November 27, 2007
COM101: Intro to Journalism
Meet a Journalist: Paul W Gillespie
Photojournalism may well be one of the smallest and fastest shrinking fields in today’s media. Those currently employed as photojournalists frequently wonder how long their current job will last. Such were the sentiments of The Capital’s Photojournalist Paul W Gillespie, who was kind enough to speak to me concerning the current job market and touchy photojournalist mistakes such as editing and staging photographs.
The toughest aspect of being a photojournalist, Gillespie contended, is finding and retaining a job. Photographers don’t necessarily lose jobs due to mistakes, but more often to downsizing across the newspaper industry (among other media industries). However, this has not been an enormous problem for Gillespie, as his employment with The Capital is approaching eight years. Gillespie obtained his first newspaper job through freelancing, a practice he says “just isn’t worth it anymore.” “The freelancing here [at The Capital] barely pays anything, but its something” Gillespie told me, asserting also that the best way to obtain a photojournalist job is by freelancing for a paper where the photographer already knows another photographer or editor.
“I would have never gotten a job,” he reminisced, “if my mentor hadn’t hired me, and he only got a newspaper job after one of his mentors retired and passed the torch onto him.” In photojournalism, one must truly make friendly and professional connections before job seeking. As another striking example, Gillespie recalled when a photographer on The Capital retired this past July; the paper almost immediately received 80 portfolios “but probably isn’t going to hire anyone. It’s too much effort to go through the applicants, and it’s cheaper for the owners to just not hire a new guy.” Currently The Capital employs four men in its Photography department: one Photography Editor, one Chief Photographer, and two Photojournalists (“Contact…”). It appears that without knowing one of these men, photographers hold little hope of having their portfolio reviewed, let alone obtaining an interview or job.
Newspapers across the country and even local papers such as The Capital have felt the financial strain of declining readership, and hire and pay their photographer accordingly. Gillespie remembered a time when “we got paid when people wanted prints of our photos,” though several years ago the paper began keeping those revenues and copyrights for itself. While it may easily be argued that profit from photographers’ images goes toward keeping more and better photographers on staff, the photojournalists themselves do not feel this way.
Gillespie remained calm and collected throughout the interview, insisting that he had come so far in photojournalism through a combination of luck and following the rules. When asked what the worst mistake a rookie photographer could make on an assignment was, he laughed and offered only: “don’t show up!” With attitudes such as this one, photojournalism seems like a wonderful and easy-going profession, which (in my opinion) it should be. However there are several looming issues on which all photographers need to be aware, two of which are editing and staging news photographs.
Gillespie and I argued over acceptable and unacceptable practices in these areas. I cited the story of Toledo Blade photographer Allan Detrich, who in April promptly resigned after his editors found he had heavily edited and “submitted for publication 80 images in only 14 weeks” (“Toledo Blade…”) Detrich’s edits included adding a basketball to a shoot of two female basketball players colliding, deleting a power cord from the background of a photograph of a hair salon, and, most famously, erasing a pair of feet from the background of an image of a football game. The basketball constitutes a major change to a photograph, but the other two edits show Detrich only skillfully editing minor background details from already decent stills. Of 947 images Detrich submitted for publication in the past year, only 27 were both doctored and published (“Toledo Blade…”). Still, Detrich’s editing caused him to be known by others, such as Gillespie, as “the deleted feet guy” after his resignation.
Clearly the more knowledgeable of the two of us, Gillespie argued that editing such as this virtually never happens, that he has never known anyone so much as tempted to doctor their images, and that anyone editing their images so heavily “is just plain stupid.” He added that photojournalists who feel the need to edit their photos deserve to lose their jobs, and thus make room for other photographers who, as discussed early, find job openings few and far between. We agreed on the idea that every single image going for publications requires “correction for the presses,” but that this editing should not extend beyond tweaking contrast and levels for a digital image’s transition to paper. In fact, the National Press Photographers Association’s (NPPA) Modernized Code of Ethics explicitly states that for photojournalists, “Editing should maintain the integrity of the photographic images’ content and context. Do not manipulate images or add or alter sound in any way that can mislead viewers or misrepresent subjects” (“NPPA Board…”).
As for staging photographs that should, by general rule, be candid, Gillespie stated this as one of the most common problems photojournalists encounter. The equally common solution is known as the ‘environmental portrait,’ a photograph of the person doing what they are known for while looking at the camera. Such intentional set-up of photographs violates the NPPA’s Code of Ethics. Rule two states: “Resist being manipulated by staged photo opportunities,” and rule four similarly states: “While photographing subjects do not intentionally contribute to, alter, or seek to alter or influence events” (“NPPA Board…”). While photojournalists such as Gillespie dislike environmental portraits, they acknowledge the fact that their subjects are more pleased when they contribute to the composition of the photograph and are not caught off guard when the photographer’s shutter opens.
While these two issues, editing and staging journalistic photographs, are two of the farthest-reaching problems in photojournalism today; Gillespie convinced me that they are not issues on the local level. His largest professional problem was merely in joining the profession. Even working for The Capital means that Gillespie’s photos may be (and often are used) in The Capital’s family papers: The Maryland Gazette, The Crofton News-Crier, and the Bowie Blade-News.
The Gazette also employs one photographer, who like the three Capital Photographers, has work published in several papers. Employing photojournalists on different, individual, papers and using their work in all of the company’s papers proves yet another way corporations cut costs without apparently decreasing quality or coverage. Sister publications sharing work such as this emphasizes Gillespie’s original point that careers and even freelancing openings in the photojournalism field are few and going fast. Photographers with the time and the skill to shoot quality pictures on site without temptation of serious editing or staging are increasingly common after “the deleted feet guy” gave shining examples to the journalism industry of practices one should never employ.
All photojournalists have left is to continue upholding the NPPA’s rigorous standards and to hope that the journalism industry will one day appreciate photographic skill, and reward those merits with worthwhile jobs and benefits. After an interview of photojournalistic woes, times may be improving, as Gillespie cut our interview short for a paper-wide meeting on a new 401-K plan. I mentioned the irony to Gillespie, who only laughed and said “Its about time we got something. I’d have you talk to Bob [the Photography Editor] about freelancing, but as I said, it’s not really worth it anymore.”
“Contact the Capital Newspaper – Annapolis, MD.” HometownAnnapolis.com. 2007. Capital Gazette Communications, Inc. 18 Nov 2007. < http://www.hometownannapolis.com/contactcapital.html#photo>.
Gillespie, Paul W. Personal interview. 12 Nov 2007. E-mail: PGillespie@capitalgazette.com Phone: 410-279-5661.
“NPPA Board Adopts New “Modernized” Code of Ethics.” National Press Photographers Association. 10 Jul 2004. National Press Photographers Association. 18 Nov 2007 < http://www.nppa.org/news_and_events/news/2004/07/nppa_adopts_new_ethics_code.html>.
“Toledo Blade Discovers Dozens Of Doctored Detrich Photos.” National Press Photographers Association. 15 Apr 2007. National Press Photographers Association. 18 Nov 2007 < http://www.nppa.org/news_and_events/news/2007/04/toledo05.html>.