Photographers will soon be the most valuable people in the newsroom, and it won’t be long before they put writers out of jobs.
Because, when you’re on the go, the easiest stories to consume, create or share aren’t text based. They’re photo based. As TechCrunch’s MG Siegler just wrote, “If pen beats the sword, camera beats pen.”
Take, for example, Hurricane Sandy coverage.
PandoDaily’s Sarah Lacy asked if Sandy could be Instagram’s big citizen journalism moment. But it wasn’t just a big moment for Instagram. It was a big opportunity for news outlets. The most read stories were pictures of destruction caused by the storm without much text. People wanted to see the news, not read it.
As smart phones and tablets become more mainstream, the web is becoming more visual. Mobile devices are the new glossy magazines; text-ridden sites are boring, black and white newspapers.
Increasingly, attractive, photo-heavy articles are stealing the most online readership. Take these two articles for example:
- 21 Images That Will Restore Your Faith In Humanity – BuzzFeed’s most trafficked article to date, received 10.3 million reads. The only text in the story was the photo captions.
- Incredible Pictures Of Storm Damage In New York City – Business Insider’s most trafficked Hurricane Sandy article, almost entirely pictures. Was viewed 3.34 million times.
One big photo hit can account for the same traffic as 10 well-written articles; they’re easier to digest and often take less time to make.
Still, photos aren’t anything without proper packaging. BuzzFeed’s Jonah Peretti says he looks for people who can frame photos stories, not just find images. Instead of linking to cute cat photos, his team creates headlines like, “You Won’t Make It All The Way Through These 10 Pictures Of Kittens Without Squealing.”
With that in mind, the question becomes who’s better to for news sites to hire: A writer they can train to take better photos, or photographers who have honed their skills but need help with context? Good photos are difficult to find for cheap. News sites might as well pay people on staff for images rather than iStock or AP.
News sites will still need a few good writers to stir up meaningful conversations and thoughtful analysis. But photographers will be the people the writers can thank for their paychecks. Their articles will steal pageviews and support publications in the rapidly approaching, mobile-first world.