Sunday, March 8, 2015

Journalism schools must provide photojournalism courses to students

Breaking news story and photo by Toledo Blade political reporter Tom Troy.
Feature story and photo by Toledo Blade reporter Matt Thompson.
   Journalism students beware: Expect to take your own photos someday.
   Military journalists do. Many small-town journalists do, too. And now, so do Toledo Blade reporters.
   Traditionally, reporters at larger newspapers have been shielded from the backpack journalist concept. When reporters move up to bigger papers, they aren’t expected, nor sometimes permitted by union rules, to also provide visual storytelling.
   But, alas, the times they are changing, as exhibited by these two  screen grabs from the Toledo Blade website. Sure, these photos were taken with their cell phones, but I suppose that still counts.
   As newspapers and magazines, like the Chicago Sun-Times and Sports Illustrated, as well as corporations like Gannett, axe their photojournalists, who, then, is providing the still and video images? The reporters, of course.
   Take the Fremont News-Messenger, for example. This small-town, Northwest Ohio newspaper, owned by Gannett, just eliminated everyone’s job. Current employees are being forced to reapply for new positions, with new titles and new responsibilities, according to a source at the paper who decided not to renew his position.
   This is being done to transform into “a newsroom of the future.” This transformation is putting the photographer out of a job, and replacing him with two reporter/photographer positions.
    Now, let me finally get to the point of this blog post. I don’t have an issue with reporters who take photos, and photojournalists who write. After all, I am a retired military journalist who was trained to do both because we were expected to do both. Key word here is trained. 
    Journalism schools of the 21st Century must address this issue of additional training, and do it now. In this day and age of budget cutting and worker attrition, every basic journalism student should be taught the skills of backpack journalism.
   In my humble opinion, this is absolutely the best way to ensure that the quality, integrity and credibility of print and visual storytelling aren't eroded as modern-day journalists are expected to do more than their basic job descriptions (and for less pay).
   This is what I told my Wayne State University Digital Photojournalism students during class on Friday.
   The students, mostly print journalism and broadcasting majors, recently shot their first assignment on feature photography. They came to class flustered and confused, realizing that photojournalism is much harder than it looks on the published page.
   I reassured them that what they are feeling is completely normal because photojournalism is complex. Not only do they have to gather the facts for their stories, they also have to worry about the following elements:
·      Photo captions
·      Law, ethical and etiquette considerations
·      Camera controls (ISO, shutter speed, apertures)
·      Composition
·      Capturing the key moments
·      Transmittal issues
   Journalism students should learn these key skills before their first job, which is why I firmly believe journalism schools always have been, and always will be, necessary.
   We have to prepare students for everything. Walking into a city council meeting or a court proceeding with a pen and paper is one thing. But adding a loud clicking camera, and the necessary element of movement to get the best angle… well, that’s a whole other level of news-gathering.
Another link to a story on this issue: