Search Results for: pro-am

The Pro-Am Divide: Two Stories

The Chicago Sun-Times recently fired all its photographers.
The paper’s new plan: Hire freelancers.
And give each Sun-Times reporter an iPhone
along with tips on how to use its camera.
So when the Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup this week,
the Sun-Times published this:

Chicago Sun Times Stanley Cup cover

Meanwhile, the Chicago Tribune, which still maintains
a staff of professional photographers,
published this:

Chicago Tribune cover Stanley Cup

Score one for the pros.
On the other hand…
When Rusty, a red panda, escaped from the National Zoo this week,
professional photojournalists and videographers
ran a slow second:

Old media meets new media

Score one for the amateurs.

≡ Stanley Cup covers via PetaPixel 
≡ Tweet by @Patrick_Madden

“So God made a farmer”: A study in photography’s
pro-am divide

Here are two videos with virtually the same narration by Paul Harvey — but with dramatically different photographs. One is illustrated with amateur snapshots; the other one — which was shown during yesterday’s Super Bowl — is an advertisement for the Dodge Ram pick-up truck, and showcases images created by some of the finest photographers in the world.

Question is: When compared side-by-side, which video is more effective? more authentic? more believable?

Put another way: Which video calls attention primarily to the farmers and the lives they lead? Which video has you focusing more on the photographs of the farmers?

Which one treats the photograph as an illustration of a people, of a story? Which one treats the photograph as an object in and of itself?

Which video has images that could easily be removed from the video, framed, and then hung proudly on your wall without any supporting narration from Paul Harvey? Which video doesn’t?

Finally, are the executives at Dodge primarily trying to connect the viewer to farmers? to people? to a feeling? or to a very specific object?

Do you see the difference?

Resolved: The Pro-Am Photo Gap Is Closing Fast


Welcome to our virtual debate about the relative value of amateur vs. professional photojournalism. Although it’s not an actual face-to-face argument between two opponents, our side-by-side presentation of two separate talks from TED (see videos, below) helps illuminate some key tensions between the people who control traditional media outlets—and those of us who don’t. Our hope is that by addressing these issues honestly and openly, we can help the Editor of National Geographic realize the untapped potential of the Society’s members — millions of whom have digital cameras of their own.

The gap between professional and amateur photographers
is closing fast.

Clay Shirky

Clay Shirky

Arguing in the affirmative: Clay Shirky, author of Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations, and a faculty member at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. His video presentation is called “Institutions vs. Collaboration” — but it could be called: The High Priests in Our Old Photographic Temples Should Be Trembling In Their Shoes.

David Griffin

David Griffin

Arguing in the negative: David Griffin, Director of Photography for National Geographic magazine. His presentation is called “Photography Connects Us With The World,” but it could be called: All Hail The High Priests of Professional Photojournalism, For Only We Ministers of the Media Can Reliably Lead The Rest of You to The True and The Beautiful.

Some listening tips….

In David’s talk, you might pay particular attention to the structure of his presentation. He begins with Let’s look at some great photos…. He segues to: One of these photos was taken by an amateur, and amateurs sometimes produce some amazing pictures…. Which leads to his key rhetorical pivot — the big But: … But to be a great photojournalist….” David then offers a spirited defense not of collaborating with amateurs, but of professional photographers — and, by extension, a defense of his own institutional authority (and of his job).

In Clay’s talk, you’ll hear why he believes there’s enormous value to be found in the tsunami of images produced by amateurs. Also: Pay particular attention to his critique of Steve Ballmer, the CEO of Microsoft. Ballmer once belittled the thousands of amateur computer programmers who created Linux — a hugely successful open-source operating system — because each programmer contributed a tiny bit of code compared to what’s produced by the highly-paid professionals at Microsoft. According to Shirky:

[Ballmer] said, oh, this business of thousands of programmers contributing to Linux, this is a myth. We’ve looked at who’s contributed to Linux, and most of the [security] patches have been produced by programmers who’ve only done one thing….

new-coca-cola-bottleFrom Ballmer’s point of view, that’s a bad idea, right? ‘We hired this programmer, he came in, he drank our Cokes and played Foosball for three years and he had one idea.’ (Laughter) Right? Bad hire. Right? (Laughter)…

[But] the fact that a single programmer can, without having to move into a professional relation to an institution, improve Linux once and never be seen again, should terrify Ballmer. Because this kind of value is unreachable in classic institutional frameworks, but is part of cooperative systems….

