New Standards in Photojournalism

Which would you like first; the good news, or the bad?

I’ll give you the good news first. This article is shorter than usual. The bad is, it’s a bit of a rant.

I’d love to be sitting here writing about the amazingly high standards in photojournalism as a result of newspapers fighting to retain readership in the face of competition from the web.

Instead, I’m looking, open-mouthed, at the depressingly low standards to which local newspapers at least (nationals may follow suit) have sunk. In short, I’m looking at a photo which is of such a poor standard that it looks like it isn’t so much a photo, as a children’s mosaic made from the leftover bits of LEGO left over after all the fun stuff has been built.

 

screen grab from peterborough evening telegraph

Honestly, that's as good as the photo gets.

The picture is meant to show horses running wild on the streets of Peterborough (see original article here). It’s a reader’s snap, but as you can see from the quality of the photo, it could be panto horses on a dimly lit stage. It could be a tapestry. What it is, is a travesty.

Have picture editors become so enamored of new technology that they can’t see when a photo is utterly unusable? Or have newspapers done such a thorough job of destroying the old training and career structures that there is no one left to say “that’s crap, let’s get our own shot from the late-shift staffer/next available freelance”? Or have budgets been cut to the point that any smudge, no matter how poor, will do provided it’s free of any cost to the editorial department? Do newspaper editorial departments now have such contempt for their readers (and advertisers) that frankly, any old s**t will do so long as a thicker wedge can be driven between the ad revenue and editorial costs?

 

lego scene of horses

Perhaps LEGO representations of news events are the way ahead.

Normally I hate ranty blog articles, and while I do my share of moaning I tend to avoid the full-blown slagging off that is the stock-in-trade of other bloggers, but I have to say this isn’t the first time I’ve seen this level of citizen journalism foisted on local newspaper readers. There must be many more examples I never see, but The Portsmouth News also ran a pointlessly low-quality photo when a local landmark caught fire. Their only saving grace was that there was something to photograph the next morning.

I hope the Pereborough example is the worst we’ll ever see, but I won’t hold my breath.

If you’ve seen something as bad (or worse!) in your local paper, feel free to comment and leave a link. We could start a competition. Not so much “The worst photo in a paper” award, as “can you make out what this is meant to be?” kind of competition.

UPDATE: There is now a camera which is perfectly designed for exactly this kind of scenario: http://bit.ly/h8yDBu Remember though, it’s not a toy!

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141 comments

  • Lee Love November 23, 2010   Reply →

    Tim a rant every now is absolutely in order and the topic of what I call “good enough” is one of them that deserves all our discuss. The standards not only in photojournalism but the bias in their so called News deserves a rant.

    Of course on the other hand, with the circulation numbers dropping like a rock no one is seeing these horrific photos anyway. LOL

    • Glass Eye November 23, 2010   Reply →

      Hi Lee, and thanks for your words of support!

      It seems a shame that the only reason these standards don’t matter is that nobody sees this junk anyway, but it’s a fair point. Maybe I should just accept that local/regional newspapers just don’t matter any more and move on.

  • Ken of London November 23, 2010   Reply →

    Tim, a good rant cleanses the soul. My local press at home which was a freeby delivered each week was good for local info like where your soccer team is playing and who so you can show up and not let the team down even if you are the reserve goalie.

    The sad part is the dark prince of newspapers owns this network of papers now and it is truly appalling in the imagery they use, the picture editor, a term used very loosely, used to describe exactly how he wanted the image shot, these ideas where so insulting to the photogs they generally wanted to hurl dayglo in his face!

    They would always rebel by explaining how his idea just would not come off for whatever reason, and then present their own work which this guy would reluctantly print.

    Well the short of it is the team won a national award for imagery. The creator of the image in question was a young female shooter who this guy was a complete asshole to over this particular image and a general day to day bully with her. He goes up to get the award and tells the audience how good he is and how shit his photogs are, he sits back down at the table and gets 6 well aimed highly co-ordinated drinks in the face plus a walk out of his staff.

    All six never worked there again, and funny enough neither did he.

    • Glass Eye November 24, 2010   Reply →

      I feel cleansed 🙂

      I too had a picture editor once who couldn’t take pictures for toffee. He’d spend ages explaining exactly the shot he wanted, often taking long enough to make me late for the assignment, and it’d be some corny old rubbish idea he’d picked up in the 1970s. Of course every time I got to the job, the scenario would be such that his ideas didn’t have a hope of working so I’d have to think on my feet. I’d come back with pictures far better than he could imagine, but still get a bollocking for not engineering the entire story around his idea, rather than creating something out of the story that actually existed.

      Last I heard, he’d gone a bit potty and hasn’t been seen since by anyone I know.

      It’s nice how these things turn out.

      • Ken of London November 24, 2010   Reply →

        Two very different approaches to photojournalism:

        1) Go to XYZ, this is the story, get a picture that covers it, come back.

        2) Go to XYZ, find out the story, get a picture that conveys it, come back.

        Two very successful National Geographic photogs can be summed up with these two lines.

        One is known for one incredibly famous photo, the other is known for covering many different facets of life.

        You figure out if they are a 1 or a 2

        cheers

        • Glass Eye November 24, 2010   Reply →

          And each method is as valid as the other, it’s all about context, but there seems to be a third option now:

          3) Don’t send any photographer anywhere, just hope there’s a member of the public willing to supply a freebie no matter the quality.

          And here we are…

  • pogomcl November 23, 2010   Reply →

    this is by no means a rant— this is just plain-spoken truth. The photo was garbage, but editors need a good kick in the ass to improve the quality of work. They can moan how nobody reads or buys papers, but with that kind of rubbish inside, nobody ought to waste their change.

    It’s not a matter of being in love with new media, because there are many, many publications out there whose quality is fantastic and probably the editorial standard has been raised along with the new digital precision.

