4.25 – who values a news picture?
ATTENTION EDITORS: GRAPHIC CONTENT
A nice number 4.25, seems to sit easy on the eye, or should do except its 4:25 a.m. and the numbers are from my digital clock.
As Reuters’ chief photographer in Asia, I have a lot on my mind. The threat of conflict on the Korean peninsula after Pyongyang’s nuclear tests, fighting in Pakistan and Afghanistan, floods in India and Bangladesh, a bogus trial of Suu Kyi in Myanmar, crashing economies, H1N1, claims and counter-claims of corruption and racism, insecurity in Nepal and Sri Lanka, global warming, the risk of unrest in Tibet and of course, China, where just about anything can happen at any time.
With the decline of the traditional news market, however, I sometimes wonder who still cares about news pictures and why should they be paid for.
How can you put a value to a news picture? You can’t eat it. A picture doesn’t move financial markets, so you can’t make money from it like you can on a news story. We hear the news through word of mouth, on the radio or even on the television. Most pictures have a lifespan of no more than 24 hours anyway, and everyone can take them these days (or so they think). So why bother?
Simple answer: when it comes to integrity, honesty and trust, seeing is believing.
It is rarely understood that people are smart and should be left to come to their own conclusions. A still picture shot by a Reuters news photographer gives the viewer time to see the truth.
Take as an example when Sri Lanka declared that it had beaten the Tamil Tigers and a quarter-century war was over. A counter claim was made: “No its not, we are fighting on,” said the Tamil Tigers. The government said that rebel leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran was dead. “Oh no he’s not,” countered the Tamil Tigers.
A day later Reuters News Pictures get exclusive pictures of Prabhakaran’s corpse being carried through a crowd of government soldiers. A close-up image of his face told the indisputable truth – Prabhakaran is dead.
A colleague, who works in the financial news section of Reuters and was born in Sri Lanka wanted to study the picture for quite some time. His response after a few minutes of close scrutiny was “Oh my God! It’s really him. That man has impacted my life for over 20 years and now he is dead”. The undeniable truth. No-one can ever tell my colleague different, it’s a fact.
The story in a news picture taken by a Reuters photographer is irrefutable, unbiased and will form part of history for others to believe in too. This truth, like integrity, cannot be bought but has to be earned and then maintained at all costs – once lost it can never be replaced.
My fear, at 4.25am, is that not enough people value this precious commodity – maybe I should get back to sleep and not worry.