Diverse photojournalism enhances your storytelling

As the challenge for diversity in the news industry continues, publishers explore the broader potential of photojournalism

REUTERS/Adriano Machado

By Sahar Amer  Sep 20, 2019

The popularity of image-based social network apps such as Instagram and Pinterest prove that attractive and engaging visual elements are important to the audience. Imagery also plays a key role in connecting the viewer to news and media articles. The adage ‘a picture speaks 1000 words’ is certainly true here; using appealing photography that not only compliments a story but makes it unique, ultimately results in audience retention and better journalism

“Representation in photojournalism is critical, because those who control our news imagery control our collective visual narrative.”

— Kainaz Amaria, visual editor, Vox 

Demand is growing for more diversity and better representation across news and media. It is just as important for the images to faithfully reflect the cross section of society reading the article, as well as add value to the text. In spite of this, photography worldwide still appears to lack in reflecting the wide variety of human experiences. For example, of the 1018 photographers who took part in The World Press Photos 2018 State of News Photography survey, more than 80% were men; 52% identified as White/Caucasian; and only 1% classified themselves as Black. 

THE STATE OF NEWS PHOTOGRAPHY 2018, World Press
If the photojournalism industry is still predominantly made up of white hetrosexual males, the photography used to tell the stories of other identities, ethnicities, and genders/sexualities will fail to represent those groups. Therefore, in order for publishers to attract and keep their diverse audiences, they must think about how they are visually representing them

Appealing to today’s audience

In August 2018, gal-dem, a publication written by women of color and non-binary people of color, partnered up with The Guardian for Guardian Weekend gal-dem takeover. The content in the publication didn’t differ from content on the gal-dem website, but they were able to reach wider audiences through the Guardian platform – and successfully. 

“The feedback has been overwhelming and the fact that sales spiked significantly are both clear reminders of the fact that diversity breeds creativity.”

— Liv Little, founder and editor-in-chief, gal-dem 

The Guardian, Weekend cover star Michaela Coel. Photograph: Rosaline Shahnavaz/The Guardian
Due to the high popularity of the publication and demand for back copies, The Guardian started selling the magazine online which was the first time they’ve sold standalone issues. The wide variety of people buying the gal-dem Weekender proves that greater visual diversity makes a publication more relevant to today’s audiences Similarly, when British Vogue Editor, Edward Enninful, addressed issues around lack of diversity with his first front cover starring Adwoa Aboah in November 2017, 36% of conversations around the issue were positive compared to a 16% monthly average before this. Since then, sales for British Vogue have gradually surged as more women are seeing themselves visually represented.

Embracing diversity

“Another reason why diversity in photojournalism matters is that a personal connection around gender or ethnic identity can open more doors when photographing a subject.”

— Marcela Kunova, Journalism.co.uk

Valuing photographers that come from different backgrounds is beneficial to any publisher or newsroom. For example, women, people of color, disabled, and non-binary photographers are able to access spaces and capture true representations that others possibly cannot. There are organizations that are already challenging this issue, such as, Diversify.Photo, Authority Collective, Chinese Storytellers, Natives Photograph and many more. Readers value seeing themselves accurately depicted and are more likely to engage with content that they relate to or that relate to others.  Award winning photojournalist and Chief Photographer for West Africa at Reuters, Zohra Bensemra says, “people easily accept women journalists over men. I feel people trust women more as they are sensitive to understanding their problems.”  Also the fact that Zohra has lived experience of growing up in a non-democratic society enables her to truly capture the experiences of citizens whose stories go unheard or untold. “My experience helps me to understand and feel the moment. It is important for me to transfer the moment as it presents itself to me. I always put myself in their place, I imagine myself facing the same moment. Identify myself with them.”

REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
We also spoke to Corinne Perkins, North America Editor at Reuters Pictures, about how the photojournalism industry is dominantly white male centric and how to tackle this issue.  She discusses some breakthroughs in Reuters US divisions, “in 2018 we made a significant change by hiring a female photographer into our Washington, D.C. office which completely altered the dynamic there as it was predominantly male orientated.”
REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
Incorporating diversity behind the camera is just as important to capturing diverse subjects in front of the camera, “bringing together a mixed group of photographers creates a new situation where you talk about things that affect different people, so it becomes a journalistic issue that everybody needs to be aware of.” Corinne continues, “at Reuters we’re very open about who’s photographing what when we’re in communication with the client to assure them that we’ll be sending and using the right photographer for the job.”  “We’re trying to look at who is going to have the best access, not only in terms of community, but who is going to represent a story better. I think talking about the nuance of photography is also really important, for example, we published a series in 2018 from a white Australian photographer, Andrew Kelly, who’s based in New York on Danish Muslim women facing the veil ban.”  “This is a great example of going beyond fetishising the veil. He got an invite from the community who called them up and chose him to document it, it’s important that it’s a fair representation and that it’s nuanced and layered and not perpetuating a stereotype,” she explains. 
REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
Corinne concludes, “I would say that I don’t think we’re finished or that we have all the solutions here at Reuters, but it’s a work in progress and we need to improve and keep pushing. We also need to get the community at large, it can’t just be women and photographers of color pushing for this, it has to be supported by those who are in privileged positions.”

“It’s not about pushing them out but it’s part of a push to make the community better and make the coverage better which doesn’t preclude them from doing stories, but it does mean that they need to have a sensitivity to the stories which wasn’t demanded previously.” 

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