Tara Pixley — Why We Need More Visual Journalists and Editors of Color

By Tara Pixley  

Read the full piece on Nieman Reports. 

Excerpt: "Scenes like this one—in which a cadre of mostly white male photo editors discuss which images will make that day’s web or print publication—are not uncommon. Throughout my 14 years working in seven different newsrooms, I have witnessed a dearth of diverse perspectives, both among those photographing news images and those selecting images for publication.

My personal experiences are not unique. In 2015 and 2016, World Press Photo Foundation (WPP) released annual state of news photography reports that highlighted an often overlooked problem: a lack of equity and inclusivity among those who work behind the documentary camera. Based on responses from about 2,000 news photographers worldwide, the reports included the statistic that only 15 percent of them were female. Though a troublingly unequal division of nationalities among news photographers was mentioned in the reports, no statistics on the photographers’ racial identities were included. That will change this year because the WPP’s annual survey (an informational snapshot of photographers entering the yearly contest) added a question about race and ethnicity. The results haven’t yet been released. For too long, the way we as visual journalists represent and reproduce race has received no extensive analysis and critique within the field of journalism.

While photographs that grace the pages and websites of American news media are filled with images of black and brown people whose struggles for racial equality and civil rights are constant media fodder, those behind the images rarely share similar identities and experiences. Brent Lewis, senior photo editor of ESPN’s The Undefeated, says recognizing there is a problem is the first step. “Being aware that when trying to cover stories in the vein of black life, you probably should have someone who actually lived it,” says Lewis. “You need to have insight from someone who understands that realm.” When both photographers in the field and photo editors in the newsroom are primarily white and male, news images will reflect that singular perspective.

Though the statistics appear grim, there are glimmers of change. Initiatives such as the African Photojournalism Database, Majority World, Native Agency, and Everyday Africa, paired with advocacy by professionals such as World Press Photo’s David Campbell; Nicole Crowder, former photo editor for The Washington Post; and The Undefeated’s Lewis, are effecting change. In addition to holding its legendary Joop Swart Masterclass in Amsterdam, World Press Photo recently began offering additional photojournalism master classes in countries such as Mexico and Ghana. Throughout her time as an editor at the Post, Crowder recognized the journalistic value of giving chances to unknown photojournalists of color. Under her watch, a knowledge and appreciation of the community a photojournalist was assigned to photograph was just as—if not more—important than being a well-known name."

 

The Authority