In mid-April, the field of photojournalism lost two of its most important luminaries, Tim Hetherington, photographer and co-director of the Oscar®-nominated documentary Restrepo, and Chris Hondros, a 2004 Pulitzer Prize nominee for his work following the turbulent strife in Liberia. Both were killed while covering the recent conflict in Libya. Photojournalists have always had a tough go of it. Subjected consistently to the absolute worst that humanity has to offer, they put their lives on the line while facing a tumultuous market for their work coupled with editorial challenges back home. Add to this a sluggish economy and competition from legions of amateur cell phone photographers, and there never has been a harder time to be a photojournalist. That’s saying a lot.
Myth: Photojournalism Is Dead
Photojournalists rely almost entirely on funding from traditional media sources, themselves struggling to keep afloat in a world that’s less and less interested in stories with depth and more and more interested in glancing at 140-character-or-less headlines. Twitter, Facebook and blogs have stolen the thunder from newspapers and magazines, choosing to provide news bites with little information, but maximum click value. Social media has dissolved the money pool paid out for news and for news imagery at the same time that it also has given the media direct access to exceedingly inexpensive images taken by amateurs who have no idea of the worth of their work and allow lowball pricing for publication, often because it’s their first time being published. This, of course, further undercuts the livelihoods of people who are ironically putting their lives on the line to capture these images.
Risking life and safety isn’t the only burden for photojournalists. Getting the facts right is as much part of the job as taking the pictures, and while there’s no arguing that an impactful image can come from an untrained eye, telling a photojournalistic story is as much about fact checking as it is about portraying a scene in an honest manner. As photojournalist Eddie Adams wrote in a eulogy in TIME upon the death of his friend and South Vietnamese general Nguyen Ngoc Loan, "Still photographs are the most powerful weapon in the world. People believe them, but photographs do lie, even without manipulation. They are only half-truths." Nguyen Ngoc Loan was the executioner in Adams’ famous image of the execution of a suspected Vietcong member, a man whose life Adams considered to be ruined by the image, an image that also helped to stop a war.
Resources are available for learning more about the tumultuous world of photojournalists and contributing to their livelihoods. As noted in "Kickstart Your Project" (Digital Photo Pro, May/June 2011), about Gerd Ludwig’s efforts to raise funds for a project centered on the lasting implications of the Chernobyl tragedy, many photojournalists have adapted to the digital model and are forgoing traditional funding sources by embracing the crowdsourcing capabilities of the Internet with sites like Kickstarter.com and Emphas.is, which target photojournalism campaigns specifically. The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting sponsors international journalism "that U.S. media organizations are increasingly less able to undertake" by providing travel grants and acting as an intermediary between journalists, editors and other related individuals to focus efforts in the most efficient manner possible. Reporters Without Borders is a nonprofit organization that provides medical insurance at reasonable rates for members who are working abroad.
There are also a variety of sites like VII Photo Agency, zReportage, 100Eyes and FOTO8 that act as an online venue for photojournalists to post images and stories, in some cases also acting as a collective agency for photojournalists. And, of course, Getty Images, the Associated Press and Reuters still offer photojournalists an outlet for sale of their images. Additionally, the Chris Hondros Fund was just opened by Hondros’ fiancée, Christina Piaia, to encourage and aid both current and aspiring photojournalists. Contributions and information requests can be made to The Chris Hondros Fund, c/o Getty Images, 75 Varick St., 5th Floor, New York, NY 10013.