Are We All Photojournalists?

Guest Post by Jazmine Herrera, student

Today, taking photos of theoretically anything has become increasingly easy. We own cell phones with cameras that have the same quality photo then say a Nikon. Our cell phones are with us every moment of every day. We put it in our back pocket, our purses, or hold it in our hands. Having our cell phones allows us to be readily available to snap a photo at any given time. Let’s be honest, we all have about 300 pictures in our photo library and we all question whether or not these pictures are Instagram worthy. Now, the question is do we apply this same logic while taking a photo of a tragic event?

Screen Shot 2014-11-03 at 12.38.05 PMImagine you are sitting at a bench waiting for a bus. As you sit and wait, something news worthy happens right before your eyes. It could have been a horrible car crash or a drug bust. What do you do? Do you photograph the event with your cell phone? Do you then post the picture to Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram? Before you post the picture do you put a filter on the photo to make it more “appealing?”

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary definition of photojournalism, you have become a photojournalist. Are you qualified for the position? We all know how to press a button on our phones to capture a moment. However, being a photojournalist, I believe, goes beyond that knowledge. Being able to find the perfect shot and taking the picture is only half the battle. One must also be aware of the consequences that can come with capturing a moment in time.

In our class textbook by Patterson and Wilkins, we learn about Garry Bryant, a staff photographer with the Deseret News of Salt Lake City, who offers a checklist that he goes through “in hundredths of a second” when he reaches the scene of a tragedy:

  1. Should this moment be made public?
  2. Will being photographed send the subjects into furthers trauma?
  3. Am I at the least obtrusive distance possible?
  4. Am I acting with compassion and sensitivity?

The problem with everyday people being regarded as photojournalists is that is probable that they have no regard for any of the questions that Bryant poses. They are likely used to taking pictures without any concern for any consequences. They may not process this information as quickly as any established photojournalist may do so. They may only process this information once the picture has been posted on their social media website of preference. By then it may be too late to retract the picture because of circulation. Photos have the ability to affect many people especially those who are directly connected with the event. If someone photographs an event and does not act with compassion and sensitivity, then they could ultimately effect their reputation and possibly harm another person.

I believe being a photojournalist requires a programmed and equal amount of sensitivity, compassion, and professional mindset. Those of us who carry around our cell phones as a lens to capture moments in history do not necessarily have this mindset. In no way am I saying that we could never be regarded as a photojournalist, but it does take practice and thoughtful reflection. Thus, keep Bryant’s checklist in mind the next time you decide to capture a news worthy event on your cell phone. You will be practicing photojournalism ethics.

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