In the fall of 2012 the Times-Picayune made the shocking announcement that they were ceasing daily publication and moving to a “digital-first” model; the printed newspaper would only be available three days a week. In effect, this change meant that nearly half of the staff positions were eliminated. More than 200 employees were let go.
In the rich history of New Orleans, the Times-Picayune was on hand to tell its daily stories—in words and pictures—for 175 years. And while some may argue that the Times-Picayune is simply shifting its focus to a digital-first model, we would be remiss if we didn’t examine this shift. A new book intends to do just that. News Evolution or Revolution? The Future of Print Journalism in the Digital Age, edited by Andrea Miller and Amy Reynolds, examines the changes at the Times-Picayune as well as the larger implications for the news media.
The book examines the topic from all perspectives. I have authored the chapter on photojournalism, specifically exploring the changing nature of visual reporting in the digital age. A brief overview of my chapter follows:
Compelling photographs are central to good storytelling. Photos capture emotion and bring a story to life in a way that words alone cannot. With this in mind, my chapter delves into three intertwined narratives: the changing role of the photograph in the digital-first model and the consequent added responsibilities of—and pressures on—the photojournalist; the story of the dedicated Times-Picayune photojournalists who captured the emotional toll of Hurricane Katrina through photography; and the awkward metamorphosis of the venerable Times-Picayune into a digital-first media outlet, during which time some of those same photojournalists have become casualties. Among the 200 Times-Picayune employees let go were key photojournalism staffers: Photo Editor Doug Parker and five photojournalists, including veteran Times-Picayune photographer John McCusker, Matthew Hinton, Scott Threlkeld, Ellis Lucia, and Eliot Kamenitz.
Through in-depth interviews with Doug Parker and John McCusker as well as photojournalism editors and managers from leading newspapers across the country, I examine the changing roles of the photojournalist as well as the considerations related to static photos in a dynamic environment. Findings indicate that while there are significant potential gains for photojournalism in the digital age—including timeliness, unlimited space, and photo quality—there is a critical condition: an experienced and supported photo staff.
Header image credit to Minjie Li, a graduate student at the Manship School of Mass Communication.