Photojournalist Bemoans ‘Philosophical Devaluation’ of His Profession

From the 4th Grade in 1963 to what's left of Donald R. Winslow's passion today

Veteran photographer Donald R. Winslow lays it out clearly in conversation with New York Times blog Lens. Google has impacted his trade in many more ways beyond the siphoning of print and digital newspaper ad revenue.

Winslow, currently the managing editor of content creation for Texas newspaper the Amarillo Globe-News, spoke with the Times just as he was putting to bed the Super Bowl Sunday edition. He says editors today tend to Google their way to a photographer who is already based locally in a city of intended coverage, rather than sending someone out to the destination on assignment. And that, he argues, has had various deeper ramifications:

“It used to be about the vision of the photographer you were sending. It was not a bottom-line decision. It was about the caliber of journalism and the caliber of photography that was being produced. Now, we’re willing to accept whatever we can afford to buy from somebody who’s already there. It’s not about the caliber of the journalism or photography. That’s a bean-counter decision.”

Winslow also points to greedy media-company owners and stockholders. And he notes that for the same base rate, a lot of freelance photographers today are now expected to produce audio, video and slide shows.

There’s a lot to mull over here. Part of what makes the interview so memorable is that Winslow pulls no punches, outlining in detail just how devastating to the profession of photojournalism the last decade and a half have been. At one point, Lens co-editor James Estrin notes, “Well, this is an uplifting interview.” To which Winslow replies, “Well, I’m sorry, did you want me to lie?”

P.S. One of the papers that was combined into what is today the Amarillo Globe-News was a Prohibition publication launched Nov. 4, 1909 by a Baptist deacon.

Update (Feb. 18):
Lens has published a counterpoint Q&A with Times photographer and video journalist Leslye Davis, 26, who, has been with the paper for five years and started out there as an intern. Davis wants to make sure that today’s students of the craft do not get overly discouraged:

“Some of the points in the article were right, but the overall message about the uncertain future of photojournalism was wrong and it spoke more to what photojournalism used to be than of what it’s becoming.”

Feb. 15 front page of Winslow’s newspaper courtesy: newseum.org