    So there isn’t any real excuse for such garbage and it ought to merit a seething letter of rage to the newspaper for shoddy work.

    maybe I could teach you how to do a real rant, but this stuff you presented is just crap. It probably would not even make it through the sleaziest microstock.

    • Glass Eye November 24, 2010   Reply →

      Ah, but some people can’t handle the truth 😉

      If I’d included a photo like this when I was picture editor, I’d have been sacked. Maybe this picture editor was made redundant, and this was his parting shot.

  • pogomcl November 23, 2010   Reply →

    aha– so I guessed right, it can’t be Conrad Black cuz he’s done and gone, so it has to be the RM line of garbage. figures.

  • timsbro November 24, 2010   Reply →

    Funny – and yet, sad.

    • Glass Eye November 24, 2010   Reply →

      And kind of predictable. Citizen journalists, my arse.

  • Dom Romney November 24, 2010   Reply →

    I went on a training course when I worked for northcliffe to by taught how to shoot video ( i use that phrase loosely). As we the first people to be trained we got a visit from the regional director who gave us the normal corporate bullshit, but the phrase that really stuck in my mind was “we don’t care about quality all we need is quantity”.

    Thankfully I didn’t hang around that sinking ship for much longer

    • Glass Eye November 24, 2010   Reply →

      Dom, I’m sure your experience has been repeated many times. I just heard Sir Martin Sorrell, ceo of WPP advertising, say that “content is king needs to be said ad nauseam.” Now since most newspaper executives rise up from the advertising departments rather than editorial, they tend to think ad revenue and budgets are king. It’s a shame they don’t listen to an ad man whose been rather more successful than they are.

  • runtobefit November 24, 2010   Reply →

    That picture is horrible!! The resolution is so low!! Obviously the person who took the pic doesn’t know anything about shutter speed…but who allowed this picture anyway. I can take a better picture with my eyes closed.

    http://www.runtobefit.wordpress.com

    • Glass Eye November 24, 2010   Reply →

      I have a feeling it’s a frame grab from a video shot on a mobile phone. That’s certainly the only explanation I can think of. I could take a better picture with my head cut off with a rusty axe. I’m not about to demonstrate it though 😉

  • eladad2 November 24, 2010   Reply →

    I like the lego picture

    • Glass Eye November 24, 2010   Reply →

      Took me ages 😉

      • KallyLyn November 24, 2010   Reply →

        To make it or take it? LOL

        Great post, I must say. It’s too bad that “we, the people”s opinion doesn’t seem to count anymore, whether our cell-phone pics do or not. 🙂

        • Glass Eye November 24, 2010   Reply →

          Heck, if a cell-phone pic gets the Pulitzer prize-winning shot of the century that’s grand, but I don’t think this one’s quite in that category.

  • Ken of London November 24, 2010   Reply →

    3) Don’t send any photographer anywhere, just hope there’s a member of the public willing to supply a freebie no matter the quality.

    And here we are…

    No I am not here ………………. I am at the pub diluting my beer with my tears *sigh*

  • Ken of London November 24, 2010   Reply →

    Actually on the further re-reading of this thread, I don’t think enough praise has been given to the life like artistic recreation of the event by local installation artist Tim “thats my bloody lego kid” Gander.

    I look forward to other poor quality photos being enhanced in the lego filter – coming to a Photoshop version near you.

    • Glass Eye November 24, 2010   Reply →

      I’m not entirely original http://www.flickr.com/photos/supercamel/3615852329/

      I’m working on recreating the moment of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster and the Hindenburg crash. I’ll need a lot of yellow bricks for the fireball, unless I recreate in in black and white!

      • Ken of London November 24, 2010   Reply →

        I wonder if there has ever been a study into what is the most favourite lego brick colour.

        Depending on whether you choose colour or black and white for this you could skew the study one way or the other.

        Then there is the whole 16 bit argument.

        I feel a sleepless night coming on ………..

  • dearexgirlfriend November 24, 2010   Reply →

    nothing wrong with a rant, especially when it seems needed as it does with this topic. could it simply be a digital age thing about getting everything done as quickly as effing possible?
    http://dearexgirlfriend.com/

    • Glass Eye November 24, 2010   Reply →

      Combine “as quickly as effing possible” with “as cheaply as effing possible” and you’re just about close to the nub of the argument.

  • Shari Lopatin November 24, 2010   Reply →

    Hi Tim,

    I’m a former daily newspaper reporter (now a Professional Rogue Writer, as my online hub advertises), and also a photojournalist–although my main talent is in writing the story. I feel your pain, all the way. I couldn’t agree with your “rant” more. While the digital age has made it easier to network and grow a fan base, it’s also diminished the quality of art forms, such as photojournalism–and photojournalism IS an art form.

    I believe in solutions. Though I’m not sure what exactly the solution is yet, it does lie somewhere in embracing the new digital age, while holding true to the profession’s standards. I’ve been trying to find a way to save journalism! I’d love to share some ideas with you. Feel free to stop by my site:

    http://ShariLopatin.wordpress.com

    Oh yes, and congrats on being Freshly Pressed! Good post.

    Shari Lopatin

    • Glass Eye November 24, 2010   Reply →

      Hi Shari

      I am actually a little optimistic that once all the hubbub of digital dies down, quality photojournalism will once again be sought out and paid decent rates for.

      I’ll be sure to pop by!

      Cheers

      Tim

  • Tracy López November 24, 2010   Reply →

    The Lego interpretation is hilarious.

    I like the idea of a blog dedicated to bad photos found in print. At least we will be entertained while having our eyes assaulted.

    Congrats on being a featured WordPress blog.

    • Glass Eye November 24, 2010   Reply →

      Thank you on all fronts. I hadn’t realised I’d been featured!! Do I get a knighthood?

