Can Photojournalism Survive in the Instagram Era?


Former Marine Infantry Sergeant Jeff Gramlich with his family in Buffalo, New York. From ‘Stories from Iraq and Afghanistan, 2011’ by Jennifer Karady.

With newspapers laying off photographers and picture editors, and the rise of ‘citizen journalism’, can traditional photojournalism survive? Nonprofit news organization Mother Jones has published an interesting interview with photographer Fred Richin, whose new book ‘Bending the Frame: Photojournalism, Documentary and the Citizen’ aims to explore the current state of the profession, and answer some of the questions about its future. 

Fred Richin is a Pulitzer prize nominated photographer, writer, and publisher, and former photo editor of the New York Times magazine. Mother Jones describes his new book as ‘a vigorous wake-up call to photojournalists to innovate or die’.

In the interview, Richin describes what the recent Chicago Sun-Times layoffs mean for photographers: ‘Given today’s budgets for journalism, my guess is that quite a few photographers will be fired in the near future. But I certainly hope that many visual journalists will be hired or funded along the way as well – we urgently need their perspectives.’ 

An Afghan soldier protects his face from a dust storm. Balazs Gardi /, Creative Commons.

For Richin, the revolution occurring in his trade is not all bad news. Richin describes modern photojournalism as ‘a hybrid enterprise of amateurs and professionals’, but he isn’t against the former camp, saying ‘many who are making cellphone images [have] a stake in the outcome of what they are depicting. In some ways this makes their work more honest’.

But what photojournalism really needs, suggests Richin, are ‘curators to filter this overabundance, more than […] new legions of photographers’. Richin makes an interesting point about so-called ‘citizen journalism’, saying ‘citizen journalism is not only sending in comments and making images with cellphones but also supporting good journalism, including photography. Citizen journalism is not only the right to self-express but the right to act like a citizen and not a consumer’.



Photojournalists, like almost any journalists, got scared, lazy and as a consequence irrelevant. You don’t need to go to Iraq to get a good story. The corruption is through the roof right here. Get yourself a superzoom and shoot a local developer giving bribe to a local councilman, go to a local highschool and shoot drug dealers, go to DC area and shoot all those government contractors bribing GSA purchasing managers and DoD generals…


First. What do we expect from folks in charge whom have no idea of the consequences of their decisions? Yes. An iPhone is a very capable device. I have nothing against folks using them. Even my cheap Samsung takes a few nice snaps. However, I like buttons that give me instant adjustments to a given situation, and a form factor based on decades of evolution. How many good shots have we missed because some dope was thumbing through a menu to punch up a setting? Of course, the camera is just a tool. What matters is whose doing the shooting. Great. Then answer this: Whom brings a knife to a gun fight?

Second. Let’s train those folks on how to use their iPhones (knives) better. Like the say goes: The more you polish a turd.


Is the new Nokia Lumia 1020 a tool for a photojournalist or just a niche hobby product that will soon die away?

Donnie G

The dynamics of the marketplace have flipped 180 degrees among today’s news media consumers. Whereas, in the days before the widespread availability of phones that were equipped with cameras and video capture capabilities, the consumer expected a very high level of image quality and story telling proficiency from the images that accompanied a news article; and that’s why photojournalists existed. Today however, it’s all about quantity of content instead of quality of content, and today’s average news consumer, having been trained to accept this tradeoff through years of daily social media exposure, “i.e., facebook, etc.”, is no longer aware of the difference. Yes, every once in a while, some good quality content from a neophyte image maker will get published, but the majority of content will simply garner bragging rights for the person who can get their garbage published first anywhere, just like on facebook. Garbage in, garbage out, is now the mainstream journalism standard.

M Lammerse

No complains here in Japan.


Examine any centralized news organization and there are layers upon layers of managers, editors, politicians, and lawyers denying free expression unbeknownst to the public. This secretiveness is passe and has been rejected by mankind. The information market has beat down those who cannot compete in an open world. The dying traditional media companies are merging together desperate for the last bubble of air as they rapidly sink on a torpedoed ship. Journalists have to re-learn their craft with video, still, graphics, words, and social media. Then reappear in the workforce sans centralized editorial, advertiser, and government censorship — free to compose, create, and submit their works to mankind. Otherwise journalists will not be able to compete in the information marketplace alongside billions of social media contributors.