First on stage with his opening argument, please welcome a senior representative of a “classic institutional framework” — Mr. David Griffin….

(To view the videos, please click on the thumbnail images at the bottom of the frame;
if you click on the big image at the top, you’ll jump over to YouTube.)


In closing, we’d reiterate one of Clay’s points:

Institutions hate being told they’re obstacles.

But the good news for National Geographic is: We don’t have to be an institution controlled by a few of photography’s high priests. We could be a Society of members instead.


Special note to David Griffin & Editor-in-Chief Chris Johns: What’s your take on Clay Shirky’s presentation? Do you plan to engage the members of our Society in any type of “cooperative system” that extends beyond the tired old divide of Your Shot & Our Shot? (You want labels for who takes the pictures — pro or amateur — but most of us out here are simply interested in seeing great pictures.) If you’re interested in collaboration, what do you have in mind? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments, below.


Image credits
≡   graphic of debaters via Dewey21c
≡   photo of Clay Shirky via
≡   photo of David Griffin via
≡   photo of Coke bottle via

Cover Story: The Pro-Am Divide Narrows (Again)


April 27, 2009

News item: TIME paid $30 for this cover photo via iStockphoto. (New frugality, indeed.)

The photographer: Robert Lam, who says: “Photography is an enormous passion for me.”

Jeff Howe, author of Crowdsourcing, says: Passion is the currency of the 21st century.”

Moral: As passionate photographers continue to master their new digital tools, the gap between professional and amateur photographers will undoubtedly keep shrinking.

Question: Is it time for our Society to dispense with the Our Shot / Your Shot distinction? After all, isn’t one of our goals to showcase great photographs—no matter who takes them?



≡ TIME cover via
≡ Your Shot cover via

Moving fast

Here at Society Matters, we frequently cover how the gap between pro & amateur photographers is closing fast.

To keep ahead of this “army of [digitally-armed] Davids,” the pros have had to pick up the tempo — and some of them have: 

Could amateurs orchestrate such an impressive production? Maybe. Will they? Probably not.

Point to our professional friends at National Geographic magazine.

The Center Will Not Hold (part 6)

Photography’s pro-am divide
continues to shrink at breathtaking speed.


Or, as photographers like to say: "f8 and be there."

Read the whole thing here.


The flying videographer….

The Mystery of the Annual Report: Solved!

A few days ago, we posted what appeared to be the National Geographic Society’s 2010 annual report.

When we first discovered it online, we couldn’t tell if it was the real deal. It looked authentic. It had the right NGS vibe. And with all those butterfly and polar bear shots, it clearly reflected a deep devotion to The Planet.

But something seemed… off. For instance, a photograph of Gil Grosvenor, the former NGS Chairman of the Board, was ID’d as John Fahey, the new Chairman (and CEO). Was it an error? Or a clever way to say that John is the new Gil? The mystery deepened….

Well, a few Google searches later, we discovered this “annual report” is actually the creation of Elizabeth McClain, a communications design & photography student at Syracuse University. A rising senior, Elizabeth created this publication for a class assignment, but you get the feeling she would have been happy to produce this without any prodding from her teacher. On every page, Elizabeth’s creativity and talent shine through.

There are many gifted people out there — amateurs whose digital tools are now no different than those used by professionals. Which means the pro-am divide is often less about a differential in talent, vision, and passion, and more about who gets a paycheck and health insurance.

Usually, when an amateur like Ms. McClain jumps out of the crowd this way, we say: The center will not hold.

Today, though, the voice of Rex Barney is echoing in our ears: Give that fan a contract!

See Elizabeth McClain’s project, in all its hi-def glory, here.

Multimedia ‘Survivor’: Who Wins This Game?


A conversation about digital storytelling (left to right): NPR's Andrea Hsu, Keith Jenkins, and Jacki Lyden; and NGS's Steven Alvarez and Rob Covey.

Here’s a puzzler: If both National Geographic and National Public Radio are now in the same business of multimedia storytelling — as this piece claims — then which company has the better business model to create those stories in the years to come?

Let’s do a few quick comparisons:

• National Geographic has become an increasingly advertising-driven company at a time when advertisers and publishers are going through a painful divorce. Whereas NPR remains a virtually ad-free zone.

