Is Stock Photography Killing Photojournalism?

The dip in the economy and the shifting nature of media are taking a toll on photojournalists, who have to scramble to find enough work on which to squeak by.

According to photojournalists, the problems facing their occupation at this juncture are threefold: A drastic downturn in advertising, the accessibility of digital photography, and a shift in attitude regarding the use of stock photos.

Indeed, more and more publications are turning to stock photography rather than original, commissioned photography because the former is accessible and helps keep costs down. Stock photography has also steadily improved from the days when it consisted pretty much solely of over-saturated images of white people running along a beach or typing on laptops beside cups of hot cocoa. With more and more people enjoying easy access to digital photography, even amateur or, you know, less than great photographers can produce images fit for print. And amateur photographers are willing to get paid less than are professional photojournalists, which makes their work that much more enticing to stock photo agencies.

Which brings us back to the concept of “value.” The Chicago Tribune believes (or, rather, hopes) that consumers are willing to pay for their archived collection of photos – presumably all taken by professional photojournalists for the paper. Will we, eventually, see the pendulum swing towards a demand for original, professional photography in news, perhaps under the concept of prestige in publishing, with publications making heavy use of stock photography (like so many supermarket check-out weeklies, for instance) seeming less professional or prestigious? Or has the business of photojournalism been permanently and irreversibly altered?