Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Phonajournalism, 101?

So, Yahoo gets in bed with Reuters and pundits the globe over announce the death of photojournalism. Easy, fellas. I've been examining this ugly trend ever since a horde of housewives tried to block my shot of a local implosion a year and a half ago. Since then, a cell phone captured the first images of a crippled London subway, YouTube gave everyone their own TV station and that doofus from Seinfeld went absolutely batshit. On second thought, maybe there's good reason to panic. But then again, what good would it do? A planet full of cameraphone addicts ain't gonna re-think that Blackberry purchase just because we seasoned lensers prefer things in focus. Are they?

My guess is no. In fact, it's estimated that one billion cameraphones will be in circulation globally by 2008. That, my friends, is an awful lot of jittery pixels. And while today's cam-phone footage often makes 'The Blair Witch Project' look like 'Citizen Kane', it's becoming clear the folks we used to call our audience just don't care. Not when they can put Aunt Gertrude on hold and record their own footage of the fender-bender, the Bar Mitzvah, that angry giant lizard scaling City Hall. Of course breaking news has always temporarily suspended longheld production values. Unedited news footage aired unexamined, silver-templed anchors pausing mid-sentence to listen their earpiece, unscreened phone calls patched in live. Compared to today's technology, these improvised methods seem as quaint and antiquated as those hideous blazers with the oversized pocket logos management used to make the anchors wear. Yick!

But I didn't log in to issue fashion advice. One look inside my closet full of wrinkled cabanawear should disqualify me from that mission. But as someone who funnels images to the masses for a daily wage, I feel compelled to comment on the democratization, not death, of photojournalism. As I first wrote more than a year ago, 'the advent of digital camera phones will be viewed by historians as a touchstone event in the Information Age - a landmark development that first harnessed hi-fi imagery with wi-fi dissemination; sleek, marvelous machines that fit in your palm and plug into the world. These ever-evolving tools may well prove to be the great equalizer in the new media frontier; hand-held, high-tech devices capable of generating new streams of information where not so long ago there was noisy static, and once, only silence.'

Well, that silence is long gone. Much like Marconi's wrangling of wireless technology forever ended The Great Hush of pre-Edwardian times, so too has the lowly cell phone caused the era of limited image dispersal to come to an abrupt and often ugly halt. But then again, aesthetics don't seem to matter much to the millions of viewers watching their neighbors re-enact the forbidden dance on YouTube. Nor will proper camera management mean alot to the private citizens who will capture the next global calamity from every possible angle. Lastly, proper cinematography won't be on the minds of news executives who will, if they're smart, be way too busy shoving these myriad of images on-line, on-air and in your face.

No, the only ones who will balk at the new 'phonajournalism' will be self-important schlubs like me, who've spent the last fifteen years perfecting their grasp of the heavy lens, only to have their once captive audience discover the freedom of phoning it in themselves. I'll be in back, replaying a bunch of stilted news stories from my past if anyone needs me. Until then, hold all my calls...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Alas Stewart, you cannot hold back technology. All you can do is look at it and understand what it will do. There will always be a place for quality, but the universe is going to get a lot bigger and a lot messier. That is not necessarily a bad thing. The print free press has been an open platform mess for 500 years, but we like it anyway. Now it comes to video. Hold fast to your own brand of quality. It will always find a home.