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We consider who’s behind the camera

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

Conversations around diversity have hit nearly every corner of our newsrooms — from leadership to editorial staff, from who covers the White House to who gets called on as a source.

But there’s one vital corner of journalism where the conversation is just starting to gain traction: photojournalism.

Visual journalists are often the first to get cut when news organizations downsize, but they’ve been the last to be scrutinized in the growing debate over how media outlets represent the U.S. and the world.

Here are a few numbers to show how abysmal the representation of women and people of color in photojournalism really is (I previously reported these numbers here):

  • 86 percent of AP’s photo staff around the world are men.
  • 80 percent of AP’s U.S. photo staff is white.
  • 80 percent of Reuters Images’ photo staff is white.
  • Getty Images, another leading photo agency, will not share their diversity numbers, so we have no way of knowing how well (or poorly) their staff represents the diversity of the populations they cover.
  • Over the past 60 years, only 8 women have won a Pulitzer Prize for feature photography. Only 6 have won for breaking news photography.
  • Between 1999 and 2015, the number of women photojournalists in U.S. newsrooms went from 1,536 to 783, according to ASNE.
  • In 2018, 85 percent of entrants for the World Press Photo Awards, photojournalism’s biggest international honors, were men.

These numbers are damning for an industry responsible for visually representing the world and its most vulnerable people. Images are no more inherently objective than words are. Each photograph is the result of many, many, many decisions large and small — who assigns the story, how the story is framed, who is assigned to photograph the story, what that photographer chooses to see, what the editor decides to publish, and how the story is promoted.

As we have critical conversations around diversity and representation among writers and story editors, my hope for 2019 is that we take an equally critical eye to who is making visual decisions — from the photographers behind the camera to the picture editors who assign and shape stories to the engagement teams who promote them on social media. Representation in photojournalism is critical, because those who control our news imagery control our collective visual narrative.

Kainaz Amaria is the visuals editor for Vox.

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