  • Em November 24, 2010   Reply →

    As the editor in chief of my high school paper and photographer for my local paper,I even I know that those photos are horrendous. However, I know I have been taught right. I enjoyed your rant though. Thanks for sharing.

    • Glass Eye November 24, 2010   Reply →

      You’d be over-qualified for the Peterborough Evening Telegraph then! My pleasure.

  • Evie November 24, 2010   Reply →

    The lego picture is too funny! I love a good rant so thanks for sharing yours! I agree with you, I think “professionals” should be held to some kind of standard or you’d think, guess not!

    evelyngarone.com

    • Glass Eye November 24, 2010   Reply →

      It seems times have changed. Maybe this is the low point, and the tide of junk will start to turn…

  • J. A. Ryder November 24, 2010   Reply →

    One of the purposes of journalism, after all, is the exposition of the truth. While the quality of the photo above is abhorrent (we’re talking low grade cell phone camera) it is in fact an actual photograph of the event. At the same time the editors need to ask themselves, does the photo (low quality or not) actually add anything to the story? and if not, would it be better to omit a photo completely? Since this photo appears to be that of horses reflected in a pixalated river…the latter would most definitely have been a better choice.

    • Glass Eye November 24, 2010   Reply →

      I absolutely agree with your interpretation of journalism, though of course it’s usually “a version” of the truth. And the sad truth is that even much higher quality photos add little to a story these days (certainly the case when reading my local papers) because a group photo of people holding a giant cheque really doesn’t add anything to the basic story of “Some people raised some money for charity this week.” Better to show the money going to work and helping those it was raised for. Even that’s too much trouble to bother with apparently, so maybe we should be grateful for reader photos grabbed from videos shot on phone-cameras.

      • Manou November 28, 2010   Reply →

        I agree with Ryder and I agree with you. Now I’d really like to know what the editor was thinking.
        It’s okay to use a bad photo because – it’s a small story?a rare occurrence? deadlines? No one will pay attention? or well who cares..just send it to print?

        • Glass Eye November 28, 2010   Reply →

          It’d be interesting to see the editor make comment here. Unlikely, as I’m sure he/she is quite busy enough with putting the paper together every week. For all I know the same debate is raging in the readers’ letters section of the paper!

  • Lindsay November 24, 2010   Reply →

    The actual Lego interpretation is genius. And way better in execution than the original photo!

    • Glass Eye November 24, 2010   Reply →

      I tried to be as true to the original scene as possible, but it has to be said that this is only an interpretation. There never were Lego horses running rampant in a Lego street. To say otherwise would be a lie.

  • Lu November 24, 2010   Reply →

    Sometimes a rant is needed to vent and get the word out to people that may not know. Maybe the times have changed and it’s up to us to keep the standard.

    • Glass Eye November 24, 2010   Reply →

      Hi Lu, Well of course the rant can be cathartic, but am I not simply preaching to the converted? Still, let’s keep that standard up for at least as long as we can!

  • enjoibeing November 24, 2010   Reply →

    i have seen some horrible things in my local newspapers. thats really funny with the lego picture. why bother even putting a picture up anyways right? they might as well search through google photo archives and pull a better one out.

    http://enjoibeing.wordpress.com/

    • Glass Eye November 24, 2010   Reply →

      Ah, but then they’d have to actually pay someone for the use of the photo. Google isn’t an image library, remember.

      What I can’t work out is why the duty reporter didn’t get the call and/or didn’t call out the duty photographer. Instead relying on a phone-cam snap.

  • Shanna VanNorman November 24, 2010   Reply →

    I agree that people should step up their work and put their best foot forward. Maybe the contest could be “put your best work out there and become the new photo journalist for the (insert paper).” This could encourage some really fantastic work and ensure the photgrapher felt the pressure.

    Good post, I’ll continue reading.

    http://bigbangbang.wordpress.com/2010/11/24/quality-of-life-a-guide-to-live-the-life-of-your-dreams/

    Much love,

    Shan

    • Glass Eye November 24, 2010   Reply →

      Shanna, it’s a fine idea. A newspaper or magazine that pays photojournalists enough that they can turn in stunning pictures from eye-opening stories. Does such a publication exist?

      I hope I can continue to entertain! Please forgve me if some of my posts become a bit “businessy”.

      Kind regards

      Tim

      • Rowland Jones November 25, 2010   Reply →

        I think there are still some journals and publications that value good work. It’s the other much larger proportion that don’t is the problem.

  • Adventures with Sepi November 24, 2010   Reply →

    Tim I think you nailed it on the head. I checked out the link to this photograph. I couldn’t believe they actually published this photo let alone considered it for their paper. It’s definitly a head scratcher. This would not be allowed in our city’s newspapers. If this is considered a good enough photo for publishing then I must be ann liebowitz. Nice blog!
    Sepi.

    http://journalbysepi.wordpress.com

    • Glass Eye November 24, 2010   Reply →

      Hi Sepi. You know I first came across citizen journalism about 18 years ago when I was being interviewed for my first staff job on a local paper.

      The editor had a double-page spread open in front of him. It was full of readers pictures of charity cheques and the like (obviously back then it was all shot on film) and he thought it terribly exciting and wanted to show me.

      Of course my heart sank at the sight. None of the photos had any merit, and to me it was an indicator of this editor’s attitude towards quality photography. Having said all that, at lest with the photos his readers had sent in you didn’t have to squint and read the caption to work out what the shots were meant to be of!

