghouse of the profession. We appreciate the input, and even the criticism. We will do all we can to respond and fill the needs of the profession.

    We want to do the best job we can for all visual journalists.

    And on the possible name change? Most of us have very mixed feelings. This is not a thoughtless, unilateral move. We won't do this arbitrarily. The name change proposal is just one thing we are CONSIDERING as part of an overall effort to change the perception that the NPPA is the creature of still-only, staff-only, entrenched fuddy-duddy journalists.
    We're not.
    We are here for everybody and hear to represent the common interests of all visual journalists.
    Help us do a better job by JOINING the NPPA, not running away from it.
    Feel free to e-mail me at
    [email protected]
    Jack Zibluk
    NPPA vice president
    Associate professor of Journalism
    Arkansas State University
    [email protected]

  3. I agree with what Heather has to say this blog about the NPPA name change. Because we re-direct the focus of the NPPA does not mean we have to change the name throwing away the rich tradition and history of ethics that the NPPA name represents.

    If you make that change, then you might as well change other items including the Code of Ethics that MOST still photographers stand by and MANY video journalist and multi media specialist or new media specialist do not. Unless you are blind you have also seen video journalist and multi media specialist or new media specialist routinely setting up shots, have subjects "redo" things or pretend to do them because they either missed the shot, want a different angle, want B-roll or better sound. I do not want to join that group.

    It seems to me that the NPPA is trying to turn its self into the American Society of Media Photographers, Inc.

    If the name change is approved I will most likely quit the organization also.

  4. i really want to join the luddite's club. one where the Power of a Still Image Outweighs All. how about the PSIOA? or Fuck Video and This Digital Revolution and Let's Get Back to What's Really Important -- The Momement. FV&TDR&LGBTWRI-TM?!

    and one point heather made, is something i've been mumbling for years... who let them (video) into our clubhouse without making them play by our rules... namely, having some ethics.

    i think the SVJ is only going to serve to mask the NPPA's fallacies. it's basically throwing a sheet over the goat, but we all know it's still the same old goat. ("NO! it wasn't us, the SVJ, that caused the rift and split with POYi... that was that old organization, the NPPA!!!)

    i just wish they'd take time to work on things that actually matter to our profession... instead of something silly, like a name change.

  5. As a member of nppa for over 20 years ....they change the name....I quit!!!!!

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