Social media has given photojournalists in conflict zones a million extra eyes. But when a picture is worth a thousand words, the trick is to find the right one.
An old woman kisses a riot police officer on the streets of Cairo. A building collapses in Tokyo. Bloodied bodies and dismembered limbs fill a hospital ward in Benghazi. The pictures come to us via Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook, taken with mobile phones or web-enabled digital cameras. Far from the arena of revolutionary riots or the tumult of a natural disaster, ordinary people sit transfixed.
This story is well known. With the proliferation of new media tools and social networks, powerful images of global crises are streamed straight to the laptops and smartphones of people around the world. Since Iranian citizensfilled the streets of Tehran in 2009Despite the regime of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, social media has allowed even the least tech-savvy people around the world to become viewers of the story.
While the value of new media as an organizational tool in global crises since the 2009 Iran election protests has been hotly debated, its role in the narrative storytelling process is palpable. In places like Libya, where journalists are banned, or in disaster areas like post-earthquake Haiti, where normal means of communication are cut off, social media links can become a means of observation (or in the case of a technician). intelligent dictatorship, surveillance) the origins of political unrest or the emergence of a moment in world history. But the new media also pose challenges for photojournalists: While a single snapshot can tell more than a thousand words, the art lies in getting it right.
The technical use of the new media for photojournalists in crisis areas is tantamount to unpolished digital omniscience. A universe of photojournalists, both amateur and professional, is exposed to the public through social media, allowing news organizations to discover important stories with tools beyond their existing technical capabilities.
"In terms of Twitter, it's a very useful tool for guiding news outlets to potential leads and potential story developments," said Santiago Lyon, cameraman at the Associated Press. AP, along with Reuters and Getty Images, provide the vast majority of editorial photography used by US news outlets. “When there's a groundbreaking story, whether it's an ongoing crisis or a one-off development, like a plane in the Hudson, we very actively scan social media sites for imagery: browsing, scraping Twitter and Facebook, requesting information. There's a fairly robust mechanism within the AP to identify and record citizen journalism...once we find something of interest, it's up to a specialist to take care of it. The content goes through a special department for examination. We're looking, applying and reviewing, hint."
With the camera phone essentially turning any casual observer into a potential photojournalist, an extra pair of eyes in Libya could eventually become a temporary appendage to a larger news-gathering organization. Lyon provides the example ofAlaguri, a Benghazi resident who, as Western journalists, became the AP's only pair of eyes in Libya in mid-FebruaryYou just came into the country. "We found a man in Benghazi, Libya, who had posted some photos on the internet," Lyon said. “We tracked him down through his Facebook account. We made contact, chatted, asked pertinent questions, made sure he was who he said he was, got permission for his photos, and hired him for a few days of work. Until We got an exclusive look at the vents in Benghazi last weekend, when no other picture came out of Libya. Our customers have used that. It was great news thanks to the strength of the good, virtual coverage and the highest and verified ."
But verification can often be problematic, and proper context and attribution is often lost in the space between retweets and Facebook shares. If they do come forward, how does a news outlet know they're dealing with the photographer or copyright owner? How do we organize the distribution of the content? Is it a financial transaction? Even determining the original owner of a photograph becomes problematic. "It's very complicated because what's happening on social media becomes sort of an echo chamber," Lyon said. "People scrape things off each other's accounts, or a contextual claim is far from good or strong."
If the original source of a photo cannot be verified, the value of the content is in question. “We have to look at these things on a case-by-case basis. There is no overall overall approach other than 'they have to be sure' that the content is what it says it is and that the person is capable of dealing with it." (the owner or a proxy)" said Lyon. or it is stuff that we absolutely need because we don't need it, I don't have it or it's from a hard-to-reach place or whatever.”
Agence France-Presse and Getty Images ran into trouble for copyright infringement shortly after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. photographerDaniel MorchelHe managed to post exclusive footage of the devastation in Port-Au-Prince after the earthquake on his Flickr and Twitter accounts. The images were stolen by a Dominican named Lisandro Suero and redistributed on Twitpic. AFP and Getty licensed and distributed the photos attributed to Suero to major news organizations thatNew York Times, Time Inc., laWashington Post. In December 2010, Morel won a pretrial victory against AFP and Getty in federal court for copyright infringement. "The Anews organization did not conduct any due diligence," Lyon said. “That is absolutely crucial. No matter how compelling the content, we always make sure to negotiate with the copyright owner.”
While verification can be a technical or legal hurdle for photojournalists using new media as an information source, it is at the heart of the ethical and aesthetic issues of photojournalism and crisis reporting. The sudden influx of raw footage from areas devastated by political conflict and natural disasters can represent a wealth of information, and tight-budget news organizations are more likely to trust local citizen journalists, but they don't necessarily form a narrative narrative. precious photojournalism at heart.
I spoke to the staffPulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting, an independent organization promoting coverage of global issues, on the evolving role of new media in photojournalism. Founded in 2006, the Pulitzer Center treats coverage of systemic global problems as long-term media campaigns that focus on often-ignored issues ranging from food and water insecurity to homophobia, government stigma, fragile and women and children in crisis.
"Pulitzer's definition of 'crisis' differs from the conventional understanding of the term," said Nathalie Applewhite, CEO of the Pulitzer Center. “It's not that crisis doesn't mean immediate crises like earthquakes and floods, but the Pulitzer Center perspective is mostly about systemic crises: what happens before, what happens after, the underlying causes. New media is very important immediately, but not very important in the long term. It doesn't matter if there are a thousand cameras, what matters is the narrative. A photojournalist with an artistic vision that goes beyond superficial reporting. It's a different media space."