      Yours, David Bailey 😉

  • wordbone November 24, 2010   Reply →

    I’m agog! Editors trying to appeal to younger markets must think it’s edgy, like an instant youtube video. It might have a jolt of life ’cause it’s obviously taken in the moment, but like most tweets and instant message comments, who cares? Unless it’s a specific dark, mysterious mood you want to create with a blurred, low exposure photo, dont’ go there. Everybody thinks they’re Picasso, ’cause the technology brokers tell us we are. Thanks and keep ranting, wordbone at wordbone.wordpress.com

    • Glass Eye November 24, 2010   Reply →

      “Everybody thinks they’re Picasso, ’cause the technology brokers tell us we are. Thanks and keep ranting, wordbone at wordbone.wordpress.com”

      I love that line especially. There are currently two camera manufacturers who use advertising strap-lines that go something like “take pictures like a pro, but without the hassle,” as if somehow professionals are just amateurs but with hassle. And another herd of people will splash money on kit that changes their photographic abilities not one jot. It’s just technology in different shapes – some to make the camera look futuristic, some to make it look like something The Rat Pack might have played with if they were into taking pictures. But it’s all just the same gubbins inside.

      Certainly the photo in this article has a closer relationship to Cubism than realism. Maybe it’s art and I’m just missing the point.

      I try not to rant too often, but now and then it’s inevitable.

  • Sunflowerdiva November 24, 2010   Reply →

    Don’t worry about or apologize for posting a rant. Just warn the reader, and keep on going. And yes, that picture is really bad…. 🙁 But congrats on getting Freshly Pressed!

    • Glass Eye November 24, 2010   Reply →

      Thank you, Sunflowerdiva. At least I did remember to warn the reader. My first draft didn’t include that courtesy.

      And I didn’t know I’d been “Pressed” until someone mentioned it. I could work out where all these comments were coming from! I got a screen grab though for posterity 😀

  • dpress101 November 25, 2010   Reply →

    Choosing a rather bland news photo always lies on the E-I-C himself, which thus means that he has a blander taste of what’s clear and what’s absurd. And since the scope of the internet and digital publishing has changed how we look at most things, they won’t APPARENTLY compromise being “the first” to publish news report (even with crappy picture) than being the latest with perfectly composed and high-quality shot – it’s all about competition though…it’s all about profit!

    And if not for the readership that they compete, it’ll be about the money, CRT, advertisements and the crappy PPC concept. It’s sad how media hastily cooked news for the sake of getting it done.

    • Glass Eye November 25, 2010   Reply →

      I do appreciate the pressure to get the story out there sometimes; I was once third fiddle on a picture desk and had to attend morning and afternoon conferences with sweaty palms and little idea how I was going to illustrate the stories the news editor wanted covered. BUT there comes a point when you surely say that you can run a story without a picture if there really is no picture to be had. In this instance (had I been on the desk at the time) I would have suggested we go without the photo and try to update later with something pertinent. I’d also have wanted to know where the duty reporter and photographer were while horses ran wild on the streets.

  • makingup3000 November 25, 2010   Reply →

    Ha, that picture of the horses looks like when I forget to put my glasses on early in the morning as I’m squinting trying to figure out what the heck I’m looking at.
    Only it’s later at night and I do have my glasses on. Oh Snap!!
    I love the rant!!
    http://lifebehindthemakeupcounter.wordpress.com/

    • Glass Eye November 25, 2010   Reply →

      I’m glad you enjoyed the article! I’m afraid this photo is impervious to good eyesight.

  • Jean November 25, 2010   Reply →

    That is one bad photo. Was that a fee-based newspaper?

    Methinks the digital technology oversimplifies what was a finer art.

    My equivalent comparison: I can do hand drawn calligraphy with steel nib and dip it into the inkpot. Not even fountain pen. Yet someone will claim that software will do a calligraphic font.

    They have no clue, of the ink shade subtleties created by hand pressure over nib and release of ink. Nor have they spent time seeing how calligraphic letter shapes become abstract art.

    Oy. To me as a layperson, photojournalism is an exacting sort of craft that hits upon a aha moment and wow moment after endless shooting from different angles on different settings and equipment. Then there is the instant story moment in the photo.

    • Glass Eye November 25, 2010   Reply →

      Jean, I believe (though open to correction) that the Peterborough Evening Telegraph is paid for. Apart from the likes of Metro, all daily papers are paid for titles. But even free papers have to accept that if advertisers are paying good money for newsprint space, the other elements on the pages have to be of a certain quality too.

      Calligraphy sounds amazing. Personally I like using Comic Sans on my computer because it looks really nice. Especially when you change the colour for each letter. I’m pulling your leg of course. I wrote about a similar concept previously: http://timgander.wordpress.com/2009/11/23/leonardo_da_vinc/

      I tend to separate photojournalism from local newspaper photography. Of course they overlap, but the one common factor for both should be quality and pride in the publication.

  • poisedpen November 25, 2010   Reply →

    My bad news, good news? I’m a lousy photographer, but I know my “LEGO” from my “Lego.” We all have our gifts…

    • Glass Eye November 25, 2010   Reply →

      Ooo! Well spotted. See, I’m no writer 😉 I’ll fix that error forthwith.

  • Anne-Marie November 25, 2010   Reply →

    Um…. I think a rant is in order for this one! I’m new to the documentary/photojournalism world, and am dismayed that I’ll probably never get paid for anything I do because some twerp has a camera phone in Peterborough.

    Anne-Marie

    • Glass Eye November 25, 2010   Reply →

      Anne-Marie, you certainly are joining the industry at a very difficult time. I do have a theory (or wishful thinking maybe) that as professional publications move to tablets, the quality of content will have to go up. After all, there has to be a compelling reason for subscribers to hand over money for news they think they can get for free elsewhere. Quality photojournalism will have to be a component of that new publishing model. You’d think…

  • Heather CJ Atkins November 25, 2010   Reply →

    I take notice of these sort of ineptitudes ALL of the time. It annoys me to no avail and I feel your pain!!

    • Glass Eye November 25, 2010   Reply →

      I’ve been overwhelmed by the reaction to my posting, and it shows there are many people feeling the same pain. I generally try to ignore ineptitudes, but sometimes the urge to vent is too much.

