— AP Images (@AP_Images) December 19, 2016
A gunman assassinated Russia’s ambassador to Turkey yesterday at the opening of a photography exhibit in Ankara. Associated Press photographer, Burhan Ozbilici was covering the event and witnessed the assassination first hand, which occurred while the ambassador was addressing the room of attendees.
In the face of an active gunman meters away, Ozbilici kept on making pictures. And because of his bravery, the world can witness and better contextualize this horrific event. But before you go on calling Ozbilici a hero for being brave, consider for a moment that he did exactly what he is trained to do. He did what any good photojournalist should have done.
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times today, Ozbilici had this to say about the incident:
“I was, of course, fearful and knew of the danger if the gunman turned toward me. But I advanced a little and photographed the man as he hectored his desperate, captive audience,” Ozbilici tells the LA newspaper. “I was thinking: ‘I’m here. Even if I get hit and injured, or killed, I’m a journalist. I have to do my work. I could run away without making any photos… But I wouldn’t have a proper answer if people later ask me: ‘Why didn’t you take pictures?’”
It’s a stark reminder that the world needs well-trained photojournalist now more than ever. Unfortunately the trend in the newsroom, both in the United States and World-wide has been a constant cycle of slashing staff photography positions.
There are a lot of reasons why photojournalism jobs are disappearing, the decline of print/classified ads is surely one, but the increase in smartphone image quality is another. Smartphones have come a long way and for many media companies, a multi-talented journalist who can shoot some photos and video with their iPhone is often considered good enough.
So what if instead of a proper photojournalist, the Associated Press has sent just a reporter with a smartphone to cover the event? After all, it’s just a gallery opening right? A quick snap of the ambassador behind the podium and a few shots of the gallery walls to accompany the text should do the trick.
The point is, there really is no substitute for a professional photojournalist with years of training and field time. In an era when news is increasingly catered toward one’s specific taste, the facts can be elusive. But a good photojournalist can get us closer to the truth. It’s their job.