• National Geographic dismantled its Membership Center Building in Gaithersburg, Maryland, about 15 years ago. Whereas NPR works hard to build upon its relationships with member stations and their members.

(Sidebar: I recently attended NPR’s first-ever PubCamp, a weekend-long unconference designed “to strengthen the relationship that public broadcasters have with their communities through the creation of collaborative projects.” It was a fascinating two days, not so much for the projects, but for the passion and engagement that can be created when the leaders of a high-profile institution say to the regular folk: We need you. Help us build something new and exciting. You matter.)

•  The National Geographic Society usually avoids mentioning its last name in public (see logo in photo, above) because as a senior NGS executive once told us: “Nobody wants to belong to anything.” By contrast, NPR regularly tells its members: We’re public radio. We belong to you.

•  National Geographic is a .com; NPR is a .org — and wants you to know it (see photo, above).

•  National Geographic establishes partnerships with companies that sell air freshener and bedroom furniture; NPR doesn’t.

•  National Geographic Magazine publishes more than 30 local language editions, including one in mainland China. NPR (best we know) has no plans to revamp its editorial content so it can curry favor with the gatekeepers in Beijing and become a global media brand.

NPR_pictureshowIf NPR and National Geographic are both in the business of multimedia storytelling, then a generation of young people will grow up seeing both organizations occupying the same stage  — often in “partnership” (at right). As a result, the lines that distinguish these two brands will gradually blur in the minds of consumers (NPR is a great destination for stunning multimedia stories….). The business models, though, will continue to diverge.

Our biggest fear? The organization that maintains its dependence on advertising revenue and air freshener will, sooner or later, kill itself.

The good news is we’re optimists. We still think National Geographic could pull out of its death spiral. But the Society — especially the Magazine — needs to do a few things, and do them soon. Here’s our Top Ten List (which is a partial summary of Society Matters to date):

1. Give the Magazine’s microphone to someone who can inspire a crowd.

2. Realize the value is not in the content, which can now be found everywhere, but in building and strengthening the Society’s relationships with and between its members.

3. Publicly admit that the pro-am divide is shrinking by the day.

4. Mobilize the Society’s members to help cover the world and all that is in it.

5. Don’t try to be everything to everyone. Instead, embrace the story that made you great.

6. Stop sucking up to despots.

7. Stand for something.

8. Open up the conversation about the future of our Society.

9. Don’t forget that the Society’s mission — to inspire people to care about the planet — is not the same thing as inspiring people to care about pictures of the planet.

10. When everyone else in the industry is afraid of making the wrong move, don’t be afraid to dance.

The ‘Decisive Moment’ May Be Passing


For the June 2009 issue of Esquire, photographer Greg Williams shot video of actress Megan Fox with a Red One camera and extracted stills from the resulting footage. Frame grabbing, it’s called, and it’s a big deal, especially as journalists are expected to bring back more digital content from the field.

Nieman Journalism Lab has a nice summary here. One revealing excerpt:

[Photographer David Leeson has] been surprised by the resistance among many of his fellow photojournalists. Even as each wave of new cameras to hit the market makes frame grabbing an easier option, Leeson still finds himself preaching to the unconverted. The main resistance may be the core belief that the fundamental art of the photograph is timing the decision of when to press the shutter.

What happens when this “core belief” gets blown apart by new technology? The pro-am divide among photographers will narrow even more.

First, Put The Camera In a Styrofoam Beer Cooler….

The Pro-Am divide keeps shrinking:


From Wired‘s Gadget Lab:

Students Justin Lee and Oliver Yeh “(from MIT, of course) put together a low-budget rig to fly a camera high enough to photograph the curvature of the Earth. Instead of rockets, boosters and expensive control systems, they filled a weather balloon with helium and hung a styrofoam beer cooler underneath to carry a cheap Canon A470 compact camera. Instant hand warmers kept things from freezing up and made sure the batteries stayed warm enough to work.

Of course, all this would be pointless if the guys couldn’t find the rig when it landed, so they dropped a prepaid GPS-equipped cellphone inside the box for tracking. Total cost, including duct tape? $148.”

Very cool.

Photo credit: 1337 Arts/Justin Lee and Oliver Yeh via Wired

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