EDITOR’S NOTE: ‘One-trick pony’ journalists a dying breed

An in-depth article in the latest American Journalism Review highlights a phenomenon that’s playing out in the Spirit and other newsrooms across the country, both big and small.

The AJR story centers on the future of journalists who make their living providing photos to news organizations. Increasingly, the article notes, newspapers are employing journalists who write stories and also shoot photos.

Writes Jackie Spinner: “This advent of the new Super Journalist, the photographer who writes and the writer who takes photographs, is creating one of the biggest upheavals in modern journalism ….”

She points to new numbers from the American Society of Newspaper Editors that show jobs for photographers, artists and videographers fell by 43 percent in 2012.

Meanwhile, the number of full-time newspaper reporters dropped by 32 percent in the same period and jobs for copy and layout editors and online producers fell by 27 percent.

Geneva Overholser, former director of the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of Journalism, told Spinner that the issue comes down to economics.

“We feel deep regret that newsrooms are laying off professional photographers, but in so many of these dilemmas, it’s really essential to think about why we all exist,” she said. “We exist because we need to fulfill the information needs of the public.”

Jeff Knox, the director of photography at the Daily Herald in the Chicago suburbs, said staffing pressure has prompted his news organization to move away from separate staffs of news reporters and photographers in favor of cross training – instructing photographers to write basic news stories when they’re on the scene of breaking news and to give reporters the tools they need to capture visuals to run alongside their stories.

“Instead of having 40-something odd reporters and 19 some photographers, we want 60-some journalists,” he said. “We want to fill these gaps.”

Training is a necessary component, Knox told Spinner, because readers deserve quality. “You can’t be a one-trick pony anymore,” he said. “We’re never going to be as good as a writer who’s been doing it for 10 or 15 years. They’re probably not going to take pictures like we do. But we certainly can give readers more.”

With our small editorial staff, the Spirit has long been a place where wearing multiple hats is a plus, but with no letup in the economic pressures of modern journalism, professionals who can “do it all” – and do it all well – have become an absolute necessity.

I’m in the process now of mastering the graphic design program in use here so that I can put together my editorial page and Perspectives page each week. Already I write news, features, columns, editorials and plan coverage for the other parts of the paper. I take hundreds of photos every month. Whenever I can free up the time, I draw editorial cartoons and illustrations. In recent weeks, I’ve even delivered the paper.

There’s no shortage of work to be done at the Spirit and as the new year dawns, we’ll be focused even more on how to use the resources available to bring our readers the best possible newspaper.

Needless to say, we’re glad you’re reading the Spirit this week. If you’re not a regular subscriber, we’d ask you to consider taking that step. And if you like the work you see here, please let us know. Your feedback is always helpful.

— Robert Snyder


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