Photos do not tell whole story


Frontlines


There is something strange about Reuters reporting on a story involving CNN, but that’s what I read last week. CNN cut about 50 employees at the beginning of November deemed replaceable by “technological advances.” The British Journal of Photography picked up the story yesterday, citing that “a dozen” photojournalists were part of the firings. Cuts were quietly made in Miami, Washington, D.C., New York, Los Angeles and Atlanta, according to Reuters.

Jack Womack, CNN’s senior vice president of domestic news operations, wrote to his staff, as reported by Reuters: “For the past three years, we have been analyzing our work process across Image + Sound, both in the field and in our editing and production areas. … Consumer and pro-sumer technologies are simpler and more accessible. Small cameras are now high broadcast quality. More of this technology is in the hands of more people. After completing this analysis, CNN determined that some photojournalists will be departing the company.”

Apart from the obvious mistreatment of employees, this is damaging to journalism.

I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that a corporation as big as CNN would do something like this if only for financial reasons — saving money out of insatiability rather than necessity. But it is the readers, viewers or Web surfers who will lose. First-hand news reporting will decline, and a trend of reporters re-reporting what colleagues of other publications write will continue. Raw news, or the raw product, will be abstracted a little more with every journalist replaced by so-called more efficient technological advances.

Reuters, The Associated Press and Agence France-Presse remain three of the biggest newswires with thousands of journalists all over the world. They will remain leaders in primary reporting, but CNN donates to a trend of reliance on just those wires rather than doing the job itself.

It seems like philosopher Noam Chomsky and economist Edward Herman’s propaganda model of political economy holds true. As one of the five filters, ownership matters hugely in this case as CNN aims to sacrifice in order to save money. Higher-ups have taken this step without regard for unbiased, first-hand reporting.

All the same goes for photojournalism. Getty Images remains one of the world’s biggest stock-photo agencies, but they do not tell the whole story. I have become attached to photojournalism sites such as The New York Times’ Lens or the National Geographic photography section, because those photojournalists tell the story behind the image. Do yourself a favor: visit one of these photo rolls, and do not read the rest of this column. Make up your own mind.

I have already made up mine. Studying the decline of journalistic professionalism, especially in cable news, I can say this continues the trend. Fox News will continue to be based entirely on profits — I refuse to believe the majority of their anchors believe what they say, but viewers certainly do. And CNN apparently has joined the club, if not as obviously and not just right leaning, but simply less professional and more profit-oriented.

Here is an interesting quip relating to this story. And I got the story, once again, behind the photo, from The British Journal of Photography. Photojournalist Daniel Morel found himself in the middle of a legal battle after AFP and CNN, among others, distributed his award-winning photo of a woman under the Haiti earthquake rubble. He posted the photos to Twitter, at which point social media did its worst. Getty Images was also involved in the scandal. I say this to prove the value of photographers to the first-hand reports from the scene. Maybe it is a bit naïve to think that more professional photojournalists are good, but I hold there is some practical truth behind this too. I will not invoke a fight over copyright and such, only the fact that these people are necessary, and CNN could do with keeping them rather than replacing them with technology, part of which is CNN’s user-generated content.

They say social media will play a big role in this. But that doesn’t mean they cannot report alongside the trained journalists. A man on the street can tell a story, but it matters who he is and how he tells the story. The readership he gets is much more different than a Washington Post reporter, for example. And this does not take into account skill, just credibility. Anyone can take a photo and write two lines below it. But a photo does not tell the full story, the journalist does.

Aleksi Tzatzev is School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in English and political science. He is an associate news editor at The Daily Targum.


By Aleksi Tzatzev

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