Another Try


Today I meet another attempt at teaching a class in photojournalism. While I was full time teaching I developed a class in Photojournalism to go along with the outstanding journalism program.

With due diligence I developed an outline and I recruited students from my other classes. The prototype class went twice and the official class went once. Then I retired.

Without an on-campus history, it has been hard to find enough students to fill the class. If the class fails to go then there will never be “continuing” students to add to the current offering. The healthy makeup of the class would be 15 to 20 basic students, 5 or 6 second semester students, and 2 or 3 third semester students. At least that has been the breakdown in the past.

Unfortunately, the best I’ve done for the last few years is 14 new basic students. Today, I only have 8 registered basic students.

When a class fails to interest students it can be for a variety of reasons. Students actually avoid certain teachers that have a bad reputation. The course is offered at the wrong time. The course does not meet students need in either interest or transfer. Sometimes the word does not get out.

Photojournalism is both an art and a science. It has a tremendous past with many important contributions from around the globe. It has its roots in war reporting, but social change in also high on the list. Newspapers and magazines were built upon the words and images that were published. And the high water mark for photojournalism was in the late 1970s. It’s been declining every since.

The large format photo-essay magazines have stopped publication. Newspapers have terminated most of their full time photo-journalists. There are more images available and less qualified image takers.

Is it a field that should be studied? Yes, absolutely, particularly to understand the contributions. Is it a growing professional field? No, decidedly not. It is changing far too quickly to know exactly where it will end up.

The newspapers that still publish are simply handing smartphones to reporters, and they tell them to backup stories with images. Generally they ask them to shoot short video clips, and editors later try to find the “right” image to fit the story.

This leads to the worst type of manipulation, words that can lead, and images that can convince. (If the images actually have the quality)

Is it a coincidence that photojournalism declined in the age of digital imagery? Film always had issues, the equipment was complicated, the chemistry smelled, and it was always uncertain if you actually had the image.

Today, almost everyone has an image maker in their pocket, and everyone has taken so many images that they don’t believe they need any training to improve them.

Why take a class in something that has second nature for years?

Social media, selfies, instagram, it has all been a blur for the last few years. Apple alone has produced more than 1 billion iPhones. There is an estimate that by 2019 there will be 5 billion smartphone users. Smartphones that have cameras.

I’ve done my research for traditional photojournalism that has opened my eyes to some important contributions and interesting facts. My research on the “new photojournalism” is ongoing and very disturbing.

When I was in High school there was the periodic “fight” in the court yard. Everyone heard about it afterwards, and it was retold at various meetings for months afterwards. Not everyone was there, in fact, the retelling was often based upon a friend of a friend. The gist (the winner) was known but the details were sketchy.

On WorldstarHipHop there are thousands of hours of fights. Fights at school, fights in the neighborhood, fights in the home, and fights at the clubs. Hours and hours of young men and young women going at each other with vicious hits and kicks. Often mimicking the mixed martial arts technique of “ground and pound”, where one blow takes the person down and then you jump on him and flail at his head. Only there is no referee to stop the fight.

Thousands of hours of videos taken on smartphones, to be played over and over, as many times as you like.

On YouTube there are thousands of hours of crazy pet videos, cats, dogs, rabbits, and birds. Very entertaining, but they are matched by thousands of hours of people in rage, yelling at clerks, yelling at fast food service, just yelling street corners. I’m afraid to go into Walmart, I’m afraid to go on public transportation, I’m afraid to go in public.

I laugh to myself because I haven’t experienced this in real life. I’m so far removed from where all this is happening. Then, out of the blue, it happened at a local health food store. And the cellphones came out to record it all. I believe people feel they have a right to be uncivil, and perhaps they do, but somehow now they are encouraged.

I thought a module on use of the cellphone as a social documentary device might have be helpful. Now, I wonder if it might somehow be part of the problem.

I remember in the old days, while protesting it was generally calm, until the news media came, then the action started. Well now, the media is with us always.

I have collected hundreds of irate video users that confront people with the statement of “YouTube baby!” or, I’m putting this on Facebook, and you are going to be famous”. Really!

This must be studied, we need to understand, we need to know the impacts. It is happening far too fast, and on such a large scale that we can’t get a grip on it. And it is only going to get worse.