Unfortunately, those “centralized news organizations” are the only institution left that still has the resources, technology, and (dwindling) prestige to expose business and government when they work to oppress the citizenry. When the big news organizations are gone, we the people will live under the iron boot heel of a tyranny unparalleled in this or any other century.


I am much more afraid of the NSA and search engine censorship than I am worried about Reuters.


Ritchin makes a crucial point which is that we need more “metaphotographers” or curators who can assign meaning or make sense out of all the pictures that are gathered around events. More and more finding meaningful images is the most crucial task – every bit as important as making them. The filtering process is what creates meaning for news and events disseminated online.

Pictures and cameras are cheap now and no one cares much about the gear, although I think a journalist working a violent demonstration might find an iPhone a little safer to use than a big dslr.

We are all data managers now but some data managers are more equal than others.


Agh… The quality of journalism is going to he’ll in a hand basket. Fred Ritchin is not spelled “Richin”


The centralized media model is a thing of the past. Cliche photography of pre-authorized subjects, which has been cleared and approved by higher-ups, are old, boring, and to put it mildly, a joke. A while back, technology empowered us. There’s no going back. We are free.


It is better if the camera now have Wifi or 3G connection, and easy way to upload to social media.
also in camera editing/ effect


As a photojournalist I feel Rush Limbaugh said it best regarding Newspapers:
Para phrase ” They are going out of business due to bad business decisions, not incoming technology “.

Didn’t one of the wealthiest businessman on the planet recently buy a string of ‘Local’ Newspapers?.

Remember this: Anyone attending a New York Philharmonic performance can know when a musical ‘error’ takes place, even though the listener may have no knowledge of ‘Music’.

It is the same with Photojournalism. People know a good image when they see it. Whether captured by a ‘Pro” or a ‘Consumer’.

I produce on a continuous basis images that are ‘good’.

The editors can not drum up enough ‘Good’ ‘Consumer’ pics to fill the paper on a continuous basis. There are only so many newsworthy moments and not every “Consumer’ photographer knows how to capture the moment.

It takes ‘Good’ pictures to get the readers to buy the paper on a regular basis.

One reason why they do is my newspaper publishes my pictures.


The magic of social media can be seen daily. Asiana 214 coverage was initiated and continues to be led on social media. The Trayon Martin murder trial, Syria, Libya, Egypt, US Occupied Palestine, Afghanistan, etc. are all led by social media as well. Centralized media organizations are trailing social media and falling further behind.


It’s all nice and well filtering interviews that show the current state of affairs under a benign light. Of course this ‘citizen journalism’ thing sounds pretty cool, but ultimately is just a pile of BS – the kind of BS CEOs like to impinge on us so we can accept the high unemplyment rates (in contrast with their obscene remunerations).
Unemployment is not an abstraction, nor something that only happens outside our door. Does anybody here know what it means to be unemployed? Did anybody here experience the despair of having kids to feed and having to let them go to school without a proper meal? Or facing the day you’ll have to pay the rent or mortgage and having no money? Well, this happens in the real world, outside this shell made of cell phones that take “professional quality’ (gasp!) pics and apps.
It is a serious matter. The fact that photojournalists endorse or mitigate it doesn’t make it any better or more acceptable.
Sometimes we should give these matters some serious thought.


Nonsense. The jobs disappeared because readers, viewers, and advertisers migrated to digital and online media, where photo supply is abundant and costs are low. Traditional photo journalists were a closed shop and entry was never an easy thing. Don’t blame CEOS. Blame your own and everyone else’s willful behavior.


Jkoch2, I’m sorry but the nonsense is on you. Your reply is typical of a superficial, short-sighted person who refuses to think beyond appearances. I’m sorry you think that way.
And that remark about ‘willful behavior’ is just silly and pathetic.