  • iamkiki November 25, 2010   Reply →

    hi tim,

    i am new in your blog will study from the others comment first, but i am not a reporter that’s why i have not comment here

    • Glass Eye November 25, 2010   Reply →

      But your comment/non-comment is still appreciated 🙂 Thank you.

  • squarebrackets November 25, 2010   Reply →

    I once asked the requirement of what a photo had to be to get into my local paper and the lady there said something that I don’t believe I’ll forget, she said,

    “Come to me when you have a brilliant photograph of a disaster”

    I felt a cold shiver go down my back at that point. Looked at the photo on the link and completely forgot your warning and though my internet was going incredibly slow and it was still loading. It’s really bad.

    • Glass Eye November 25, 2010   Reply →

      That’s hilarious/tragic. I really don’t think local papers are fussy any more. If it can be had for free to fill the gaps between the adverts, and save them the bother of paying staff or freelances for quality pictures, they’ll take your right hand off for anything offered. As evidenced in this article.

      Thanks for the comment though, I like that line.

  • htothedizzle November 25, 2010   Reply →

    ummmm, i’m sort of afraid to ask you to look at my pictures now… 😉

    Hi! My name is Hallie and I have entered a Savvy Magazine photo shoot contest. I know you don’t know me but the winners are chosen by the public and if the public doesn’t know they need to vote…well, you guessed it, no one votes! Could you take a moment and look at my photos and decide if you would vote for me or not? Thanks! Here’s the link, could you pass it along?

    http://www.exploremodeling.com/Casting/SavvySpring2011/46935/Hallie_Miller.aspx

    And special thanks to datechguy at http://www.datechguy.wordpress.com for voting for me and linking me!!!! Maaaawww!

    • Glass Eye November 25, 2010   Reply →

      You asked, I looked, but since I don’t know who else has entered I feel I can’t really vote. I’m also a rubbish judge when it comes to photo competitions, but since I can make out what you look like from these shots I think they must be better than the snap we’ve been discussing here.

  • photito November 25, 2010   Reply →

    From one photo journalist to another… I welcome your moan. These days, anybody with a camera is likely to call themselves a photographer which means there are a hell of a lot of ‘photographers’ out there.

    Personally I have stopped looking for good quality images in the paper. I think our highly technological world has brought us to a place where we need to CAREFULLY select what we choose to look at. It is no longer a matter of picking up the local paper to catch up with the news.

    Unfortunately this has left the printed papers with a difficult existence. They are fighting a loosing battle against a medium which is always up to date. And it seems like their way of coping (or trying to compete) is by making use of USELESS images like the one you’ve showed us. Quality is no longer a demand.

    Having said this – i know, this is turning into a rant – ever so sorry.. I do feel like the inferior quality images have an important role to play in our seemingly insatisfiable hunger for the latest news.

    What would September 11th have been if it wasn’t for that amateur footage of the planes crashing into the twin towers?

    Thanks Tim for your critical eye!

    Vibeke at http://photito.wordpress.com/

    • Glass Eye November 25, 2010   Reply →

      In a nutshell, what you’re saying is that we’ve gone from a model where publishers edited the content we got to see (or not) to one where we as individuals have to edit our intake down from the white noise of dross material out there. I’d say this to publishers though; it’s easy to stop buying a paper as a first act of self-editing what one sees.

      Newspapers do indeed face an uphill struggle and of course the internet has had a very great impact on sales, readership and ad revenues. But publishers didn’t help themselves by asset-stripping and down-grading quality back when they were still making huge profits. I can’t recall the name, but an executive of Johnston Press in Scotland recently admitted to a parliamentary committee that his group had under-invested in journalism and damaged their product, probably permanently. A bit late to have worked that one out.

      At least the September 11th footage was viewable, though had it happened at night this might have been a different story. Many of the most memorable stills from that tragedy came from professionals though, because they know how to communicate a story through a two-dimensional medium. It’s more than simply pointing a camera in the direction of something terrible and going “click”. Of course errant horses in Peterborough isn’t on a par with any of that, but my rant was partly about the lack of respect local newspapers have for their readers now. However humble the story, the picture is still important.

  • photito November 25, 2010   Reply →

    Hear hear!

  • Rowland Jones November 25, 2010   Reply →

    I think personally that it’s the lack of somebody to say: ‘This is crap’ AND unfortunately visual sense, artistic ability, or simply ability to communicate whatever you want to call it is not often valued. Some 10 years ago I was commissioned to make a film about ‘multi-disciplinary’ co-operation in a large research complex. The head of the project told me very excitedly how they’d brought in experts from various fields to examine this particular problem: chemists, rheologists, biochemists, statisticians you name it.

    ‘So how did you communicate the results to your fellow scientist’ I enquired.
    ‘We printed a booklet.’
    ‘And who compiled and designed that?’I asked knowing the answer.
    ‘We did’
    I asked why did it not cross their minds to employ a specialist to do that element of the project.

    ‘Never thought to.’ he confessed, with a look of confusion on his face.

    One of the senior scientists in that organisation, once said to me: ‘The problem is that we’re all amateurs at what you do professionally, and whereas you wouldn’t contemplate entering into ‘our world’, modern technology, enables us to dabble and participate in yours, I’m afraid to say.’ Wise man.

    • Ken of London November 25, 2010   Reply →

      “One of the senior scientists in that organisation, once said to me: ‘The problem is that we’re all amateurs at what you do professionally, and whereas you wouldn’t contemplate entering into ‘our world’, modern technology, enables us to dabble and participate in yours, I’m afraid to say.’ Wise man.”

      This was and always will be the core of the problem. In times gone past when individuals decide to do it for themselves they had enough self critique to go and get some evening classes at least so their final outcomes would not be a evil assault on the sensors. In the past most people had respect for the professional artist in whatever field.

