A lot of people seem to be talking this morning about Dan Gillmor's "The Demise of the Professional Photojournalist." About five people have sent me the link.
Well written and well reasoned though his piece is, I don't think I agree with his premise much at all. The reductio ad absurdum of what's he's saying is that because there are now so many people with cellphones and digicams, we no longer need photojournalists.
Put aside, for a moment, the inherent confusions, in the piece, between primary sources and reporting...I still don't buy the argument. Because everybody is literate and occasionally an amateur writes a good book, does that mean we no longer need book authors? Is your local church obsolete because you can just watch a sermon on TV? Does "outsider," primitive, and amateur art negate the need for artists?
Even one of Mr. Gillmor's own arguments—YouTube.com—seems to me more like an argument against his point than for it. Useful though YouTube might be for disseminating information and providing direct access to primary source material, is it really any substitute for movies or documentaries, or segments on the evening news, or even professionally produced ads? Maybe Bob Sagett and Tom Bergeron are more important to the culture than I realize.
The fact is, good news reporting has always used primary source material. But having more primary source material hardly means we have less need for professional reporting. The opposite might be the case. A photojournalist is someone who makes a concerted investigation into an important event, situation, or condition, trying to tell the truth visually instead of verbally (or at least illustrating words with pictures). That's still as important as it ever was.
Being an eyewitness to ephemeral events as they unfold has never been easy for journalists. But it's also not all that's required of them. Sure, it's wonderful that demotic media are giving us a better chance at having events recorded somehow—it's great that there are now millions of Zapruders. But any journalist worth his or her salt knows that primary source material can distort truth as well as reveal it. We still need investigation, editing, appraisal, objectivity—and much else that the concerted, intentional, attentive professional perspective provides.
Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON
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