Everyone is a photojournalist.

… and that’s ok. Because even though everyone is a photojournalist in their own way, the dedicated photojournalist still has a valuable role to play.
By Taylor Davidson | December 20th, 2011

A couple pertinent notes about the future of photojournalism from Where have all the photojournalists gone?

“The iPhone people are going to be there when the bomb goes off, when the house burns down, when the assassination goes down,” says Bennett. “They’re going to crush that market, and there’s nothing I can do about it.”

And…

Darrow Montgomery, a staff photographer for D.C.’s alt weekly, the Washington City Paper, says that although photojournalism’s decline is “inevitable,” professional photographers should never be obsolete. “If the metric for successful image making is being at the right place at the right time, the professional is doomed based on the sheer number of warm bodies with image making whatnots,” he says. “But if the metric is to get the best, most telling, evocative picture of a given situation, and to be able to do that repeatedly, then the professional will win almost every time.”

Exactly. Which means that “photojournalism” is a more varied concept than we might think, and it points to how photojournalists have to change their product and business models to adapt. First to the scene is what mass media wants, but first doesn’t mean best, or most meaningful, or most enduring. Photojournalists have a valuable skill, and it’s not about getting the first pictures back from a scene, but about finding, capturing, curating and sharing the most important stories from a situation. And that takes access, experience, skill, dedication, resources, and the professional network that the crowd will struggle to replicate.

Unless, of course, you think you can crowdsource storytelling

Granted, that may mean that the world needs less full-time photojournalists, but they aren’t alone: technological innovation and changing societal norms have a well-known way of disrupting major industries and professions.

The iPhone often gets credit for killing the business models of professional photojournalists, but the iPhone can be a valuable tool even for the pros.

Photographer Michael Christopher Brown recently talked about how he used his iPhone’s Hipstamatic app to photograph in Libya after breaking his SLR:

“At this point I hesitate using a ‘real’ camera,” Brown told Time magazine a few weeks after his injury. “Using a phone has brought my attention less to the craft and more to what I am photographing and why. So, the question becomes not where I see the phone taking my work, but where the work will take me.”

And he’s not the only one to use an iPhone extensively. Benjamin Lowy recently published a series in the NY Times from Afganistan called “Life During Wartime”, a series shot entirely with an iPhone and the Hipstamatic app.

From 2007 to 2010 I wrote extensively about the impact of the impact of the inexpensive digital SLR, but we’re beginning to see that impact fade a bit. Do you see as many DSLRs hanging from people’s necks as you did 2 years ago?

The everyday person has moved on to the camera phone: already in their pockets and purses, they are the minimum amount of technology the average person needs to take and share pictures. Photographs don’t have to be perfectly constructed images to be personally evocative memories. The minimum viable images we see everyday are all most people need to tell the everyday stories of their lives. An iPhone, Instagram, and Facebook may be all that most people need.

Everyone’s a photojournalist in their own way, for their own audience, telling their own stories.

But some are photojournalists in a very specific way, using their experience, methods, viewpoints, and vision to tell stories for the mass audience.

And that’s why there is still a role for the professional photographer and photojournalist to play, because beyond the everyday stories of individual lives lie the exceptional stories that span communities and societies. As much as the iPhone, Instagram and Facebook are a threat to the full-time photojournalist’s job prospects, they are an even bigger opportunity for the enlightened photojournalist to find and share meaningful, important, exceptional stories, and even earn a living in the process.

Let’s be frank: the crowd isn’t going away. Better to learn how to leverage the crowd than to fight against it.

Related: Everyone can be a “professional” photographer.