What We Learned This Week: The State of Photojournalism

By David Schonauer   Friday October 2, 2015

The state of photojournalism today is confusing.

This week we reported on a new study  released by Oxford University’s Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism in association with World Press Photo that offered insights into the photojournalism business in 2015. The study revealed a number of interesting but not wholly unexpected findings — for example, that 85 percent of photojournalists are male, and that they aren’t making a lot of money. Photojournalists are also concerned that their risky profession is becoming ever more risky and less financially rewarding.

And yet, noted PDN, most of the 1,556 photojournalists questioned said they were happy with their career choices.

The study was based on a survey of photographers who entered the 2015 World Press Photo Contest. Respondents, noted PDN, came from Europe (52 percent); North America (9.2 percent); South and Central America and the Carribean (11.5 percent); Australasia (1.2 percent); Asia, Oceana, and the Middle East (22.3 percent); and Africa (1.3 percent).

Based on the survey, the authors concluded that the average photojournalist in 2015 is a self-employed man aged 30 to 50, earning less than $40,000 a year from photography, while also making some supplementary income from other sources.

Here, specifically, are some of the results of the survey:

*60 percent of respondents were self-employed.
*75 percent worked full time.
*40 percent identified themselves as “photojournalists,” while 30 percent said “documentary photographers” and 14 percent said “news photographers.”
*54 percent said they shoot primarily still photos.
* About two-thirds had college-level degrees.

Many respondents said that copyright is a major concern, while more than 90 percent said they felt vulnerable to physical harm because of their job. Another interesting aspect of the study is that photojournalism is largely a solitary calling: A full 80 percent of the respondents said they worked alone.

While PDN focused primarily on the financial aspects of the study, Time LightBox  was most concerned with what it revealed about gender inequality in the business.

“[R]esearchers found that women photographers were less likely to be employed by large media companies (7%) compared to men (22%),” noted the blog. “Among those few who did work for such organizations, the women were assigned work less often than their male counterparts and they were more likely to work part-time and not have another job. As for salary, more women earned less than $9,999 (42%) compared to men (34%), and many more men (5%) earn $80,000 or more, compared to 1.5% of women.”

Perhaps the most significant finding of the study was this: Some 76 percent of respondents said image-manipulation is a problem in their profession, while 25 percent said they had manipulated images.

A majority — 51 percent — said they often or always enhanced photos by altering contrast, hue, tone or saturation.

When asked if they stage images (i.e. ask subjects to pose, repeat actions, or wait while the photographer gets ready), 36 percent said “never,” while 52 percent said “sometimes.” A further 12 percent said they did so at least half the time, noted the researchers.


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