      The current mood is that of self serving narcissism which results in a culture of “It must be good because I made and that person on Flickr said I was awesome”

      Sadly this has never been a path of enlightenment to good self critique

  • Jon Vagg November 25, 2010   Reply →

    I remember seeing this news item, I think on the BBC news website – but without any pics. Presumably the pic was shot on a mobile phone, and if I remember rightly the police and, I think, the RSPCA and some local people with horse boxes sorted out it relatively quickly. I’d guess the local newspaper editor’s choices were that pic, a more professional pic of a police ‘do not cross’ line or a horse peering out of a horse box after being rounded up, or no pic at all. But you’re right, no pic, or a Lego one, might have been better!

    Because my own blog is primarily about writing (fiction and training materials) it’s not always easy to find pics that usefully illustrate the things I blog about, unless I spend an inordinate amount of time looking at royalty-free pics from stock image sites. Maybe I’d better dig out my kids’ old Lego…

    • Glass Eye November 25, 2010   Reply →

      Of course I haven’t seen the paper’s follow-up to this story, but if I’d been running the desk I would have gone with the no pic option. That, or get someone out early to get a shot of the rounded-up horses if possible. Of course for all I know they may have tried this and circumstances conspired to make it impossible to get anything. I do know how hard it is to run a picture desk, but sometimes it’s worth just admitting you have nothing to offer picture-wise. Certainly less embarrassing than running this kind of photo.

  • chalkboardchestnuts November 25, 2010   Reply →

    I love horses, what’s your problem?

    • Glass Eye November 25, 2010   Reply →

      I love them too, but couldn’t eat a whole one.

  • andyspex November 25, 2010   Reply →

    It’s funny you should mention the Portsmouth News article, I was reading your blog and thinking of that picture. I don’t normally read the local rag but was interested as I had taken a few pictures there the day before.

    • Glass Eye November 25, 2010   Reply →

      If only you’d been there on the night of the fire! I’m sure The News would gladly have had the pictures off you in return for a “Picture submitted” byline. Those are worth something, apparently 😉

  • villagethinking November 25, 2010   Reply →

    Those were horses?

    Just for you know what’s and giggles, the next time I’m out covering a story for the weekly paper I work for, I’ll pixelate one of my pictures in photoshop and send it to my editor. Just to see what her response is.

    Probably, “uh…is your camera broken?” or “Very funny, now send me the LEGO version.”

    Great piece, and congrats on making Freshly Pressed.

    Laura Adams

    • Glass Eye November 25, 2010   Reply →

      Maybe newspapers could re-engage their readers by having “join the pixels” photos where the reader has to fill in the lines and then colour them in to reveal the news picture. I’m a genius with these ideas!

      Thank you, Laura. I had no idea what Freshly Pressed meant until yesterday!

  • Todd Fitchette November 25, 2010   Reply →

    This seems to be the standard practice in journalism period. Newspapers seem to not care about quality, but instead are focused solely on filling the white space left over after the ad staff gets done.
    This lack of quality has lead to a lack of readers, which is the downward spiral that publishers can’t seem to figure their way out of.
    Isn’t it amazing that the publications that do focus on high quality attract more readers?
    It’s not rocket science!

    • Glass Eye November 25, 2010   Reply →

      Todd, it’s nail on the head time again. I saw this start to happen almost 20 years ago when freelancing for a local paper. Middle management started to resent the fees I was earning. The fact that I was willing to pull the shifts for two in return for the fees didn’t enter their heads. The fact that readers would write in to appreciate my photos probably didn’t occur to them. It was all down to treating readers like idiots and charging advertisers as much as possible.

      The results have been coming home to roost ever since.

  • Lenny November 25, 2010   Reply →

    Great one – which got tweeted ! ;D

  • michaeleriksson November 25, 2010   Reply →

    Poor photos?

    Well, if that was the main problem, I could live with it.

    Unfortunately, this is far from the case: The actual text often contains gross errors and is stylistically poor. (What happened to editors?) The background research tends to be lacking. The reasoning and logic used is faulty more often than not. It is usually clear that the journalist is less informed and intelligent than the educated reader. In many cases, at least in my native Sweden, the articles themselves (not just editorials and the like) are written to fit an ideological agenda or an ideologically determined world-view, rather than to inform objectively.

    The problem is not photo-journalism—the problem is journalism!

    • Glass Eye November 26, 2010   Reply →

      Of course as a photographer I’d always say (tongue in cheek) that the photos are more important than the words. But I absolutely agree with you.

      It never was the editor’s job to check facts, spelling and grammar, but what is missing these days is proof readers, copy editors and sub editors who previously vetted everything that went to print, and were happy to throw something back at the reporter if it needed correcting or improving. All these jobs went when computerised production systems were introduced. This problems this caused have bee compounded by constant asset-stripping, so fewer reporters having to push out more and more material, and formatted to multiple platforms.

      Journalism, both the words and visuals, are in something of a mess. I hope professional journalism comes bak into fashion one day.

      As for the ideological agendas, I don’t have so much of a problem with that provided it’s clear what the publication’s agenda is. Non-aligned journalism can be pretty dull.

      Thanks for your input. Much appreciated.

  • Brooks Anderson November 26, 2010   Reply →

    Tim,

    Nice blog! I’ve added you to my blogroll.

    Cheers,
    Brooks

    • Glass Eye November 26, 2010   Reply →

      Brooks, thank you very much! I’m struggling to keep up with all the comments right now, but will endeavor to check out your blog soon. I also need to update my rather pathetic blog roll soon. It’s on the list of things to do.

  • evilcyber November 26, 2010   Reply →

    Tim, it’s not only the photos, it’s the articles as well. I wonder how some of those writers managed to get their jobs.

