Photojournalism in the Age of New Media
February 6, 2012 § Leave a comment
Social media have given photojournalists a million extra eyes in conflict zones. But if a picture can say a thousand words, the trick is finding the right one.
An elderly woman kisses a riot soldier in the streets of Cairo. A building collapses in Tokyo. Bloodied bodies and dismembered limbs fill an infirmary in Benghazi. The images come to us through Twitter and Tumblr and Facebook, captured through mobile phones or Web-ready digital cameras. Far from the grit of revolutionary unrest or the tumult of a natural disaster, average people sit, transfixed.
This story is a familiar one. As new media tools and social networks have become more widely utilized, the powerful images of the world’s crises are delivered directly to the laptops and smartphones of people around the globe. Since Iranian citizens filled the streets of Tehran in 2009 in defiance of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s regime, social media has allowed even the least tech-savvy people around the world to become bystanders to history.
While new media’s value as an organizational tool during global crises has been much debated since the Iranian election protests in 2009, its role in the process of narrative storytelling is palpable. In places like Libya where journalists are outlawed — or disaster zones like post-quake Haiti where regular means of communication are interrupted — the linkages of social networks can be turned into a means of observing (or, in the case of a tech-savvy dictatorship, surveilling) the origins of political unrest or the makings of a world historical moment. But new media also comes with challenges for photojournalists: while a single snapshot may tell a thousand-word story, the trick is to get that story right.
The technical benefits of new media to photojournalists in crisis zones are equivalent to unrefined digital omniscience. A whole universe of photojournalists, both amateur and professional, is made available to the public through social networks, allowing news organizations to ferret out important stories using tools beyond their existing technical capabilities.
“With regards to Twitter, it’s a very useful tool in order to point journalistic organizations towrads potential leads and potential developments in stories,” said Santiago Lyon, director of photography for the Associated Press. The AP, alongside Reuters and Getty Images, provides the vast majority of editorial photos used by American news organizations. “When there’s a breaking story, whether it’s an ongoing crisis or a spot development — like a plane down in the Hudson — we’re very actively trolling social media sites for imagery: performing searches, scraping Twitter and Facebook, soliciting information. There’s a fairly robust mechanism within the AP to identify and capture citizen journalism … once we find something of interest, then it’s incumbent on a specialist to take care of it. Content goes through a specific department for vetting. We look, apply, crosscheck, reference.”
Since the camera phone has essentially turned any casual observor into a potential photojournalist, an extra pair of eyeballs in Libya could eventually become a temporary appendage of a larger news collecting organization. Lyon provides the example of Alaguri, a Benghazi resident who become the AP’s sole set of eyes in Libya in mid-February as Western journalists were just entering the country. “We found a guy in Benghazi in Libya who had posted some pictures onto the Internet,” Lyon said. “We tracked him down through his Facebook account. We made contact, had a conversation, asked relevant questions, ascertained that he was who he said he was, got permissions for his photos and retained him for a couple days of work. Because of that, we were able to have an exclusive look into the vents in Benghazi last weekend when there was no other imagery coming out of Libya. Our customers were using that. It was a great journalistic scoop on the strength of good, virtual, shoeleather reporting and verification.”
If the original source of a photograph cannot be verified, the value of content is called into question. “We have to look at these things on a case-by-case basis. There’s no general blanket approach other than ‘they must be sure’ that the content is what is says to be and the person is in a position to deal with it (the owner, or a proxy),” said Lyon. “Everything is assessed on its value … we see this at times when the material is superseded or overshadowed by our staff material (not as good so we don’t need it), or it’s stuff that we absolutely need because we don’t have it or it’s from a hard-to-get-to location or whatever that may be.”
The Agence France-Presse and Getty Images found themselves in hot water over copyright infringement shortly after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Photographer Daniel Morel managed to post exclusive post-quake images from the devastation in Port-Au-Prince on his Flickr and Twitter accounts. The images were stolen and re-distributed on Twitpic by a Dominican named Lisandro Suero. AFP and Getty licensed and distributed the photos with attribution to Suero to major news organizations — the New York Times, Time Inc, the Washington Post. In December 2010, Morel won a pre-trial victory in federal court against AFP and Getty for copyright infringement. “A news organization didn’t do due diligence,” said Lyon. “It’s absolutely critical. No matter how compelling the content is, we always make sure to deal with the copyright owner.”
While verification can be a technical or legal obstacle for photojournalists utilizing new media as a newsgathering resource, it lies at the heart of the ethical and aesthetic issues of photojournalism and crisis reporting. The sudden influx of raw images from areas ravaged by political conflict and natural disasters may be a wealth of information, and news organizations with limited budgets may be more inclined to rely on citizen journalists on the ground, but they do not necessarily constitute the narrative storytelling at the heart of valuable photojournalism.
This is one piece that i found quite interesting, looking at copy right and or complications that could with mixing social media and photojournalism or just relying on social media to provide the images for a news story. so although we like to think that social media is a good thing and that we can all get news story thought images, news companys that seem to be using social media more than ever are also effecting the photo journalist .
This has always been the propblem with the interent anythink submitted online can be taken or used by anyone, even though there are copy right laws in place, peoplesee and take using images and social media so light hearted that when issues do arise everyone is shocked, it’s the same as going into a darkroom and stealing someones negatives printing them up yourself and selling them.