Following the dramatic events of September on Wall Street, and the seizing up of the credit markets, there is no doubt that we are heading into a new bleak economic reality. Not only will countless people lose their homes, but also small businesses, such as photography, will be severely impacted.
We have estimated that by the end of this year, one-third of the members of the National Press Photographers Association will be out of work. Anyone who is a freelance photojournalist knows full well how difficult it has become to simply make a living. Those with families are under special stress.
Newspapers, as we have been saying for months, no longer have a sustainable model for print products. A lack of interest by young readers, and a dying older reader base have already hit them. Craigslist has subsumed the advertising that was their lifeblood. The major department stores that provided display advertising have been closed down, to be replaced by Wal-Marts which don't advertise in newspapers. There have been 8,000 newsroom jobs lost in the past year – in the United States, 3,000 in the second quarter alone. Even in Australia, the Sydney Morning Herald in August laid off 220 people.
Many of the print newspapers we have grown accustomed to reading will die in the coming years, if not months.
Magazines no longer have the resources to send photographers on exotic quests around the world, and readers have even less interest in looking at those stories.
Advertising, which supports print and broadcasting, will face its own challenges. Big ticket advertisers such as cars and airlines will be affected the most. Although they will continue to need to advertise, their budgets will be severely affected. This will lead to even more cuts in media coverage
There is no hopeful outlook. Things are going to get very difficult for all of us, and photojournalists are no exception. Our lives are about to change dramatically.
But, we would remind you that some of the most important photojournalism was born in exactly these circumstances. In the midst of the Great Depression, photographers such as Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans, Russell Lee, Gordon Parks, Carl Mydans and Arthur Rothstein dedicated themselves to photographing the desperation of people around them. Government agencies such as the Farm Security Administration, directed by Roy Stryker, helped them to provide an indelible portrait of a people in crisis.
If today's lawmakers and financers had just spent a little time looking at those photographs, they might have been reminded of how calamitous their decisions could be.
Fortunately, we have been handed a new set of tools with which to chronicle these depressing new economic realities. We now have three-chip High Definition video cameras. We should use them starting now, to chronicle the lives of the people around us, and keep it up as we go through the swings that are ahead of us. We should record the stories of ordinary people, and get rich audio interviews.
No matter how we think we control things, history goes on. We are witnesses, but with the power to record the testimony of those people around us as they weather the storm.