What is a Photojournalist?

A journalist tells stories. A photographer takes pictures of nouns (people, places and things). A photojournalist takes the best of both and locks it into the most powerful medium available – frozen images.

Photojournalists capture “verbs.” This sounds simple, but a room of professional photographers was dumbfounded by this realization. Even after a full-length lecture with documentation and visual evidence, half of the photographers still had no clue what the difference was.

At the end of the presentation. One man said (he really did), “So, what’s the difference between photography and photojournalism?” Luckily, two people (only two) turned to him and yelled, “Verbs!”

Although photojournalists can take properly exposed and well composed photographs all day long, they hunt verbs. They hunt them, shoot them and show them to their readers. Then, they hunt more.

A photojournalist has thousands of pairs of eyes looking over his shoulder constantly. The readers are insistent: “What are they doing?” “What did you see?” and “What happened?”.

The readers wake PJs up at night. They keep PJs awake. The eyes always want to know what they missed. Readers can’t see what they missed with a noun. It works if the question is specific enough (what did the condemned building look like?), but most answers require verbs.

To tell a story, a sentence needs a subject, a verb and a direct object. News photos need the same construction. Photojournalists tell stories with their images. Also, words are always used in conjunction with photojournalist’s images.

The words below a photo are called a cutline. I write the cutlines that go with most of my images. At many newspapers, photographers provide names and nothing else. They don’t write cutlines because they sometimes can’t write a lead (lede) graph for a story. They also may not be able to photograph a sentence (sports being the exclusion, and there are plenty of supporting images to prove my point in this genre as well).

To be a photojournalist, we must understand the relationship between the image and these basic elements of language (all languages – worldwide).

The girl hits (or misses) the ball. There are no other options.

The girl is easy to photograph. The ball is easy to photograph. The verb is the hard part.

As a servant of the citizens, it’s the photojournalist’s OBLIGATION to capture the entire sentence involved in EVERY event. There are no excuses. It’s hit or missed. Some photographers don’t care. They have a picture of the bat. “Hey, that’s what tried to hit the ball.” They just don’t get it.

A photojournalist is a visual reporter of facts. The public places trust in its reporters to tell the truth. The same trust is extended to photojournalists as visual reporters.

This responsibility is paramount to a photojournalist. At all times, we have many thousands of people seeing through our eyes and expecting to see the truth. Most people immediately understand an image.

In today’s world of grocery store tabloids and digital manipulation of images, the photojournalist must still tell the truth. The photojournalist constantly hunts for the images (or verbs), which tell of the day-to-day struggles and accomplishments of his community. These occurrences happen naturally. There is no need to “set up” reality. There is no need to lie to a community that bestows its trust. In a nutshell:   If a photojournalist isn’t going to fake a fire or a street stabbing scene, why would he set up “person A” giving “person B” an object (award, check, trophy etc.)?

The photojournalist simply wants to hang around, be forgotten and wait for the right moment. Then, the hunt begins anew.

Like the police officer or firefighter, the photojournalist’s concern is his community even if that means sacrificing comfort or life. Many photojournalists die every year in the process of collecting visual information, which lets the public know of atrocities, dangers and the mundane.

What makes a photojournalist different from a photographer?

Photographers take pictures of nouns (people, places and things). Photojournalists shoot action verbs (“kicks,” “explodes,” “cries,” etc.). Photojournalists do shoot some nouns. These nouns can be standard photos of people (portraits), places (proposed zoning areas or construction sites) and things (name it). However, the nouns we seek still must tell a story.

As a general rule, many daily newspapers expect three Page 1 news images, and one to four inside B&W news/business images, as well as two to nine Lifestyles images, and two to five Sports images. Metro papers expect more and have additional sections.

Assignments are honored on a first-come basis with exceptions. Once a section has its initial image quota, priority shifts to another section until each section is “safe.” Then additional images are collected for future issues.

Primarily, editorial news judgment is applied to image priority (murder is more important than other planned occurrences). However, unlike text-based reporters, visual reporters must be on location when events occur. Therefore, events with flexible times fall lower on a fixed priority scale, but have a greater overall editorial priority (and may bump other items under time restrictions).

Additionally, anything with front page potential usually has priority over section front and inside images.

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