Study Shows the Value of Professional Photojournalists

When you flip through a newspaper, are you drawn to the photographs? How long do you look at them? Do you read the captions? What, exactly, is it that you remember about the photos? What do you value?

A first of its kind study by journalism consultant Sara Quinn looks at how audiences engage with photojournalism. As part of a larger project funded by the National Press Photographers Association, the study helps us understand what people value in journalistic photography:

The American Society of News Editors reports that between 2000 and 2012, 43% of American newspaper photographers, artists, and videographers lost their jobs. In just three years, between 2010 and 2012, 18% were let go. These numbers are staggering, especially since many newspaper editors and publishers still see the incredible value of professional photojournalism.

Quality matters. That is just what Sara Quinn sets out to prove in her research.

professional journalistic photo

At the University of Minnesota last year, Quinn interviewed 52 people to find out if they can differentiate between professional and amateur photos, how likely they would be to share journalistic photos, and what makes an image memorable.

The researchers selected 200 photos from news publications for the study. Half of the photos were taken by professional photographers and half by the general public. The participants looked at the randomly displayed photos for 15 minutes, their eye movements being recorded the whole time to see what they were looking at, focusing on.

During the 15-minute eye tracking session, the participants were also rating each photo they looked at on a scale of 1 to 5—5 being the highest quality and the most likely to be shared.

eye tracking study on photojournalism

The combination of the eye tracking with the survey provided some pretty interesting results.

Study Highlights

  • People were able to tell if a photo was taken by a professional or an amateur 90% of the time
  • Professional shots were twice as likely to be shared
  • People looked at professionally taken images longer than user-generated images
  • The top 25 highest rated photos were taken by professional photojournalists
  • The top 20 most memorable photos were taken by professionals
  • People tend to look at faces in the photo first
  • Longer or better developed captions received more attention

And, perhaps most importantly, almost every participant mentioned the importance of storytelling. The photo has to tell a story. It has to grab the viewer’s attention and portray an emotion. If a photo can do that, then the photojournalist has done their job.

Video © 2015 NPPA and used with permission.

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