My September News Photographer Column:
Word out of Augusta, Georgia that Chronicle Director of Photography John Curry has fallen victim to the budget ax comes as visual journalism can ill afford to lose yet another photo editor.
As more and more papers make deep cuts into the skilled, talented, dedicated (how many positive adjectives do you need?) journalists who produce the content that is journalism I think itâ€™s important to take note of the importance of the visuals editor, the picture editor, the photo manager, director of photography and his/her role in the field.
Visual Journalists need their editors just as reporters and correspondents need theirs. The process of editing photos and stories may be different, but the need is no less for journalism to work.
Photographers, just like writers, become invested by the act of newsgathering in their work. It is the role of photo editors to shepherd work through the publication process. Sometimes it is helping to select the right photos to go with a story and sometimes it is helping to get the less literal photos into the report to enhance the storytelling. Some photo editors fulfill the role of mentor, helping a visual journalist to navigate their way through daily assignments and long-term projects. Sometimes the photo editorâ€™s job is to be the go-between for visual and textual departments within a publication. Some photo editors bridge what can be a daunting divide with grace and aplomb.
In the end, regardless of their skill, talent or critical success, the importance of the visuals editor is being devalued steadily.
The loss of newsroom jobs of all sorts is cause for great alarm. As newsrooms shrink publishers become increasingly willing to rely on the general public to supply the words and images in the news report.
A dangerous precipice awaits democracy as journalism, independent and ethical reporting, continue to take hits. The fourth estate is being slowly eroded into a machine that regurgitates anything it is fed with no conscious thought to news value, ethics or factual substance. The death of a thousand cuts is becoming painfully real in newsrooms from coast to coast.
The shortsightedness of this overall trend is all the more painful when you consider how cavalierly photo editors are removed from the picture.
The NPPA was founded in part to fight for the respect that â€œnews photographersâ€ deserved. Here we are 65-years later and the excuse of maintaining profit margins is being used to erode the strong inroads we have made in establishing the equal role of the visuals editor in the news gathering team.
But when it comes time to make cuts it seems that all the value the visuals editor brings to the newsroom goes out the window. And with it goes the vital role in shaping the visual report. The lesson is not one we should be learning the hard way. We should know intuitively that when you remove the person from the equation who facilitates, communicates, mentors and coaches that the report will suffer.
The talent of the individual visual journalists may still shine at times, but it will be at those other times; when they are most needed, when the chips are down, when the staff is overwhelmed or just plain burned-out, that the visuals editor is going to be most missed and the readers will be most ill served by the loss.