Picture This

As the professional path for photojournalists fades, what's being lost?

Yesterday, a story on the Web site of The New York Times noted the seismic shifts roiling the field of photojournalism: the increasing accessibility and affordability of digital equipment has empowered many more people to make and share “pretty decent photographs,” and companies like Getty have figured out how to license and market them to editors. That trend has increased the supply of images and lowered their cost, making a roster of trained photographers look, to newsrooms already grappling with dwindling revenues and shrinking news holes, like a luxury.

The problems this creates for photojournalists are pretty clear. But what about the problems for journalism? Alissa Quart, in a July/August 2008 piece for CJR, worried over the trend: “Anyone can take a decent photo, as the bromide goes, through talent or luck, but few can extend it into masterful narratives,” she wrote. “There’s still a special recipe to be a ‘real’ photojournalist, and it’s not just the ‘trained’ or ‘expert’ eye but rather the sheer hours put into each assignment and the ability to sustain a thought, image, or impulse through a number of images, not just a single snapshot.”

What do you think is being lost in this transition? And how do the losses measure up to the gains, in ubiquity and immediacy, that come from living in the world of the digital image?

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The Editors are the staffers of Columbia Journalism Review.