How Digital Imaging Changes Work of Photojournalists

By Russial, John | Newspaper Research Journal, Spring 2000 | Go to article overview

How Digital Imaging Changes Work of Photojournalists


Russial, John, Newspaper Research Journal


Has digital imaging changed the job of photojournalist? On a superficial level, the answer is "Of course it has." Photographers and photo editors now work with their images on a computer screen instead of in a chemical darkroom. On a more fundamental level, does the shift in the technology of photojournalism also change the nature of what photojournalists do, in particular, the type of tasks they spend a great deal of time performing? If so, what are the implications?

The change from chemical to digital processes has also been a shift of responsibilities for photo reproduction within the newspaper. It means that photographers and photo editors can exercise greater control of their work - from image capture throughout most of the prepress process. It also means that to do their jobs, photographers and photo editors now rely increasingly on computers and that digital imaging experience has become an important hiring criterion. Photo departments now do the bulk of digital image processing, reflecting a movement of some work from production departments (process camera and imaging).

One potential effect of an increase in workload is a reduction in quality, especially if there is no concurrent increase in staffing. How great an increase in workload and whether such as increase has been addressed by additional staff resources are important questions for newspapers to consider. Another important question, or set of questions, has to do with whether the introduction of digital imaging has changed the nature of news photography work and thus the job of the photojournalist.

There is evidence that a similar shift to a computerized news production process, from composing room paste-up to newsroom pagination, has had both positive and negative impacts on another group of newsroom workers - editors. It has increased their control but has limited the time they have for traditional journalistic tasks - and has, in effect, changed the nature of editing work. This study, based on a national sample of daily newspaper photo editors, explores whether digital imaging is perceived to have similar effects.

Background

Digital imaging in newspapers primarily refers to image processing, through the use of negative scanners, computers and software such as Adobe Photoshop. Increasingly, the term also refers to image capture, as some newspapers are phasing digital cameras into daily use. Wire services and a handful of papers digitally processed images in the late 1980s, primarily through expensive proprietary systems such as Scitex. But digital photo handling exploded at newspapers in the early 1990s through the rapid adoption of the Associated Press Leaf Desk and the use of Photoshop, the off-the-shelf image-handling software, as well as Macintosh computers to run it.

Most research on digital imaging has focused on the ethics of digital manipulation. Research also has been done on digital imaging as a criterion in hiring and training, and one case study detailed a newspaper's decision to place responsibility for digital imaging and pagination in production departments, primarily to give editors and photographers more time to spend on traditional journalistic tasks. Otherwise, analysis of the impact of digital imaging on photojournalism has been limited to an occasional trade journal account.

The most closely related research has dealt with pagination, a similar news production technology that was introduced into many newsrooms before digital imaging - in some cases as early as 1980. Several studies of pagination's impact have identified two dimensions of changes in the job - those that relate to journalistic tasks and those that relate to production tasks. Keith Stamm, Doug Underwood and C. Anthony Giffard factor-analyzed a list of questionnaire items about changes in priorities editors assigned to a list of editing tasks. Two factors - a journalistic task factor and a production task factor - emerged. …

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