A new study released by Oxford University’s Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism in association with World Press Photo offers a conflicting view of the lives of today’s photojournalists. On the one hand, the majority of the 1,556 photographers who participated in the survey are making $40,000 or less, and are concerned that risks to safety and financial security will only increase in the coming years; on the other hand, the majority are also happy with their career choice.
The study, which addresses financial concerns, employment status, the use of image manipulation, and social media, among other topics, is based on survey responses from photographers who entered the 2015 World Press Photo Contest. Respondents came from Europe (52 percent); North America (9.2 percent); South and Central America, and the Carribean (11.5 percent); Australasia (1.2 percent); Asia, Oceana, and the Middle East (22.3 percent); and Africa (1.3 percent). Eighty-five percent of respondents were male.Based on this sample, the authors concluded, “The average photojournalist in 2015…is a self-employed man aged 30–50, earning less than $30,000 a year from photography, while also making some supplementary income from other sources. The average photojournalist is very well educated, usually to degree level or beyond, and is most likely to rely upon media companies (newspapers and magazines with both print and online distribution) to earn a living.”
Other assertions made by the study, include:
- 93 percent of photographers “would prefer to do still photography only” rather than video or multimedia; younger photographers and those with staff jobs are more likely to have done video and multimedia work.
- 76 percent of photographers “regard [image] manipulation as a serious problem and 52 percent of respondents say they “stage images ‘sometimes.’” Respondents to the survey “are generally against altering photographs but tolerant of staging.”
- Facebook is the most important social media platform for their business, said 62 percent of photographers, yet only 23 percent said they’ve received financial benefits from using social media.
- Photojournalists are anxious about finances, but according to the study they “have neither more nor less financial anxiety than other individuals [working in other industries].”
- Copyright infringement is a problem: “Most of the photographers in this study agreed their images had been used without authorization and, overwhelmingly, where this had been the case, no remedy or payment had been forthcoming.”
- Contrary to claims that the proliferation of amateur photography cuts into work by professionals, the survey says: “Most photographers feel either neutral about [citizen photographers] or see it as a positive development.”
Photojournalists will no doubt nod at most of the conclusions made in the study. That photojournalism is a challenging, solitary field with few financial guarantees is not necessarily news. Still, it’s interesting to see the statistics that show many others feel the same way about the state of the profession today. For instance: “Two-thirds of the respondents said they were happy with their choice of livelihood, and 55 % feel mostly or always positive about the future.”
The full report is available here: The State of News Photography: The Lives and Livelihoods of Photojournalists in the Digital Age
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