You push the button, we do the rest
With almost everyone packing pixels nowadays, spot-news photographers are the most endangered species at our newspapers.
Time and again in recent years, private citizens equipped with cell phones and simple digital cameras have beaten the pros with faster, often better and frequently exclusive pictures of breaking events. The phenomenon is so common that it’s old news.
What’s different now is that the Associated Press has established a formal relationship with NowPublic.Com, an up-and-coming repository of citizen journalism, to expeditiously deliver material deposited on its site into the hands of the mainstream media.
While citizen-generated articles will continue to require a fair amount of vetting before most outlets dare to use them, properly authenticated photos and video clips soon will flow into the mainstream news stream about as fast as stuff from accredited pros.
Because citizen shooters vastly outnumber professional journalists – and they're increasingly aware of how to get their work published – it stands to reason that they will begin scooping the pros on more and more breaking news, thus rendering staff photographers substantially superfluous. Case in point:
Having joined the crowds in San Francisco who spent Super Bowl Sunday watching the Queen Mary 2 nose under the Golden Gate Bridge, I hastened home to compare the coverage at Flikr.Com with that of the San Francisco Chronicle.
Although the Chronicle had several fine photographers stationed at key vantage points to record the arrival of the largest ship ever to enter San Francsico Bay, their shots were no better – and posted no more rapidly – than those taken by the Flikr clickers. See the two examples below.
Next time something like this happens, the Chronicle could save a ton of overtime by getting one of the local camera shops to sponsor a contest encouraging contributions from the thousands of amateurs planning to Canon-ize the spectacle. In the process, the paper would prove to readers, advertisers and – significantly – itself just how relevant it remains.
Notwithstanding the potential contribution of citizen shooters, staff photographers will be needed in the foreseeable future to shoot feature layouts, enterprise projects and perhaps the odd video. But video production requires far more than point-and-shoot skills, which at the moment may be more abundant in the citizen press corps than among most traditional still photographers.
With inexpensive auto-focus and image-stabilization cameras now widely available – and PhotoShop at hand to rescue any less-than-successful effort – even reporters could be trained to take some decent shots.
If the Speed Graphic-toting Jimmy Olsen were still around, you couldn't blame him for taking a buyout.