September 24, 2015

A new survey of more than 1,000 photojournalists worldwide paints a bleak picture of a profession beset by financial hardship, lack of gender diversity, scarcity of job opportunities and major technological upheaval.

The study, released Wednesday by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism and the World Press Photo Foundation, solicited information related to pay, job satisfaction, education and training from more than 1,500 photojournalists from 100 countries and territories. In general, they reported receiving relatively low pay for risky work that has been complicated by ethical questions that arose from technological advances:

The consequences of this disruption include the continuing collapse of print advertising revenue (a development which, however, predates the arrival of the Internet), the restructuring of newsrooms, the revisiting and reformulation of business models for journalism, the drive for new forms of content and income, and the formal job losses that have been recently endured by many media organisations.

Among its findings:

  • More than 80 percent of photojournalists who participated in the survey identified themselves as male, an indicator of strong gender imbalance in news photography.
  • Four-fifths of photographers surveyed work alone.
  • About 75 percent of photographers surveyed said they make less than $40,000 per year, with one-third making less than $10,000 per year.
  • “The unauthorized use of photographs without payment is widespread.”
  • Nine in 10 photographers surveyed reported feeling “vulnerable to the threat of physical risk or injury” on the job.
  • Slightly more than half of the photographers surveyed said they “sometimes” stage images by asking subjects to pose, repeat actions or wait while they get ready.

The survey is not devoid of bright spots. Despite the low wages, most photographers reported a positive outlook on their financial situation. About 60 percent said they were glad they stuck with photography, and slightly more than half were bullish on the future of the profession.

Although photojournalism is more important than ever, the survey reveals that companies are investing fewer resources in the journalists who provide it, said Kenny Irby, senior faculty of visual journalism and diversity at The Poynter Institute.

“In this age of the always-on, where people are awash in selfie-mania, Instagramming, Snapchating and livestreaming, the world has never had a greater appetite for visual reporting,” Irby said. “Almost 13 years ago, I penned a piece offering an argument for why photojournalism matters. And today I am pretty amazed that my argument then still stands. The deeper, more urgent question is, will media owners invest in photojournalism?”

The participants from the survey were drawn from the pool of applicants to the World Press Photo Foundation’s annual photojournalism contest, which numbered more than 5,000. The research is scheduled to continue over the next three years, Adrian Hadland, the director of journalism at the University of Stirling and the lead researcher for the project, said in a statement.

Our findings are surprising, even shocking in some respects, but they are also encouraging. This is a profession in flux and facing enormous challenges, but enjoying the freedom and creativity that is increasingly possible.

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Benjamin Mullin is the managing editor of He previously reported for Poynter as a staff writer, Google Journalism Fellow and Naughton Fellow, covering journalism…
Benjamin Mullin

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