I don’t understand why the word “Survive” is used in the referenced article. Instagram, Vine, Facebook, Twitter and social media are in the process of REPLACING centralized media organizations which today number in the 100s to 1000s eliminating archaic rules for *authorized* journalism. Social Media will further spawn new models, roles, and organizations which we cannot imagine today.

Doug Pardee

Asked about “video supplanting photography”, he says, “A non-linear narrative that allows for increased complexity and depth, and encourages both subject and reader to have greater involvement, will eventually emerge more fully from the digital environment. This, in a sense, is the more profound democratization of media.”

Whatever that means.

I think video is the real threat to the traditional photojournalist, not citizens. Still photography will eventually join B&W on the sidelines. The question is how long it’ll take until that happens.


> the excessive sacrifice of journalistic quality and integrity the other organizations will be guilty of.

What the heck does that even mean?

People have recorded moments for tens of thousands of years, by way of painting and writing. That is what people do: they witness and participate, and record it with the materials at hand.

Very recently, people invented a way to do it with images that are light reflections captured chemically that augment the writing and drawing. In a very short period of time relative to chemical image capture, it has become affordable and omnipresent that people can carry imaging devices at all times that capture light reflections. There is no invention or haven of “journalism integrity” to be found in these recent amalgamations that can stockpile imagery.

Within the next 20 years, it will likely be possible to record every moment in a person’s life (GoPro on your hip) and do it affordably. Filter that through any concept of “true photojournalism.”

Eric Hensel

I’m 60 years old.
Print journalism is dead. Photojournalism will soldier on with paradigm shifts, as will written journalism, but not newspapers…


Let’s see, what else is dead? Vinyl? No. Audio cassettes? No. VHS? Maybe. Laser disc? Yeah. HD-DVD? Definitely. Film? Not yet. Is my office paperless after years of promises that paper was dead? Not even close. You’re 60 years old. You should know better. The only things that are dead or effectively dead are formats that never really caught on in the first place. As they say, the old tricks are the best tricks.

Mark B.

Vinyl, audio tapes, VHS, laser disc, film are all dead in the mass market. I can’t remember the last time I saw blank audiotape. Vinyl and film still have a small niche market, but will never enjoy the market they once had.

Eric Hensel

dead, but not buried? 😉
We both know better, Right?


Howard, you forgot to mention CD. It may not be quite dead yet, but it isn’t moving much anyway. You could also have added SACD and DVD-Audio, the audiophile formats of the early 2000s.


True photojournalism has to maintain very strict standards to avoid accusations of sensationalism or deception that invariably arise if anything other than white balance of a photo is corrected. So now we’re to believe that the public wants to see Instagram shots from random bystanders in a newspaper? Instagram filters alter reality to the point that the photo can no longer be called unaltered or realistic or anything other than an artistic interpretation, and people with smartphones usually get snapshots.
Perhaps photojournalists do need to innovate, but the true responsibility for innovation sits squarely in the laps of a paper’s management. Maybe enough papers will cut the wrong things that those who stick to their guns and find novel ways to monetize their product, both hard copy and their online presence, will have all the demand coming from people not willing to put up with the excessive sacrifice of journalistic quality and integrity the other organizations will be guilty of.


I think that cheapskate editors will go with the instagram stuff until people start complaining it was better, both artistically and journalistically, when pro’s were doing it.

i predict we will see the return of the Don McCullins before long…


hrm, people with smartphones, and some talent..

i think professional photojournalists have to do two things.. first prove that it isn’t the equipment, but the years of shooting experience, and training.. second, demonstrate why the equipment enables them to get the shots that no mobile device can get..

also, the public has to want a higher quality of work, than an untrained citizen journalist, THAT falls upon the editor to learn what to deliver, and whom to get their images from..


Why will they complain? They aren’t reading anyway.

Carl GS

…..And bona-fide journalists will always have an advantage
because they are PROFESSIONALS. The LEICA revolutionized
photojournalisim. A tool is a tool. NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC
has a pocket-sized book on Cell Phone photography. The new
MINOX spy camera?


Photojournalsts “need to” or “must”?

How can mendicants be chosers or regulators?

Honor among beggars?

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