Combining Professional and Citizen News Photography

As I’ve been looking around the Web today for photos of Hurricane Katrina’s damage to New Orleans and surrounding areas, I’ve had to specifically seek out “citizen” photos and those from professional photojournalists. At most news sites, still, the two groups of images are separated.

A typical example of this can be found at Nola.com, website of the New Orleans Times-Picayune. On this page linking to galleries of hurricane photos, professional and citizen images are segregated into separate pages.

Here’s a suggestion, from the perspective of the Web reader/viewer: I’d like to see a single gallery of the best images from the storm, whether they be from staff photojournalists, wire-service photojournalists, or citizen photographers. In a story like this, there will be citizen photos that are more powerful than what the pros come up with. So why not mix them up to produce a hurricane-image gallery made up of the best photographs, period?

This is primarily a matter of proper and clear labeling. Staff photos are labeled as such, and citizen submissions are clearly labeled as coming from an eyewitness amateur photographer.

Some photojournalists may object to this treatment; some might fear that this threatens their jobs. I’ve always felt that citizen news photography complements and augments the work of professionals. I would not want to rely on citizen photos alone to understand the breadth and depth of Katrina’s impact, but they can add to the pros’ body of work to give the viewer a better overall picture.

To demonstrate this, take a look at Hurricane Katrina photos submitted to Flickr, the public photo-sharing website owned by Yahoo! What you see is a lot of noise and a small signal — lots of images of dubious quality and value along with a few great ones. Now, while someone could sort through the Flickr hurricane images and create a strong gallery of citizen photography documenting Katrina, my expectation is that professional photojournalism plus the best of citizen news photography will best serve the public.

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