Tuesday, February 21, 2017

NYT’s Leslye Davis And Her Alternative Facts about Photojournalism’s Future

One of the problems with the internet is that a Ph.D. in science can post a researched report online, only to be critisized in the comments section of that same online posting by anyone with a different opinion or an agenda, or a lack of experience. This is why so many online outlets have either ended comments, or moderated them. I too believe like John Oliver does (here regarding climate change) that it is inheritantly misleading to afford an expert on the subject of the future of photojournalism the same platform as an arguably newly minted photojournalist who, by her own statements, is a product of the company she is employed by,  and not fully experienced or having had witnessed the full breadth of the industry she’s supposedly equally capable of commenting on.  John Oliver posits «you don’t need peoples opinions on a fact. You might as well as a poll that asks ‘which number is bigger, 15 or 5?'» Oliver then goes on to point out that people are still depating an issue because, on TV, they pit one person in favor of an issue position, and one person against it, as if there is equal value to each position, or equal stature for both people delivering the opinions. This, as Oliver points out on Climate Change, is inheritantly misleading. 

Donald Winslow was interviewed by the New York Times for an article titled «The Uncertain Future of Photojournalism» on February 15th. The article should be read here, but I will boil it down to several bullet points:

  1. a lot has changed
  2. the internet affords editors the ability to source local talent, saving money by settling on whomever was atop Google search results
  3. there’s less money because of the state of media
  4. photography has been devalued
  5. global communications expanded the knowledge of resource pools
  6. the photography industry was gutted by the greed of bottom-line watchers
  7. fewer staff photographer jobs, and all photographers required to do more (video, audio, etc)
  8. fewer assignments due to stock agencies
  9. «only the rich kids get to play at photojournalism.» 
  10. the opportunities are greater but there are no patrons to support photojournalists as in the Renaissance
  11. only a few can afford to do photojournalism and earn a living at it until the business model changes
  12. Stock sales are 1/100th what they used to be
  13. Things must change for photojournalism to survive, and few people who are in the profession earn a living from it

In a follow up article, equal weight was given to someone with a small fraction of experience and perspective on the industry. The author of the piece called the Winslow article «pessimistic», and I had to revisit the definition for that word, which is defined as «tending to see the worst aspect of things or believe that the worst will happen.»  The points above are accurate and depressing facts, but they’re not debatable, they’re facts, with, perhaps, the editorialization of #9. 

The article was in question, on the same NYT LENS blog platform «Photojournalism’s Uncertain Future? She Begs to Differ», which you should read here  is filled with ill-conceived opinion by Ms. Leslye Davis, an employee on staff who shoots video and still photography.

(Continued after the Jump)

Following the publication of the Winslow interview, the questioner describes someone who «came into the Lens office» — and that’s where it starts. Described as «a young video journalist and photographer for The New York Times», means Ms. Davis first has a paycheck from one of the highest paying newspapers in the country. For reference, according to the New York Newspaper Guild’s 2003 contract (here ), which was effective through 2011, a photographer with 2 or more years of experience would earn a minimum of $ 1,777.83 every two weeks up to $ 1,955.54 for a Bureau Photographer. That’s a salary, before benefits, of $ 46,223, to start — she’s likely paid much more. That’s an awfully enriched position from which, as the title of the article suggests «Photojournalism’s Uncertain Future? She Begs to Differ» — «beg» to differ. She stated she started as an intern at the age of 21, and then was hired on full time.  And here, she’s going to opine on the state of an industry she has experienced only a sliver of, from the position of staff photographer who doesn’t rely on the dwindling rates paid to non-staff photographers? So, let’s walk through everything that’s been written, with the understanding that, as the author, James Estrin notes «Her conversation with James Estrin has been edited for clarity and brevity.» What it clearly was not edited for, was accuracy, Leslye Davis is operating from, as our current administration has coined the phrase, a set of alternative facts.

Below is the Q&A exchange, interspersed with commentary and criticisms, and on a rare occasion, an agreement or two.

ESTRIN:  What brought you into the Lens office a few minutes ago?
DAVIS: I got an email from a Western Kentucky University photojournalism student.

COMMENTARY: Davis, who grew up mostly in Kentucky, the daughter of a school teacher, is a WKU alumni, one of the most difficult and prestigious schools for photojournalists. 

DAVIS: She wrote: “I just read this article from The NY Times. It’s about the unstable career of photojournalism. After reading it my fears resurfaced of not feeling confident in the career I’m investing a lot of time and money into, especially if it means being able to barely provide my daily needs with the pay.

COMMENTARY: This students fears should have never left, they should have always been front of mind. The student is right that they are «investing a lot of …money» and she’s right to fear being «able to barely provide my daily needs with the pay.» Winslow did not dance around this point, he made it clearly. 

DAVIS: What is your opinion on the future of photojournalism? Did you have the same fear when you were a student?”

COMMENTARY: I hardly think that Davis is of the position that she has more insights into the future of photojournalism than Winslow. Winslow has been photographer, editor, served on a national board of the NPPA, and otherwise been in the trenches for decades. Why would Davis have a more informed or insightful opinion or even more facts than Winslow? 

ESTRIN: So what are you going to tell her? 
DAVIS: I’m going to tell her she has a bright future ahead of her …

COMMENTARY: So, from an email inquiry, she’s just going to offer the blanket statement that her future is bright? Why is she making this promise? Allaying very real fears with a platitude?

DAVIS: … that there are more opportunities than ever before, especially for women, especially for

NYT’s Leslye Davis And Her Alternative Facts about Photojournalism’s Future

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