Photojournalism Dead, Declares Former Magnum Head

Newspapers are fading. News media is in a limbo of redefinition. Now we can add photojournalism to that list of defunct media, said Neil Burgess, head of London-based photo agency NB Pictures. Burgess is also the former head of Network Photographers and Magnum Photos, and twice Chairman of World Press Photo, and has spent much of his life working on social documentary photography and 25 years as a photojournalist.

In an opinion piece on EPUK, Burgess says he’s lived to see the ups and downs of the journalism industry, but nowadays he says photojournalism might never come back:

Seven British-based photographers won prizes at the ‘World Press Photo’ competition this year and not one of them was financed by a British news organisation. But this is not just a UK problem. Look at TIME and Newsweek, they are a joke. I cannot imagine anyone buys them on the news-stand anymore. I suspect they only still exist because thousands of schools, and libraries and colleges around the world have forgotten to cancel their subscriptions. Even though they have some great names in photojournalism on their mastheads, when did you last see a photo-essay of any significance in these news magazines?

News organizations are simply not funding photojournalists’ work, Burgess says. Photographers are paid for event coverage (think of the typical Associated Press image) for sports and press conferences, but Burgess points out that original storytelling and photojournalism that addresses actual issues are often neglected:

I believe we owe it to our children to tell them that the profession of ‘photojournalist’ no longer exists. There are thousands of the poor bastards, creating massive debt for themselves hoping to graduate and get a job which no-one is prepared to pay for anymore.

Even when photographers create brilliant stories and the magazine editors really want to publish them, they cannot pay a realistic price for the work.

Overall, some pretty heavy words, but the undervalued status of photojournalism is certainly something to be concerned about. What do you think — is photojournalism dead forever, or will it come back?

Image Credit: The Grim Reaper by Helico

  • SHouseholder

    I would say that it isn't dead, but is changing. The traditional photo essay he is talking could be dead but I believe that people will always want to look at good visual stories and always will. Therefore, things like MediaStorm and other multimedia organizations need to be embraced because that is the future, maybe not print but there is a future.

  • facebook-1052255488

    Photojournalism as a profession may be seriously on the wane, but I think there's a whole generation of photojournalists recording compelling and wonderful images. Not necessarily 'young' photojournalists, but new to the technology.

    Now that digital technology has brought the cost of imaging down far enough for everybody access, photojournalism is fast becoming the preferred style of recording significant life events – weddings, graduations, etc. – Storytelling through imagery is simply lacking a viable outlet, now that cost per square inch of published magazine space is so high. Magazines simply can't afford the luxury of the sizes these images really need to be displayed properly.

    Well, at least, that's what I think.

  • Mfhodek

    I don't think photojournalism will ever be dead. Photos give the reader more depth to what they are reading. It's one thing to have a situation described to you in words but to see it gives the reader not only something tangible but also validation that it actually happened. Another matter is the change in how people get their news. With more and more people using websites rather than newspapers or magazines, photojournalists can go more in-depth with their work. Gone are the days of lifeless photo captions, readers can now hear the voices of people in pictures tell their own story through audio slideshows. If anything photojournalism isn't dying but is being reborn to fit the media of choice for the new generation.

  • Hjshj

    The oligarchic photojournalism (of Magnum and similar) is dead. Yes, it is. The TRUE photojournalism is alive then ever.

  • JessicaLum

    Some really encouraging words here, but another question is: regardless of whether photojournalism exists in some form or another, will it survive as a career option when there simply are no news outlets that fund their own journalists?

  • FullMetalPhotog

    I would say we are seeing the rise of the independent contractor in photojournalism. In times past a photographer needed a magazine or AP to get their support. Developing and processing transmitting images. Now with digital cameras and a laptop a photojournalist has that ability himself. In many ways we are heading back to a pre 1940's Capa era where photojournalists will go on their own dime to cover an event then try to sell the images.

    The bad thing is we are seeing less well trained journalists in the field and less support structure for them. In case of them getting hurt or legal entanglements. I also suspect this may be one of the reasons we are seeing more casualties in war photography.

    Where I see a major issue is in the decline of community papers. This means local issues get less coverage and photographers have less opportunity train and develop their journalistic skills.

  • Manny Klystron

    “Seven British-based photographers won prizes at the ‘World Press Photo’ competition this year and not one of them was financed by a British news organisation. But this is not just a UK problem.”

    Sorry, I'm not seeing how that's a “problem” in any way. Watch out! Amateurs are winning awards! Serious problem!

  • seegullmedia

    In my opinion, photojournalism encompasses more than simply photographs. It includes video as well. Every news story you see on television was shot by a photog with a camera. Videos tell equally powerful stories. Sure, the old concept of a photographer taking shots and putting together a photo essay is dying, but the world will always crave compelling stories shot with style and skill. Photojournalism is the art of storytelling, and stories never die. Stories will always need to be told, in one media or another.

  • JohnONolan

    This comes back to basics: Print is dead. Not photojournalism.

    Photographers who are sitting around waiting for some magazine editor to publish their work are dreaming, and they need to wake up.

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  • Pantunfla

    I don’t think that the process of putting together a photo essay is dying, but it surely is waning as a career. It’s happening with journalism as well. The difference is that photojournalism is likely going to remain as ART, just like painting. The bad news is that only a privileged few will make it a career to pay the bills. One thing is certain: This will have to cause an evolution in photojournalism discourse, especially if there are more and more digital cameras with so many functions, because what I’m seeing in most newspapers’ photos are images that can be taken by anyone with a good digital camera.

  • Anonymous

    getting paid to do photojournalism is dead. if one wants to do photoj on one’s own wallet, then i’m sure its alive and thriving. however, not all of us have the luxury to fund our own hobbies.

  • Liufan0019

    In fact, we still need it in daily life!
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  • Donalhusni

    agree : getting paid from photo journalism is dead.

  • Thomas Lawn

    They aren’t amateurs, they’re freelancers. The issue is that the magazines, which used to be a reliable paycheck and excellent access for some of the world’s premier journalists and documentary photographers, aren’t doing that kind of work anymore. Life magazine would send a photographer wherever in the world the action was – now the magazines like Time and Newsweek only send their photographers to press conferences.

    The best and the brightest of the photojournalism community are stuck without corporate backing, which is important when you’re stranded in the Sahara or wherever. They’re left to self-finance their projects, which leads to decreased time and decreased scope. It makes the entire market for journalists unreliable and less attractive to new talents, who may take up weddings, events, or selling cameras.