The Significance of Photojournalism in Citizen Journalism

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Has citizen photojournalism signaled the death of photojournalism? Discuss with reference to at least two examples. In this essay, I will be discussing whether citizen photojournalism has signaled the death of photojournalism. I will be looking at different examples to help determine if the question is true or not. The examples in this essay will range from photographers who have helped to shape the audience's opinions on events that have happened to how modern times has impacted the audience too. Like how social media has helped to shape people opinions on something that has been shared on the news, people are able to come together to share their own opinions and to see if it is creditable or not. 

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The definition of being a photojournalist is providing visual evidence to go along with and to support the story being told. The need for photojournalism is so the audience has all the information they need to make their own opinion on the story that’s being told. Throughout the earlier years, most of the stories that were being told were about the war, which meant a lot of newspaper outlets needed people on the front line documenting what was happening first hand. Making the stories being told more reliable in the publics eyes. One photojournalist that helped influence a lot of peoples minds is Eddie Adams. He was born on the 12th of June 1933. As of his photography background, he started as a wedding photographer after he finished high school. In 1951 he joined the Marines as a combat photographer and covered the Korean War. He was given tasks to complete while being with the soldiers. One assignment he had to complete was to photograph the entire demilitarized zone which took over a month. 

From 1958-62 he worked for the “Evening Bulletin” eventually leading him to work with the Association Press, again which lead him to cover more of the war. Which is where he took the “most famous image of the Vietnam war” said in a BBC News article. He won the Pulitzer Prize a year later and according to the Washington Post Eddie Adams felt terrible about winning an award for capturing someone’s death. This image changed a lot of people’s mind about the war in fact in a 2012 documentary Bill Eppridge said, “I think his picture was the moment that changed the war.” A lot of people commented saying the photograph pretty much summed up the war, showing the horrors civilians and the soldiers faced. When he took the photo, he wasn’t sure what he had actually captured. In an interview with the Washington Post, he stated he dropped off his film and said, “I think I got someone shooting someone” and then went to lunch. Which showed he soon became immune to what was happening around him. 

When a photographer takes a photo they have an opinion on that image but when the public sees it that original opinion can completely change, Eddie Adams took this image but never knew just how big it would be, he was simply documenting the war not thinking about the impact the images he took could have. Just like most photographers who was capturing the war too. In 1998 the general in the photograph died of cancer and Eddie Adams released a statement saying “Two people died in this photograph – the general killed Viet Cong: I killed the general with my camera.” he later apologized to the general and the generals family for the damage that had been done to their honor and later called the general a hero. Eddie Adams time as a photographer meant he covered over 13 different wars showing the reality of the wars gripping the audience each time. 

Many people relied a lot on people like Eddie Adams, the stories they were telling were the only way to see for themselves what was happening and to see what kind of horrors their loved ones were facing. Another photojournalist whose work impacted a lot of people was Philip Jones Griffiths. Like Eddie Adams he wanted to show the full extent of what the war was doing. Griffiths was born on the 18th of February 1936. He worked for the Manchester Guardian and then in 1961 he became a freelance photographer for the Observer, which was based in London, which lead him to covering the Algeria war in 1962. He then moved to Asia and photographed Vietnam from 1966 to 1971. He photographed the aftermath of all the destruction by going to the hospitals in Vietnam and showing the audience how civilians had been affected and what some of the injuries they had. 

