Historically in the practice of photojournalism, conventional media was the sole form of publishing and the format was predominately the illustrated magazine or photo essay. Industrialisation facilitated the invention of the printing press which meant that the magazine and newspaper could be reproduced quickly on a mass scale. As a result, photojournalism could be distributed to a larger number of viewers than ever before which meant that the images were being seen by a wider audience. With the invention of digital technology the photojournalist was introduced to range of new techniques which could be used to display their imagery such as moving image and web space. Digital communication and transmission of images also improved which accelerated the pace of photojournalism which had been previously held back due to the slower photographic process of analogue. Communication diversified and expanded out with the creation of social media in the late 1900s which allowed Internet users to connect with each other in a manner previously unseen. The framework and technology of social media continued to develop and the integration of photo/video uploading meant that the user could become a publisher of content. Now in the current state of photojournalism there appears to be a overlap and a conflict between conventional media and social media in relation to the practice of photojournalism and the dissemination of information.
There appears to have been a convergence between social media and conventional media and between the citizen and professional photojournalist. Writer Charlie Beckett in his book Supermedia describe current journalism at ‘networked’ with both professional organisations and citizens contributing image and moving image content. Conventional media has attempted to participate in social media, The National Geographic now has an Instagram where the employed photojournalists can post images which will then be seen by the organisation’s 30 million followers.
This attempt by conventional media indicates that the digital native culture is an audience with which they want to engage and the best method for this is transmission through social media. However the structure and social media could perhaps have an impact on the professional photojournalism seen in conventional media; Instagram is restrictive in the fact that it only allows a square format so the original photograph taken has to be cropped which could manipulate the meaning and effect intended. In addition to this photojournalism has seen new methods in producing imagery such as Benjamin Lowy who used smartphone imagery and the application Hipstamatic to produce his photojournalism content.
The aesthetic of his images, achieved through applying a ‘filter’ (preconceived set of editing actions), became so popular that a ‘Lowy’ filter’ has been created which enables the app user to replicate Lowy’s style. This imagery heavily references the style of images seen on social media such as Instagram and is perhaps softer, more aesthetically pleasing than the majority of imagery we usually associate with photojournalism such as the image by Nick Ut of the girl whose village was attacked with Napalm in Vietnam. These photographers could be considered as too ‘soft’ for photojournalism, the purpose of which is to provoke a response from the reader in order to make social change. Lowy’s images however are comfortable and convenient to consume therefore the reader doesn’t react as much to them. By attempting to link and reference social media it appears that the professional form of photojournalism reduced it’s power to provoke and inform.
The purpose behind social media is to communicate, where previously this may have been predominately text-based, in the current state of photojournalism and communication it can be perceived as increasingly image-based. Where the photoessay was the product of industrialisation, it could be considered that social media is the product of digitisation and the practice of photojournalism appears to evolve into different forms in order to maintain commercial gain as well as disseminating information. Social media now stands as the largest archive of free image and moving image content which has encouraged conventional media to dip in and acquire content to display using conventional platforms. Perhaps the most influential example of this was the happenings in the Abu Ghraib Prison where it was alleged that U.S soldiers subjected their prisoners to torture.
The significance of this event was that the participants actually shared the documentation of the happenings using social media and were consequently identified as the perpetrators. In this case social media resembled the both the organisation responsible for this crime to to discovered and the organisation responsible for publishing the official story covering it. In extension, the radical group ISIS is using social media in order to spread their ideology and construct an image of terror. The conventional media outlets that are using social media to disseminate information could potentially be perceived as linked to these radical groups in their choice of platform. The blurred boundaries of participation and publication seen in social media could initiate an element of corruption in the practice of photojournalism. If the audience can’t distinguish what is informative and what is performative, the original purpose of photojournalism is rendered mute and could actually begin to encourage destructive, not constructive social change.
The convergence between social media was perhaps inevitable as conventional media would appear foolish not to engage with the mass audience of digital natives using social media to communicate. However once the lines between conventional and social, informative and performative are lost; it could cause confusion over what the purpose of the image being viewed actually is. In addition to this, volatile organisations are now attempting to exploit the audience of social media by taking advantage of collective mass image trends and the power of social media to communicate specific imagery and ideology. If the future of photojournalism is to continue being networked there perhaps needs to be a clearer distinction between informative and social imagery to enable the audience to respond in the appropriate manner. In addition, the content from professional, informative photojournalists needs to maintain the notion of photographic realism and quality to avoid being associated with social media by the aesthetic and therefore reduces the capacity to provoke. The purpose of photojournalism is to facilitate social change and this could be established through the use of both conventional media and social media however the issues associated with each form need to be addressed in order to protect the audience.