Photojournalism – its relevance in today’s media

Giang Nguyen writes:

In the context of photojournalism in the modern press, Robin Laurance, a photojournalist with many years of experience in covering news and featuring social issues in the UK and USA, argues that "photos should not be just news shots, but thoughtful and imaginative works" that bring out what the journalist cannot express by words.

Having tracked the history of photojournalism back to the early days of London News (1842) when one of the first photos was used by the British press for news coverage, through the contributions of the Daily Mirror but also the US Life magazine to its development, he asked questions about the manipulation of photos e.g. when it is acceptable to arrange particular scenes for shooting, and how much significance the visual evidence could give to news reporting. By showing the example of a fourth Iranian missile being added to a news piece, Laurance argues that modern technology has made image manipulation even easier than before but the ethical question about authenticity remains unchanged. He also raises the issue of differentiation between hard news and the so called ‘emotional background’ often provided by images, especially photographs.

During the discussion which followed, the issue of citizen journalism and the abundance of online images was brought up. Some participants shared the view that photojournalism, because of its very nature, has always used suggestion, even illusion to evoke human perception of reality. Therefore, there is always room for the photojournalist to intervene, either by a simple arrangement of an event or by turning colour photography into back-and-white to get more prominent effects.

Robin Laurance responded to this ethical question by saying that despite the manipulative power of images, photojournalism would play an irreplaceable role in giving eyewitness accounts to events and history. He also believes that despite the popular perception that television's moving pictures have a greater impact than still images, actually iconic events captured in photos have a more lasting memory in people’s mind. And in the era of online imagery, good quality photos are needed more than ever.