While social media may pose issues for visual journalism, crowdfunding platforms may provide potential solutions
In an earlier post, I examined the some of the challenges facing photojournalists in an age of new media with the sudden availability of raw images crowdsourced from citizen journalists through social networks. One of the major problems I posed was the growing preference on utilizing stringers or freelancers in conflict zones through social network instead of deploying a professional photojournalist: as new organizations find their budgets tight and their revenues in flux, cultivating a network of eyes and ears through Twitter and Facebook becomes significantly more appealing than ever. The professional photojournalist with more credibility and an emphasis for storytelling (rather than pointing and shooting) may simply be too expensive, passed over in favor of a bystander with a cell phone who was at the right place at the right time. The result would potentially be a decline in nuanced visual journalism.
Interestingly, social media may hold the solution to saving serious photojournalism. Launched in March, a new site called Emphas.is wants to apply the logic of crowdsourced fundraising (crowdfunding) popularized by communities like Kickstarter to narrative projects proposed by aspiring photojournalists. The concept is relatively simply: Photographers in need of funding for an ambitious project can sign up, list their fundraising goals and build buzz about their cause. Community members looking to support quality photojournalism can pledge $10 or more towards a project that impresses them. The social features of the site systematize the linkages that make social media so appealing for news organizations. "Funding a project also acts something like having a private correspondent from a region of interest," wrote Fast Company's David Zax the day after Emphas.is launched. "Emphas.is promises you'll get updates from the journalists you're supporting while they're in the field, and that you can 'interact with them directly about issues that you care about.'"
Photojournalism purists probably should not bow down before Emphas.is just yet; as Wired's Pete Brooke recently reported, the month-old website is still riddled with technical glitches which threaten to derail the development of a robust community. But regardless of the hiccups currently plaguing the site, the crowdfunding model holds plenty of promise for building linkages between photojournalists and freeing them from the financial constraints of larger media organizations. Emphas.is shows that, to crib from Bill Clinton, there may be nothing wrong with social media that cannot be cured by what's right with social media.