In 2013, the Times Herald-Record in Middletown, NY, laid off its entire photo staff, electing to replace them with a mixture of professional wire service photos and images taken by non-professionals. This business decision remains in effect years later, and a new study warns the publication’s news imagery has suffered as a result.
The study, which was recently published in the journal Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, looked at 488 images taken by professionals and 409 images taken by non-professionals, all of them having previously been published by the newspaper. The photos were analyzed across four categories: Informational, Graphically appealing, Emotionally appealing and Intimate.
According to the results, more than 8 in 10 images taken by non-professionals fell into the “Informational” category, which is described as photos that provide info but lack emotion and creativity. In comparison, 49% of professional news images fell into the Informational category.
News images captured by non-professionals were often basic, lacking aesthetic and emotional appeal
As well, the study found that only 10.3% of non-professional images were classified as Emotional versus 25.4% of professional images, and that 7.6% of non-professional photos were Graphically Appealing versus 23.6% of professional images. Finally, while 1.8% of professional images were considered Intimate, none of the non-professional images fell into that category.
The researchers noted some other differences between the two photographer categories, including that professional photos were more likely to feature action and that the Times Herald-Record more often prominently featured images taken by professionals.
Though some questions remain, such as whether professionals were given more options to capture compelling subject matter, the results are still clear: news images captured by non-professionals were often basic, lacking aesthetic and emotional appeal. Whether such conclusions will reverse the trend of laying off photo staff is yet to be seen.
The outcome of the study is far from surprising, but it’s nice to see numbers back up what would seem like common sense. Sure, the best camera is the one you have with you, but a professional photographer with the right equipment in their hands is much more likely to create an impactful image, be it with emotion, composition, color, or some combination of all the above.