The Digital Journalist
The UT/DJ Partnership
October 2006

by Lorraine E. Branham

In last month's edition of The Digital Journalist, editor and publisher Dirck Halstead noted that photojournalism professors at several major universities had made the online magazine required reading in their classes. It made me wonder if we were in that group. When I inquired I discovered that we encourage photojournalism students to read it and at least two of our photojournalism professors require it in their classes.

I was delighted that this was the case, but it should have come as no surprise. The Digital Journalist is an easy way to expose students to the work of some of the world's leading photojournalists and it provides an exciting online forum that explores the creative, technical and ethical issues confronting photojournalism today.

It is also a wonderful resource for students seeking to supplement and enhance what they are learning in the classroom. The Digital Journalist literally places at their fingertips some of the best photojournalism has to offer.

That's why starting this month the School of Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin becomes an official sponsor of the online magazine, formalizing our long relationship of providing technical support and server space to The Digital Journalist.

What better way, I decided, to show our students how important it is than to attach our name to it. It's not something we do lightly.

The School of Journalism has actually had ties to The Digital Journalist almost since its inception. Halstead has taught courses for our students on occasion; we co-sponsored a major symposium on covering the war in Iraq with the magazine and the Center for American History; our students and professors have written for The Digital Journalist and the founder our photojournalism program, (which, by the way, has produced 20 Pulitzer Prize winners over the years) Professor Emeritus J.B. Colson, is a regular contributor. Last year The DJ featured the work of Prof. Eli Reed's students who covered Hurricane Katrina. When he is not in the classroom he is out exploring the world with his camera.

So, when we sat down recently to renew the agreement regarding the technical and online services we provide to The Digital Journalist, it was only natural that the discussion segued into other ways we could partner with the premier online photojournalism magazine. Both Eli and J.B. supported the idea of closer ties between the J-School and the magazine.

In a note to me, J.B. describes The Digital Journalist as "a real force in the field" and an extremely useful online journal for photojournalists, teachers and writers who care about photojournalism.

Eli noted that many of the world's top photojournalists are regularly featured on the Web site and that that work could serve to inspire students.

That creative artistry ranges from the likes of John Isaac, one of the world's leading wildlife photographers (who will be visiting the School of Journalism this week, along with photographer Jeffrey Aaronson, courtesy of Olympus Cameras), to that of Phil Stern, described by Vanity Fair editor David Friend as an "intimate chronicler of Hollywood and the Jazz scene." The depth and breadth of the site and its contributors is amazing. But it's not all pretty pictures.

Two months ago, The Digital Journalist was among the first publications to explain the real story behind the New York Times photograph of a Lebanese rescue worker being pulled from the wreckage of buildings – a photograph some critics had argued was faked. The DJ quickly contacted the photo editor of the Times and within hours published an editor's note explaining that there was no great conspiracy or fraud by the Times — caption information had simply been overlooked. Still, the stories provoked a healthy debate over the importance of accuracy in all areas of journalism. Yes, a photo is still worth a thousand words.

The ethics lesson provided in the space of hours could not have been duplicated in the classroom.

At other times, The Digital Journalist serves to reinforce the lessons of the classroom about sensitivity, respect for victims and their families, and concerns about the use of graphic images. In a June 2005 "Ethics" article, two Marquette University professors discussed the questions journalists must ask themselves when covering human tragedies and natural disasters. How do we balance our desire to share those compelling images with the world with respect for privacy and human dignity? These are complex questions with no easy answers. But the contributors to The Digital Journalist help its readers thoughtfully consider these issues and contribute to classroom discourse.

Journalism is undergoing a fundamental transformation and how we connect with readers and viewers and remain relevant will continue to change and evolve. The Digital Journalist is one more way for those of us in journalism education to help our students keep up with this changing world.

Yes, every photojournalism student should be reading it.

© Lorraine E. Branham

Lorraine E. Branham is Director of the School of Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin.