The State of News Photography

World Press Photo, the University of Stirling and the University of Oxford’s Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism recently surveyed news photographers around the world and have just published the results of the survey.

There is an clear article on Petapixel giving some of the key findings (based on the report’s ‘Executive Summary’), and it also contains a link to the full report – all 76 pages – released by World Press Photo yesterday, so I won’t go into details of the report here, but simply make a few comments.

The photographers sent the survey were  the over 5000 from around the world who submitted work to the 2015 World Press Photo, and about a third of these responded. There were some problems because many of the submissions are made by agencies and the actual photographers were then less likely to get the survey, and non-English speakers were probably less likely to respond as the survey was in English only, but there were still responses from photographers in over a hundred countries; the largest from any country came from Italy with 143 respondents, and just over half came from Europe, with only a perhaps surprisingly low 142 from North America.

Of course only a particular section of working photographers sends in work to WPP, not least because of our perceptions about the kind of work that is successful in these annual competitions. In North America too there are perhaps other annual competitions which attract greater attention than the European-based WPP.

Perhaps the most interesting section of the report for me was on journalistic ethics, where photographers were asked whether they ever staged, manipulate or enhanced their images.

Perhaps surprisingly, only just over a third of news photographers stated they never stage images, with around half saying they sometimes do. As the report comments “This is certainly contrary to codes of practice at most news organisations and indicates an important gap between the codes and what happens in the field”. Unsurprisingly North American photographers were far less likely to do so (56.5% Never) than their European counterparts (29.4%). My own experience in working for a US company in the past certainly suggested a much greater emphasis on journalistic ethics – and not just in photography – than in the UK.

While over three-quarters of photographers agreed that the addition or subtraction of material content (manipulation) in images was a serious issue, only 9.4% stated in this confidential survey that they never did so, with 28.9% claiming they always did! It certainly suggests that such practices are far more routine than I had every suspected, and I think casts serious doubt on the whole practice of our profession.

The whole report contains much more, with a whole section of quotations from the 300 photographers who replied to the open-ended question “so what is important to you?” making particularly interesting reading. The ‘Conclusions’ at the end of the report also make interesting reading, and deserve greater prominence – they seem a little hidden, starting on page 66 of the report. Don’t stop at the ‘Executive Summary’.

One Response to “The State of News Photography”

  1. […] An excellent post on the New York Times Lens blog on a subject I’ve often written about, Staging, Manipulation and Truth in Photography, with comments from some well-known photographers, including Stanley Greene. The post is their response to the survey of photographers who entered for this year’s WPP contest that I wrote about a while back in my post The State of News Photography. […]

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