Digital Imaging Skills and the Hiring and Training of Photojournalists

By Russial, John; Wanta, Wayne | Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, Autumn 1998 | Go to article overview

Digital Imaging Skills and the Hiring and Training of Photojournalists


Russial, John, Wanta, Wayne, Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly


This paper, based on a national survey, examines the importance newspaper photo editors place on digital imaging and traditional photography competencies, and it looks at the implications for the training and hiring of journalists. It concludes that the shift from chemical to digital processing has led to a relative lack of concern among photo editors about the need for chemical darkroom skills. Many journalism programs, however, continue to focus on those skills. It finds that new technical skills, such as the use of digital cameras and the web, are growing in importance as are skills that reflect convergence of photo jobs with others within the newsroom, such as design and graphics. But photo editors say the key skill that reflects crossmedia convergence - video - is unimportant now and only slightly more important for the near future.

The technology of newspaper photography has changed dramatically in the last decade from predominantly chemical to predominantly digital processes. The technology used in educating prospective newspaper photographers has changed somewhat less dramatically. Many journalism programs continue to focus on chemical rather than digital processing. Is this discrepancy a cause for concern? Are there implications for traditional as well as new media jobs in an age of digital journalism and increasing media convergence?

This paper, which is based on a national survey of daily newspaper photo editors, details the degree of technological change in newspaper photography. It looks at the importance placed on digital imaging and photography competencies, and it examines the implications for the training and hiring of journalists.

Background

Digital imaging burst on the newsroom scene in the early 1990s, but its roots in the news production process are deeper. In the early 1980s, about the time National Geographic was electronically realigning the pyramids for a cover, newspaper pagination pioneers were starting to digitize photos for full-page assembly and output.1 Electronic picture desks were used throughout the 1980s by the wire services, but they did not become common in daily newspapers until 1990. Early that year, the Associated Press (AP) announced that it would make a digital darkroom system the standard receiver for Photostream, its new high-speed digital photo transmission system.2 By early 1992, AP Leaf Picture Desks had been installed at nearly all of the 1,000 AP photo clients.3

In a parallel development, many papers began using relatively inexpensive off-the-shelf hardware and software, such as Macintosh computers and Photoshop, for processing staff photos as well as the image files received on Leaf desks. Many of those images were passed to pagination systems or to desktop computers loaded with page-design software such as Quark Xpress. The shift to all-digital handling of photos at many papers raised questions about storage and indexing of image files, and by 1994, a growing list of vendors offered digital archiving hardware and software.4

On the shooting end, electronic cameras and "still video" cameras were appearing at trade shows in the late 1980s.5 Wire services and newspapers experimented with digital cameras in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but cost and quality considerations largely restricted their use to coverage of high-profile news events, such as a presidential inauguration,6 a Super Bowl, or an Olympics.7 A digital camera designed for photojournalists, the AP/ Kodak NC2000, was introduced in 1994,8 but its five-figure price tag kept it out of the hands of most news photographers. By early 1996, further development and increasing acceptance of digital cameras prompted Editor & Publisher's technology editor, George Garneau, to write that "digital photography is on its way."

How far digital photography - and other aspects of digital imaging has progressed along that way is an important question for journalism educators. …

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