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Opinion: Fairfax reduces redundancies, but photographers still hurting

Cindy Nguyen / June 03, 2014 04:09 PM

Guardian photographer and videographer Dan Chung has said: “Photojournalism as a profession is pretty much dead.

"And I still believe that. If you think that you can leave college, go into a career as a photojournalist and live till you’re 65 and retire – that’s just not going to happen.”

The sad reality is that this trend is catching up to Australia. Chung believes that although it’s a shrinking industry, it still has its worth. “The bottom line is you really can’t do it now with the tool that everybody has, you really shouldn’t really be pursuing it any further!”

Photo Credit Julian Smith .AAP

                             Photographers on strike at The Age last month.
                                  Image source: Julian Smith/AAP

With the recent slashing of Fairfax’s photojournalism department, Australian news photographers are now having to consider whether their profession can stay afloat.

Fairfax has reduced the number of recently-announced redundancies from 68 to 52.  This is part of a renewed management proposal for redundancies to its editorial divisions and a move to outsource its photographic work to Getty Images. As well as sparking industrial action from Fairfax employees, this once again raises questions about the future of journalism in Australia.

The decline in print journalism has allowed the other forms of journalism to dominate. With a click or a tap, accessible online news is vastly outrunning print journalism. But with the threat of so many job cuts, will journalists stay in the industry? Is digital news pushing qualified journalists out of their field own field?

Photojournalists are the ones hit hardest by the recent job cuts at Fairfax. Social media and mobile phones with cameras are making it harder for photojournalists to justify their work and salaries. But these photojournalists have skills and understanding far beyond citizen journalists.

A survey conducted in 2011 by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) shows “access to online media brings with it greater choice, personalisation and convenience, but also challenges for some users who do not feel confident about using the technology or feel safe from the risks of being online.” Although the public are welcoming of digital news, they are aware of the inaccuracies and the lack of regulation that exists online. 

Michael Gawenda, former editor of The Age, has written in The Australian about the loss of appreciation journalists have received in the digital age. He says, “In the digital age, everyone is a journalist and everyone wants to be an entertainer.” He continues on with “the so-called mainstream media is in such dire straits that increasingly, only journalism that is inexpensive- that can be produced quickly- is actually practiced.”

Continually churning news, online news organisations often have little time to regulate content. Photos can be shared instantly online, potentially generating a large audience and huge impact. And when these photographs can even be taken on a smartphone, news organisations may be hard-pressed to see the worth of hiring a photojournalist to do what a citizen journalist (or a reporter with an iPhone) already can.

But by firing photojournalists, Fairfax newsrooms will be losing out. A photo encompassing a story emphasises emotion and human touch. It is a difficult task to try and capture a moment to make an impact. The skill and knowledge photojournalists possess cannot possibly be made redundant. Their job is absolutely essential to the way we consume news, in both digital and print forms.

Even though a person can take a picture and document events on a social media site and call themselves a journalist, these citizen journalists  don’t have the degree of expertise in journalism as those who have studied, and mastered,  it for years. The ethics and regulations behind journalism are not being considered, nor are these people being regulated on the content they’re critically hindering the future of journalism.