    Evil
    http://www.evilcyber.com/

    • Glass Eye November 26, 2010   Reply →

      It’s been an incremental ratcheting effect of cost cutting at newspapers. Shave a monkey, give it a computer or a camera, and halve your costs at a stroke. I feel for those left in newspapers. Undervalued, undertrained and underpaid. The results are predictable.

      • evilcyber November 28, 2010   Reply →

        Yes, indeed. And it turns into a vicious circle: less quality equals less readers that will justify buying a newspaper, which in return equals cutting costs (again).

        Evil
        http://www.evilcyber.com/

        • Glass Eye November 28, 2010   Reply →

          The rot started when publishers saw cost-cutting as a way of generating profits, which translated into bigger dividends. Big mistake, because of course this business model was only ever going to work for a couple of years. After that, the product was critically damaged.

  • TJ Stallings November 26, 2010   Reply →

    THANK YOU for acknowledging a growing trend of substandard work in newspapers. Even the AP is on the downhill slide.

    • Glass Eye November 26, 2010   Reply →

      It’s the same all over. Agencies struggle as newspapers and magazines struggle and cut costs. It goes right up the chain and has an inevitable effect on quality.

      Just a small example, but about 3 or 4 years ago a local weekly paper asked if I’d cover some shifts while their staff were sick/on holiday or whatever. The rates were awful, so I insisted I retained copyright and handled my own reprint sales (out of principle rather than wanting to handle a few print sales!).

      The editor LOVED my work, said they’d had several freelancers who were rubbish and I was so much better than their other contributors. BUT they wouldn’t tolerate me retaining copyright or handling my own print sales. They wanted top quality, creative images, copyright and print sales all for a pathetic £80 a day fee. I haven’t worked for them since and they carry on using numpties. It’s their choice really.

  • Noelle G. November 26, 2010   Reply →

    The extent to which photojournalism standards have been dropped is certainly a shame – especially since there are so many aspiring photographers out there who could do far better work if given the chance! A friend of mine, for example, is studying journalism in college, and her work is absolutely outstanding.

    Here’s an example of some of her work (and this is an example of awesome photography, by the way – not a submission to your competition!). Enjoy!

    http://www.wix.com/alibibbo/photography

    • Glass Eye November 26, 2010   Reply →

      I fear that photojournalists have had to become self-funding, which limits the exposure of talent to only those who can afford to fund their own work.

      Then when they come to sell that work they are liable to sell too cheaply, being understandably keen to claw back the money spent shooting their work. And who is going to buy this work anyway when there is always someone else willing to give their photos away for free? It’s a vicious circle and it hasn’t fully turned yet. I wish your friend well, but she’s facing fierce competition in an over-supplied market.

  • curtisneeley November 27, 2010   Reply →

    I once considered photography a skill that could be taught and have given a great many lessons. I will still occasionally but the first lesson or philosophy required is to dispel all the “photography skills” the student bought and that came with their camera manual. Even these are beginning to disappear.

    The Earth was once thought to be flat by most and photography was considered an art or a skill by most near the close of the second millennium. It is no longer though to be by the masses of people and these includ myself.

    • Glass Eye November 27, 2010   Reply →

      I’ve seen other photographers referring to the “de-skilling” of photography, but I don’t see it in the real world. Anyone trying to offer professional photography will quickly find that the in-built “skills” of the camera technology soon keel over under the pressures of working to a brief, being creative, keeping within deadline and all the while keeping subjects calm and composed.

      Are you trying to tell me the Earth isn’t flat?

  • Elisabeth November 28, 2010   Reply →

    You are on front page of WordPress today – so I saw your post.

    I am a print editor/journalist who has given up on my beloved print and is now online.

    I could not agree more with falling standards.

    • Glass Eye November 28, 2010   Reply →

      Many talented people have given up on the journalistic industry. We’re left with what we have, plus the efforts of readers offering to work for free.

  • Elisabeth November 28, 2010   Reply →

    Whoops! What I meant to say was that I could not agree more that falling standards in (photo) journalism are a reality.

    (Danger of trying to comment when beating the clock…time to go!)

  • adebond November 28, 2010   Reply →

    I think the question has to be asked “What is better? A poor photograph that was captured by an amateur on below par equipment because it was a fleeting moment or happened when no one else was around, or no photograph at all?”.

    I agree that editors going for the cheapest option, typically free, instead of employing staff photographers or freelancers is something to be discouraged. But the initial images of the US Airways flight landing on the Hudson River were no less dramatic because they were captured on a camera phone.

    • Glass Eye November 28, 2010   Reply →

      They had the benefit of being legible pictures (through the benefit of being take in daylight). And a much bigger story than this. If all circumstances conspire to prevent a picture being taken which actually shows what happened, then I would suggest it’s as good as no picture at all having been taken.

      There are issues around amateurs taking pictures in situations where they might put themselves or others in danger, or might be ignoring civic duty in preference for getting a snap they can SMS to friends, but that subject is probably best left for another blog article!

  • Babygirl November 28, 2010   Reply →

    Very Informative post

  • Intricate Perspectives November 28, 2010   Reply →

    Well stated. Earlier this year, there was a big storm in Connecticut. A local paper discussed the damage and showed a picture of a broken twig. No kidding. It was taken by a staff member too, not a local reader! I got to work the next day and there were massive trees completely uprooted everywhere. One tree crashed right through our office building. But the broken twig was the “newsworthy” shot. I just don’t know sometimes!

    • Glass Eye November 29, 2010   Reply →

      But that poor twig! 😀 Perhaps the staffer was trying to be arty or ironic. Not really their job to be so though. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  • My Camera, My Friend November 29, 2010   Reply →

    I’ve heard a lot about the demise of photojournalism because of these declining standards. Fortunatly, my city’s paper still hires experienced photographers.

