One of the main reasons young journalists give for why they chose their career is that "it my be many things, but it is never dull."
Whether you are a photographer in your twenties, working for the Lawrence Journal in the Kansas heartland, a one-man band videojournalist at New York1, at Time Warner's cable news operation in New York City, or a hundred-thousand-dollar-a-year contract photographer for one of the news weeklies pinned down under a misdirected "friendly fire" strike - the thing that keeps you going is you never know when you get out of bed (or a sleeping bag) in the morning, what it is you are going to witness that day. The stories are not bigger or better, they are just different.
In the beginning, the shape that the "press" would eventually take was never really in question. Newspapers were published on presses, and delivered by trucks to the circulation area. Broadcast was parceled out into snippets of a 24-hour spectrum, and emerged on a local, national, or international arena via stations and networks. Everyone was fairly comfortable with what they perceived the "media" to be all about.
In the past two decades, however, as newspapers and magazines merged to form conglomerates, networks and studios became huge bundlers of "content," the traditional distinctions between editorial and advertising became increasingly hard to pinpoint.
Many journalism commentators have pointed to the events of September 11 as a clarifying moment in the midst of all this confusion. When the basic components and qualities of journalism could actually be identified. In addition, the traditional cost/benefit analysis could be charted. How much did it cost to cover the events surrounding that day and the days that followed? How many copies were sold? What was the reaction of the community to the product, and how does it translate into "good will" for our future relationships (a.k.a., sales?)
By the end of the year, what had looked like an encouraging move in the industry became shrouded in "The Real Costs."
The current IFRA trend report, which covers the newspaper industry, indicates that journalists in the future will have to fight for the "heart" of the newspaper. To get a glimpse of how these problems are developing, just look at the front pages of leading online publications such as the Washington Post (washingtonpost.com) and MSNBC (msnbc.com).
The number of stories listed on their "home page" are increasing constantly. Each time a choice is made to add a hypertext headline, the page becomes more diffused. The essential role of the "editor" in deciding what NOT to put into the publication becomes a function of the politically incorrect.
We recently talked to a newspaper editor about the choices that were available to him on September 11. He agreed that he had been presented with a cornucopia of stories and visuals from the wire services. That was the good news. It was also the bad news, as photographic files began to march like the "Sorcerer's Apprentice" across his desktop.
The broadcast and cable viewer has watched the sleek display of the video monitor start to resemble a website, as stations try to cram crawls, zings, boxes, and other graphics above and below, and often to either side of the image. What this tells us is that the broadcaster no longer understands the concept of editorial judgment on the part of their editors, and certainly has no interest in trying to help the viewer in sorting out the real news from the chaff.
In market terms, the consumer will become a wholesaler. "Interactive guides" will replace the function of "editors," including the traditional mission of training new generations of journalists.
According to a report by analyst Eric Scheirer , published in Forrester Research, there has never really been any mass audience for newspapers' bundled content, just "coalition audiences" of people with different interests all turning to newspapers for lack of other choices. Today, there are many more distribution channels available to give consumers exactly the content they want, as well as a growing number of audience guides, which Forrester defines as "tools and services that help individuals decide what to read, hear or watch." Together, Scherer says, these developments rob newspapers of their core justification, along with their advertising appeal. The result: "Lacking the classified revenue to prop up unprofitable newsgathering. Newspapers outside the top five markets will cut costs by increasing their reliance on syndicated material - even on the front page - by 2006.
Top brands like the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post will scale down, becoming syndicated providers of branded niche content - business news and political news, respectively." Similar fates for similar reasons will befall the distribution-centric major television networks and music labels. ("Guides Redefine Mass Media," The Forrester Report December 2001.)
In the coming year we will continue our study of the State of Photojournalism 2003. We'll take a look at how the wire services have expanded their role, and how the traditional news picture agencies are trying to find a role for themselves in this new digital world.
We will also be examining the real heart of the digital transformation in photojournalism, by taking a look at how the "mega-sites" like MSNBC and The Washington Post are threading their way through the technological and ethical jungle that confronts us all.