The Digital Journalist
WTF Mate? Magazine? Newspaper?

by James Colburn

May 2006

I've always been of the opinion that a good photograph was a good photograph. There may be great photographs and there may be crappy photographs but, all things being equal, a photograph is a photograph.

Evidently, I'm wrong in my assumption, according to some.

Okay. Maybe there's a difference between Black & White and Color but Image > Mode > Grayscale evens that out. Otherwise a picture is a picture and you can run it on glossy paper across an 11 x 17 double truck or on newsprint with three other photographs on a page with lots o' words.

But wait! Au contraire! We have a pecking order!

There seems to be some stupid, ass-faced idea out there that there are "magazine" photographs (and photographers) and "newspaper" photographs (and photographers). Granted, this has been pissing me off for years but I feel that now is the time to speak out, particularly since I have this relatively free place in which to do it.

I remember submitting a portfolio to a now-really-well-known-newspaper-AME for a job oh…20 or so years ago. His (or her) comment was, "You're a very good magazine photographer but we're looking for a newspaper photographer." My reply, realizing that there was no-chance-in-hell-of-my-getting-the-job was, "Newspaper photographer? I suppose I could re-print them all in black and white if it'd make you happy…." Needless to say the job was not eventually mine.

It's now the 21st century and I'd assumed that things had progressed until I sat in on the judging of a POY contest and heard the dreaded "Those are nice magazine photos but this is a contest for newspapers." (This may not be an actual quote but the gist of the message carries.)

WTF Mate? In fact, What's The Diff?

Just because the photos in question were presented in a square, B&W format (which may or may not mean they were taken with a medium-format camera) why are they "magazine" photographs and therefore somehow not eligible for a newspaper photography contest?

It's going to hold back the progress of photographers in every field if these "pigeon holes" are allowed to continue. It's going to make life for the photographer, and the reader, a bit more boring if there's a demarcation between what you want to do and what you're allowed to do. If you're a newspaper photographer and you become inspired by something you've seen in Paris Match, why the hell shouldn't you be allowed to run with it? If you're on assignment for a national news magazine and you take a picture of something that you never get around to transmitting because you've been "trained" to think that it's "newspaper" photograph, who is the loser?

Give me a break. If it is a great photograph, it's a great photograph. Don't be afraid to take it, run it, enter it or praise it. If it's better than the rest give it a blue ribbon, if it's not then slide the bugger down to Honorable Mention, but please don't label it as a "magazine" photograph or a "newspaper" photograph.

It's a photograph.

© James Colburn
Contributing Writer