    • Glass Eye November 29, 2010   Reply →

      Which city is that? I’d like to move there 🙂

  • pogomcl November 29, 2010   Reply →

    well the Indy got hit for a bad impersonation of dead Nazi

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2010/nov/24/independent-samuel-kunz-nazi-croatan-actor

    Independent faces legal threat for ‘Nazi war criminal

    funny how papers do this constantly.
    not so good for credibility and worse for the pockets.

  • curtisneeley November 29, 2010   Reply →

    They are not paying a professional salary for photography and if they are the reasons that they are not profitable could not be more obvious. How many lawyers are aware that moral rights are included in S Title 17. The VARA Act.

  • Peter Garner November 29, 2010   Reply →

    Yes, the picture’s terrible, but it also serves to compensate for the lack of decent copy to go with it: if you can make a picture big enough then it means to have to write less to accompany it. I’m surprised that papers aren’t getting “citizen journalists” to write for them as well to fill those column inches.. oh wait, aren’t these call comments?

    Seriously though, I wonder if on local papers at least we’re not heading back to the days when papers were full of text with the occasional picture? My local “group” only ever seems to put postage-stamp sized pictures on their web site, and clicking through invariably reveals .. a slightly larger postage stamp.

    • Glass Eye November 29, 2010   Reply →

      I once worked on a paper that had a “Community News” section. A double page spread of nonsense about pub quiz night results and darts tournaments. The copy was awful, the pictures dull (group after group after group), and this was all pre-digital and all supplied by “Community Reporters” (aka citizen journalists). Of course they weren’t paid, which seemed a fair trade since I don’t recall any advertiser being misguided enough to place ads on these pages.

      I agree that web versions are not well handled at all. Papers just don’t seem to get online requirements. Maybe when they have to start making tablet editions and charging for them, they’ll get their act together.

  • Neil November 29, 2010   Reply →

    There is something to be said for using LEGO recreations of news events. An example (and check out the rest of Balakov’s work for more examples):

    • Glass Eye November 29, 2010   Reply →

      Actually, Neil’s creations are far better than my effort. Worth a look at his website too: http://www.mikestimpson.com/about/

      • Glass Eye November 29, 2010   Reply →

        I don’t understand what this is about ads. The link is to another photographer’s blog. Probably easier if I just remove the whole string of comments and replies, because I don’t have time to try and work out what I’m meant to be editing and what I’m meant to be leaving in.

        Take care

        Tim

  • Keith Meatheringham November 30, 2010   Reply →

    Tim,

    Shocking! Any old crap will do if it fills a space and is free!

    Would they use news copy from an amateur writer and include grammar & spelling mistakes, just because it was free? I think not! So why use a picture which is not suitable for publication?

    Just shows what a state the industry is in.

    • Glass Eye November 30, 2010   Reply →

      Keith, you’re right it is shocking. I’ve seen some rubbish in local papers, but this has to be the worst example.

      My fear is that now that local newspapers have stripped out the training and career structure for press photography, there’s nothing to replace it and talent won’t be rising up to national news level. Let’s hope this example caused a stir in the newsroom and that we won’t see its like again.

      Tim

  • Paul David Drabble November 30, 2010   Reply →

    Brilliant post Tim but having read your update I have to ask do we know it was a citizen journalist who too the offending image or could it be that the image was actually taken by a full time freelancer who has been forced into buying Lego equipment due the ever diminishing rates paid by newspapers, magazines, PR companies and their clients?

    Either way it amounts to the same thing profit before quality.

    • Glass Eye November 30, 2010   Reply →

      Hi Paul, high praise coming from you, thank you 🙂

      Perhaps it was a reporter trying to be clever, but if I recall correctly from the original article it is in fact a still from a reader’s camera. Of course if this is what press photographers now have to compete with, we’ll all be using LEGO cameras soon.

      I wonder if I can get any free LEGO for all this plugging I’ve given them? 😀

  • Valerie Evans November 30, 2010   Reply →

    Tim, I always love a good rant, whether I’m giving it or reading it. Therapeutic, I think they call it. On the matter in hand, I think you only have to look at regional television broadcasting to see the abysmal levels to which local media can sink. Frankly, I’m too embarrased to watch STV, and it doesn’t make me feel much better when I’m elsewhere in the country and I see the local TV there is just as bad. With that miserable benchmark, what are the chances the print media is going to do any better? I despair. And then I go to the internet and find a variety of sources which are less jingoistic and amateurish.

    • Glass Eye November 30, 2010   Reply →

      Ah yes, local TV news. Oh my word, what a mess. And local AND national news reports where they’ve sent the reporter along with a video camera on a tripod, so the background is beautifully sharp as the reporter delivers their piece, eye-strainingly out of focus, to camera with no video or sound operator to help them. The rot creeps up, and that’s in an industry which has often had better funding than newspapers.

      There is some quality on the web, but is it sustainable? Are these alternative news feeds making money, or being bank-rolled in the hope that they might make money one day?

  • MH Media November 30, 2010   Reply →

    “Are these alternative news feeds making money, or being bank-rolled in the hope that they might make money one day?”

    Isn’t that what they’re (still) saying about Twitter?

    • Glass Eye November 30, 2010   Reply →

      And Facebook and flickr and… I fear another dot bubble burst some time when all these things are suddenly seen for that they are: digital, disposable platforms. I’m not criticizing them, in fact I use them myself (not flickr for some reason), but I do think they are great ideas which the net makes easy to get up and running, but almost impossible to make actual money from (ignoring what investment bankers “think” they’d be worth if all the data potential was realised).

      I’m sure I’m wrong and Facebook makes tons of cash through ads or whatever, but I just threw FB in as an example. There are many sites, some carrying news, which are just a sink hole for money with no clear way of making proper revenues in future.

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