He captioned each image he took with what injuries that person had, showing he actually took the time to find out that persons story and what they had witnessed. Meaning each image had a purpose for him. He wanted the audience to see that the war was changing these peoples lives for the worse. Philip Jones Griffiths main message to the public was that the war was corrupting the children’s mind by exposing them to death at such a young age. That is what he wanted to portray in his work and I believe he achieved that. An example of this is this picture where this Vietnamese child was killed by U.S helicopter while on his way to church. In the photograph you can see many other Vietnamese children surrounding the dead child and they have no expression on their faces. They seem to be immune to these sights which shows that this is not the first time that they have seen a dead body or known someone who had been killed. Only backing up Philip Jones Griffiths message that these children are being corrupted by the war. Instead of laughing and enjoying their childhood they are getting used to the feeling of losing someone due to the war or knowing they could be killed too. Philip Jones Griffiths was very critical of the American army and once said in an interview with the BBC in 2005 “I want to show that the Vietnamese were people the Americans should be emulating rather than destroying.” In the same interview his daughter states “He had an affinity with he people of Vietnam and I think he saw a lot of similarities between the welsh and Vietnamese kind.” Which shows why he wanted to show just how much the Vietnamese’s were affected by the American army and the destruction they caused to their country. Showing that he wanted to show his audience back home the horrors the Vietnamese people faced everyday that the war was happening. In 1971 he published his first book Vietnam Inc. Noam Chomsky who is known for his contributions to linguistics said about the book “If anybody in Washington had read that book, we wouldn’t have had these wars in Iraq or Afghanistan.” 

Showing the true impact, the book had and could have had if displayed in the right places just how influential Philip Jones Griffiths work was. Citizen photojournalism allows the public to play the role in the process of collecting, reporting and analysing the information they need to tell their own stories. It has also allowed the public to be the first people to document an event that happens therefore providing the evidence needed to make a story creditable or not. One thing that has helped citizen photojournalism become more available is technology and everything that come along with that. For example, in 2002 cellphones had cameras built into them allowing the public to be able to have the means necessary to take their own photos and therefore not needing a camera. It wasn’t just cellphones that were changing cameras were too, as technology was evolving so was cameras. They were being made with new features, they were more lighter making them more portable and they were becoming less expensive so the public was able to access them more. Due to these changes it has caused a lot more things to be documented and told and therefore bringing light on to some situations that might not have been acceptable in Eddie Adams times. 

As technology was changing less and less people were reading the stories that the main stream media were putting out and moved onto social media. Soon people were able to read the news online and that caused sales in printed newspapers to decrease, leading to the amount of copies being printed to decline meaning jobs for photojournalist to decrease as well. People were less focused on the mainstream media and used social media like Instagram to engage with the audience. For example, in 2006 James Balog began placing cameras in remote areas like the artic to capture the melting ice and Laurie Jo Reynolds photographed prisoners in high security prisons. Social media allowed people to experiment with different ideas and not be limited on what they could do. Therefore drawing more and more people in because it wasn’t something they wouldn’t necessary see in the news. What happened to the world trade centers on the 11th of September 2011 shocked a lot of people because no one expected it, therefore causing a lot of people to panic. When it happened it caused the phonelines to be overloaded with calls coming in of people wanting so see if their loved ones were safe. Some resorted to emailing their loved ones which shows that back then not a lot of people used the internet as it was a last resort. 

Most people were told about the event by the radio but some people didn’t believe it and only did once they saw it on the television, showing that besides newspapers televisions were where people got the majority of their news. People didn’t straight away go to the internet to see if anyone had reported it, again showing the internet wasn’t used like it is today. However for some who wanted to see what was happening and tried to go on the CNN website they were faced with a message saying it was over capacity and should come back later, which shows the news outlets didn’t have many readers online and didn’t facilitate it so if something were to happen their website wouldn’t crash. Maybe what happened in 9/11 caused the internet to change how news was distributed. Due to the news outlets not having any information other people soon started to post their own findings. These are stills taken from a video shot by a citizen that had uploaded it online and other citizens had done the same thing. Which then lead to various media outlets getting in contact with them wanting to interview them on what they had saw and experience, even asking for permission to use their photos or videos in their articles because they were able to capture what other journalist hadn’t. This was probably the first time the media has turned to ordinary people to get creditable images to use in their stories. 

9/11 was such a big event that caused everybody with a camera or cellphone to documenting it, this allowed you to see it almost step by step on what happened from the first plane crashing to the second tower falling. In The Photographic Image In Digital Culture on the chapter blurring boundaries David friend states “witnesses were observing, and photographing, the deadliest terrorist strike in American history even before they realised it.” nobody knew how big this would turn out and how they would play a big part in history. Even now when something big happens the public are quick to pull out their phones and record it maybe its because they have the devices to do so or maybe it’s because people are not scared to get involved anymore. Some people can argue that citizen photojournalism has killed photojournalism but if we didn’t have the public recording and documenting important events like 9/11 we wouldn’t have these iconic photographs. We wouldn’t want to change how things are being run today to prevent something like this from ever happening again. It wasn’t just the public documenting this event one photographer who did was Bill Biggart. 

