Changing Business, Internet Expansion Hit Photojournalism in the 2000s

David Nova, training here on the McAfee Knob along the Appalachian Trail near Roanoke, took a five-month sabbatical to hike the Pacific Crest Trail in 2005. Photo by Stephanie Klein-Davis, The Roanoke Times
David Nova, training here on the McAfee Knob along the Appalachian Trail near Roanoke, took a five-month sabbatical to hike the Pacific Crest Trail in 2005. Photo by Stephanie Klein-Davis, The Roanoke Times

By Katelyn Umholtz

In the months before January 1, 2000, the world wasn’t sure what was to come once the millennium would hit. For journalists, the Y2K mystery was also there as they were adjusting to a more digital world with fewer co-workers to help them through it.

To Stephanie Klein-Davis, a photographer at The Roanoke Times, there were really two decades within the ten years of the early 2000s.

“The early 2000s were a lot stronger in newspapers than the mid 2000s because the recession hadn't happened yet,” Klein-Davis said.

She said the beginning of the decade still saw larger staffs, where The Roanoke Times had eight to ten photographers, and they still had an editor. They also had the money for out-of-town assignments.

“We were traveling a lot more, which is something that I truly miss because I love to travel,” Klein-Davis said. “I don't even care if it's some little rinky-dink town.”

Michael Schwarz, a freelance photographer in Atlanta, said he used to do much more editorial work in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Even in the earlier part of the 2000s, he had a good mix of editorial, corporate and commercial work.

“In the early 2000s [photojournalism] was still viable, but as that decade progressed it became less and less viable,” Schwarz said.

The growth of the internet also changed the industry.

“It became a preeminent news source for a lot of people,” Schwarz said. “The publications really started to cut back and fail. A lot of my editorial clients went out of business, and the ones that remained in business became a shadow of their former selves.”

Klein-Davis said it wasn’t just the internet in general, but also the way publishing companies modeled their businesses so they could get readers to look at online content.

“They gave the content away for free,” Klein-Davis said. “That was a really bad model. You can't start giving away things for free and then come back and say you need to pay for this now.”

The internet, she said, is what lead to cutbacks and loss of raises, issues that still effect the industry.

These economic factors pushed some people away from the industry, like Schwarz. He said he does very little editorial work nowadays because he couldn’t make enough money from it. Now, he does mostly corporate and commercial work as well as workshops and teaching.

“It wasn't by choice, but by necessity,” Schwarz said. “I was getting fewer phone calls, but I was also turning down more work because the rates were just so low. I was forced to seek out other kinds of work.”

He said this was not what he imagined his career being like. He got into photography as a career because he was passionate about photojournalism.

“It was disappointing because I would have preferred to stay in journalism,” Schwarz said. “For me, it just wasn't there anymore. The thing I loved about photojournalism, as a freelancer, just wasn't really viable anymore. I needed to have a viable business.”

For Schwarz, the early 2000s was the nail in the coffin for photojournalism. Klein-Davis, however, has kept her staff job she’s had since the ‘80s, despite the budget cuts and increased work.

“It's basically love it or leave it,” Klein-Davis said. “We went ten years without raises here, so that was a struggle. But the rewards are that you get to do this job. To me, that was worth it to stay in it.”

 

0