Oh. My. God. Not again. In truth we’d rather stick pins in our eyes, sub an edition of The Journalist and struggle for a correction from Jeremy Dear – all at the same time – than return to the subject of the Union Whose Name We Dare Not Speak. But some things will not be denied, and the National Union of Journalists’ latest initiative, the grandly titled Commission On Multi-Media Working, has created such a rumpus it would be churlish to ignore it. Those of a nervous disposition should look away now.
Although the report is only due to be released next month the latest issue of The Journalist carries extracts and commentary, presumably in an attempt to attract attention to the forthcoming main event. In that The Journalist certainly succeeded: however the attention garnered left much to be desired.
‘NUJ multi-media commission: publishers don’t understand the web’ blared the Press Gazette. Actually that’s not news: no less than Rupert Murdoch admitted as much years ago. And Time-Warner executives proved it by buying AOL and losing their shirts – and some of them their jobs – over the deal.
But the Press Gazette was just the start.
At the Guardian an emotional Roy Greenslade reacted by announcing his retirement from the union to which he had devoted 42 years of his life, declaring: ‘it would be hypocritical to remain inside when I am now so opposed to the union’s central aims.’
Meanwhile on the other side of town – politically as well as geographically – the Telegraph’s Shane Richmond was reaching the same conclusions: and announced his own resignation from the NUJ. And over on the other side of the Atlantic media-watching bloggers, led by Jeff Jarvis, practically had to get in line for an opportunity to lay into the Limey dinosaur. Within hours of the Press Gazette’s original story, Donnacha Delong, author of the Journalists’ most contentious article Web 2.0 Is Rubbish, found himself fighting fires on multiple fronts.
Greenslade’s blog in particular degenerated into a free for all where the most basic rules of the Marquis of Queensberry – and even literacy – were abandoned as abuse rained down on the professor. Which may explain why Roy later announced that he was taking time out over the weekend to reconsider his position regarding the NUJ.
So what does all this have to do with editorial photography? In one sense: nothing. Entertaining though the blog brawls were, it was a night of the blunt nibs: no photographers were observed amongst the combatants.
However, in another sense it had everything do with photography. After all, according to Greenslade, Richmond, Jarvis and the rest, all journalists are also all now professional photographers. In Greenslade’s own words: ‘All of us must be multi-media journos from now on.’
Caught that Roy Greenslade photo exhibition at the National Gallery? The great Shane Richmond video retrospective at the NFT? No? Why, where have you been?
Oh, wait a minute, that’s right, those don’t exist. There’s a reason for that: Greenslade and Richmond are writers. For all their multi–media hoop-la, the most they seem to be able to do about this brave new world is write about it, rather than actually produce it. Check out the Richmond blog: for visuals it relies on photographs from agencies and Telegraph photographers. Here’s why. The Greenslade blog does even worse: slab after slab of text. Where’s the audio? Video? What’s that?
Jarvis, to be fair, has actually produced some video. He has, however, at least two problems. Firstly, he breaks his own cardinal rule: that web video – or Small TV, as he prefers – should not simply imitate Big TV. Secondly, his aping of Big TV is not just bad; it’s laughably, cringe-inducingly dire. Jarvis is Uncle Henry The Video Guy From Hell: small wonder that the backlash has already begun.
All of which rather begs the question: what’s so cutting-edge, high tech and future-proof about any of these people’s work?
Consider the actual production of a typical blog. Somebody sits at a machine – a computer – hits a few keys and churns out an article. Compare that with 30 years ago. Somebody sits at a machine – a typewriter – hits a few keys and churns out an article. Certainly the two articles are distributed and published differently, but that’s a separate issue: the means of production are essentially identical.
And this is where the bloggers and the NUJ’s Jeremy Dear – in the parlance of our times – converge: in practical terms none of them know what they are talking about. Fine writers they may be, but to the best of our knowledge they have yet to produce any visual journalism of substance. Further, the essential practice of their trade – sitting at a machine bashing out whatever comes into their heads – hasn’t changed for a couple of centuries.
Despite the blog wars of the last few days, Dear, Greenslade, Jarvis and Richmond all share one core belief, as evidenced by their words, and, in the NUJ’s case, recent actions. That belief can be summarised by the following:
1. Journalism is changing radically, largely as a result of new technology.
2. This new technology makes it trivially easy for writers to produce high quality imagery, whether still or video.
3. The reverse – that technology makes it equally easy for photographers to produce quality scribbling – has not occurred, nor is it likely to.
4. Therefore photographers should – to paraphrase Greenslade – face up to the new realities; or to put it another way, get ready for Darwin. The NUJ shares this view, concluding that it can best ensure it’s own survival by “protecting” [staff] writers, who will somehow metamorphose into fully-fledged multi-media hacks.
The odd thing is that it doesn’t seem to have occurred to any of these visionaries that photographers may be able to write just as well as writers can produce imagery: this alarming possibility simply doesn’t appear on their collective radar.
It was not for nothing that Private Eye’s Street Of Shame column used to be headed by a cartoon of a wordsmith at a computer bearing the headline ‘New Technology Baffles Pissed Old Hack’. Photographers and other visual journalists, on the other hand, have been on the cutting edge of the digital revolution for quite some time.
Perhaps Roy would care to evaluate for us the relative benefits of Lightroom versus Aperture. Meanwhile Shane can guide us through the intricacies of the bloated Creative Studio 3. And after that Jeff can give us a hands-on tutorial in Final Cut Pro. This is not some abstract theoretical issue: these are multi-media industry-standard tools, used by professional photographers every day to produce real journalism, as opposed to mere pontificating and navel-gazing.
Oh, and guess what guys? We can string a few words together too: and Microsoft Word is awfully easy to learn.
So who needs to face up to the new realities now?