Applewhite cites the work of Andre Lambertson, a New York-based photographer, as an example of quality photojournalism. Lambertson traveled to Haiti after the 2010 earthquakedocumentthe spread of HIV and AIDS in Port-au-Prince for the Pulitzer Center projectAfter the earthquake: HIV/AIDS in Haiti. “The Haitian government estimated that 24,000 Haitians had access to ARVs before the earthquake; according to UNAIDS, less than 40 percent had access by mid-summer,” wrote Lisa Armstrong, a press journalist who has been with Lambertson on the project, which is being launched at the Pulitzer Center. 's website in August 2010. "Hundreds of HIV-positive people live in IDP tents, where their weakened immunity and unrelenting heat and rain make them more vulnerable to disease. Sex in these IDP camps, both forced and consensual, is becoming more common likely to increase the spread of HIV.” *His work in Haiti, according to Applewhite, exemplifies the qualities that make photojournalism valuable: “sensitive vs. sensational images that really tell a story.”
"We want images that stand the test of time," Applewhite explained. “Snapshots and photos taken with camera phones are not things we can go back to to learn and understand something deeper. Images from Haiti and Congo, these images tell a much bigger story than what is in front of them at this moment.”
What is happening to the traditional photojournalist in the new media landscape? "It could be a really negative thing," Applewhite said. "News agencies are often content with random snapshots from Egypt and don't necessarily always need well thought-out, professional content."
Applewhite noted that for professional photojournalists, just like AP and Reuters, collaborative content can be complementary, allowing photojournalists and news organizations to explore and evaluate new networks. "Direct broadcasts are an absolute complement to citizen journalists, and bloggers can draw attention to an issue," he said, echoing AP's Santiago Lyon. "But we'd like to verify the sources and make sure the information tells the story it tells before it's released."
Pulitzer Center staff are particularly sensitive to verification issues. In crisis situations, verification often goes far beyond the aforementioned copyright issues and the associated legal ramifications, which are of great concern to major news services such as the Associated Press, Getty Images and Reuters. A photo taken out of context can have disastrous consequences in a post-conflict zone.
"People believe pictures to be truer than words," Applewhite said. “And the images can be manipulated. They can be used by someone with a legitimate interest to make things work a certain way. There's a certain caution that emanates from a major news organization.”
Managing Editor Tom Hundley witnessed the impact of unconfirmed or out-of-context images long before the advent of social media. During the NATO bombing of Kosovo and Serbia, the Serbian War Ministry published a series of lavish volumes of photographs and stories of killed civilians as part of a propaganda campaign. "It was full of gory images, grandmothers of people with mutilated bodies," Hundley recalled. "For much of it, I was there with 40 or 50 other reporters. We were basically prisoners at the Belgrade Hyatt, except when we were brought out to report on civilian casualties and collateral damage. The Croatian-Serbian governments made appalling use of "radio", press and television".
State manipulation of images is certainly a problem, but the rapid pace of social media, which makes verification so problematic, means that conflict images are often subject to misinterpretation and subsequent reactionary violence," said Jake Naughton, who is in charge of public relations and production at the Pulitzer Center: "Now it only takes 30 minutes to make a correction, but a lot can happen in a conflict zone in half an hour, especially at the rate at which information is being circulated."
Despite the downsides of social media (the increasingly uncertain issue of verification and the changing emphasis on unedited, instantaneous photos), new media technology is giving professional journalists and news organizations the tools to engage in the kind of storytelling that photojournalism makes valuable. Social networks, like so many other tools, are not inherently good or bad; it just needs to be implemented in the right way to accurately tell a story. For longer, less immediate stories of crises — famine, environmental degradation, or post-conflict reconstruction — social media can engage audiences long after the gory images have been removed from the evening news.
"One of the things that helps us be creative is having content play out over a long period of time," said Maura Youngman, new media strategist at the Pulitzer Center. “Sometimes the material we produce can fall off the map after a few weeks and the stories may not be as digestible. Using new media and social media to create creative trailers allows people to come in, digest the information and enjoy it.”
Youngman points to Lambertson's work in Haiti as an example of the power of social media to keep history alive. “Eight months after the completion of Andre's project, we are re-publishing photos alongside poems in English and Creole. New media allows us to find additional channels to absorb and keep these stories alive. Given the systemic crises we're facing, no, we're just racing to keep up with the news cycle, but also trying to keep things on people's minds. That's the power of our social media channels."
The real test for working photojournalists is balancing the technical realities of the new media landscape with the aesthetic and ethical demands of practical journalism. "There's never been a time when you needed a professional class of journalist more than you do now," Naughton said. . "There is a real resurgence of formal and aesthetic qualities in contemporary journalism, the idea of aesthetics and photographers as storytellers, not just people who can deliver news."
In the past three years, new media has essentially experienced a baptism of fire as a news gathering tool. The goal of institutions like the Pulitzer Center is to merge the tools of new media with traditional ones. Mainstream journalists tell a story while connecting with local journalists and local channels through social media, and using new media tools to effectively deliver a narrative to readers around the world. Balancing the aesthetic with the speed of social media and keeping the technology alive is important to keep the stories moving.
Pictures:1. On February 21, 2011, buildings at the entrance to a security force compound are seen burning in Benghazi, Libya. The photos were taken by a Libyan photographer recruited and retained by AP. (AP Photo/Alaguri); 2. A Haitian woman awaits the results of an HIV test. (Andre Lambertson/Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting).
*In the publication, Lisa Armstrong's writing of the After The Quake: HIV/AIDS in Haiti project was originally credited to Andre Lambertson. Maura Youngman of the Pulitzer Center wrote an email to suggest that this was incorrect. We apologize for this mistake.