Bill Biggart was born on the 20th of July 1947. He first started as a commercial photographer while doing photojournalism on the side. In 1985 he stopped doing commercial work and became a free lance photojournalist full time only doing black and white work which is what he preferred because he didn’t like colour but soon had to change his ways when digital became more and more popular. Unlike some photojournalist Bill chose to cover the stories focusing on the minority and what interested him, he wasn’t going to be pressure or persuaded to cover a story he didn’t want to do or didn’t support. Over the years Bill Biggart photographed the racism that was in New York, the KKK surrounding South America to even the fall of the Berlin Wall which is where he was born. On the day the towers fell a taxi driver had told Bill about what was happening and that was when he went back to his apartment to collect his gear. He left his apartment that day with two film cameras and one digital camera. He started to photograph his surrounds while moving towards the towers that was downtown. Bill Biggart was killed when the second tower fell his body was found four days later, he was the only photographer to die that day. When his equipment was recovered everyone close to him believed they wouldn’t have survived but they were wrong. The film roles didn’t however the compact flash card belonging to the digital camera did. His family and friends were able to see some of the photographs that Bill had taken that day they had basically mapped out the last few hours of his life. Showing just what he would have seen before he died. The images on the compact flash disc Bills wife and friend made a book. 

The book was called Final Exposures and they showcase the images that he took that day. In an article by the Digital Journalist about Bill Biggart, Dirck Halstead the person who wrote it says, “We know in his last picture he was working to the very end, and that’s telling of the commitment he had to his work.” Which is true Bill Biggart didn’t go to the towers because he was told to by a newspaper, he went because he wanted to document what was happening. Bill Biggart never got to see the impact his photographs would have but his wife and friend made sure he got the recognition he deserved. Some would say that Eddie Adams and Philip Jones Griffiths were heroic photojournalist of their times for all their work they did covering the wars but you could say Bill Biggart was also a hero. Just like Eddie Adams and Philip Jones Griffiths, Bill Biggart showed no fear and wasn’t deterred from pursuing his passion and didn’t hesitate when photographing the injustice some people faced in the world. In conclusion I believe citizen photojournalism hasn’t signaled the death of photojournalism but instead has helped it to grow into something so much more. It has allowed ordinary people to get involved and are now able to tell their own story. 

For example, some of my friends were able to go to Indonesia to cover the aftermath of the tsunami and much like Phillip Jones Griffiths they showed how the people were affected by it. More and more people are being inspired to document events that are happening around them. Not only that but we get to see a whole different perspective of the world because we are the ones showing it and are willing to show it, maybe even hoping for it to change. In the Professional Photography book, it states “Young photographers saw the role of the photojournalism as an exciting option, a creative one that was grounded in a sense of the conscious righting of wrongs and bringing the light into the dark corner.” This is true photographers saw being a photojournalist as being able to show the injustice some people must face but as the years have gone on ordinary people are able to do this as well. Just like 9/11 citizen photojournalist have allowed us to see the first moments of when something important happens and just because a citizen has taken the photo doesn’t make it any less creditable then if a photojournalist did. 

If citizens didn’t record and document what is happening around them we will not be able to see first hand what is happening and then we cannot change what needs to be done to prevent it from happening again. Technology and social media have allowed stories to be shared and seen by millions in an instant, in the 21st century because of these platforms people are able to get the recognition they deserve instantly. Social media itself has become a platform where anything can be shared and seen by anyone, you don’t have to be a photographer you can be anything and anyone. Bring people together creating opportunities that might never have occurred in the beginning. Therefore I believe that citizen photojournalism has not signaled the death of photojournalism but instead evolved it into something bigger and better because it allows everyone to be apart of showing their side of the story that’s being told or needs to be told. 

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