The importance of photojournalism

It was the year 2000 when I fell in love with photojournalism.

I was a staff reporter for my high school newspaper. I already had an interest in photography, but it was not until I covered my first football game when I discovered my love of photojournalism.

I loved how I could capture emotions and important moments. I realized there was a story to be told with every photograph.

I was hooked.

A few months later, I knew I wanted to become a photojournalist.

I wanted to be a visual storyteller. I wanted to use photographs to educate people about important events around the world.

I wanted to make a difference.

In previous blog posts, I talked about how photojournalism can be used to educate people about diversity and to help people during emergency situations.

A recent article in the Los Angeles Times reminded me why I love photojournalism.

Deirdre Edgar, a reporter for the LA Times, wrote about how a reader was inspired by a photograph to make a difference in someone else’s life. A woman was laid off from her job and was living with her 7-month-old daughter in transitional housing. The reader who saw the photograph, wrote to the LA Times:

“It’s trite, I know, but ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ is so true here. It hit me because it’s so poignant — and she radiates intelligence, resoluteness, and she’s got it together.”

“Please pass on the enclosed check to her with my wish that she’ll do something nice for herself and Madison.”

A photograph made a difference in someone’s life.

This is why photojournalism is important.

This is why I love photojournalism.




Why Media Literacy Matters – Photojournalism and Diversity

Teaching about racial diversity through photojournalism.

Media literacy teaches critical thinking and communications skills such as photojournalism.

Photojournalism is a universal language that uses photographs for storytelling and allows people of all races and cultures to find the things they have in common.

Below are two examples of how teachers used media literacy education to help their students learn about different cultures.

In a lesson about stereotypes, students in South Korea reflected on how media images of race and stereotypes had influenced their own reactions toward other people. The students also learned how producing stories about things they felt were important could make a difference in the ways they interacted with other people (Yoon, 2010).

Mary Guerrero, a teacher in the Lawrence Public School system in Massachusetts, used a photojournalism project to influence how her students perceived themselves and their city. She designed hands-on projects that engaged her students in their surroundings and encouraged them to express themselves. Her students discovered aspects of the city that they did not know existed, which reminded them of the similarities between different cultures (Marinell, 2008).

Photojournalism is one of the many tools of the media that can potentially help encourage creativity among the students and show them that something fun can have a powerful effect on society.



Marinell, W. (2008). Voices Inside Schools. Capturing Authenticity, Transforming Perception: One Teacher’s Efforts to Improve Her Students’ Performance by Challenging Their Impressions of Self and Community. Harvard Educational Review, 78(3), 529-548.

Yoon, J. (2010). “Media literacy education to promote cultural competence and adaptation among diverse students: A case study of North Korean refugees in South Korea”. Temple University.

Why Media Literacy Matters – Stereotypes

Information comes from all over the world through powerful images.

Photography, video and film can perpetuate stereotypes.

Stereotypes can manipulate people’s thoughts and feelings, cause rage, unreason and even persecution (Shaheen, 2009)

Misrepresentations of immigrants and certain minority groups in the media play a significant role in shaping the public attitudes and opin­ions of people (Martens, 2010), which further perpetuate the stereotypes in society.

Immigrants and certain minority groups are often viewed as dangerous, a nuisance or as individuals in need of the country’s assistance. These stereotypes have been accepted by society as the norm.

These messages perpetuate the idea of “us versus them”.

These negative stereotypes presented by the media portray people of other races and cultures as “other” and establish them as inferior.

The media consistently portray racial minorities in stereotypical roles and although not all stereotypes are negative, even benign ones could encourage prejudice and benevolent feelings that are just as problematic (Ramasubramanian and Oliver, 2007).

Therefore, people need to be aware of how the media manipulates their beliefs.

People need to learn how to analyze media messages so that they are not misled by false information.

Media literacy education can help minimize the harm.

Media literacy teaches people the critical thinking skills that are necessary for understanding the complex messages presented by the media.

Researchers have concluded that if people practice and put in a conscious effort to negate stereotypical associations, they could reduce prejudice (Ramasubramanian and Oliver, 2007).

Media literacy training can help people see how news media often serve to rationalize existing social norms and expectations (Ramasubramanian, 2007).

People will then be more aware of how the media shapes social reality and will be less likely influenced by negative stereotypes.



Martens, H. (2010).Evaluating Media Literacy Education: Concepts, Theories and Future Directions. Journal of Media Literacy Education, 2(1), 1-22.

Ramasubramanian, S. (2007). Media-Based Strategies to Reduce Racial Stereotypes Activated by News Stories. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, 84(2), 249-264.

Ramasubramanian, S. and Oliver, M.B. (2007). Activating and Suppressing Hostile and Benevolent Racism: Evidence for Comparative Media Stereotyping. Media Psychology, 9, 623-646.

Shaheen, J. (2009). Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People. Northampton, MA: Olive Branch Press. Preface and Introduction. 

Why Media Literacy Matters – Quality Journalism

With Election Day quickly approaching, it is necessary to address the importance of quality journalism.

New media changed the field of journalism.

Social media tools and the camera phone made it possible for any individual to share information and shape the way people perceive events around the world.

Some describe this as the rise of citizen journalism.

Others believe the field of journalism is simply evolving.

There is a difference between the professional journalist and the so-called citizen journalist but that is not the point.

The point is that despite their differences, they have a common goal in sharing information with the public.

Having access to tools is simply not enough. People need to be taught how to correctly use the tools.

With social media being commonly used as sources of information, it is crucial that journalists and the citizen journalist interpret a tweet or Facebook post correctly.

As I mentioned in a previous post, social media has made it easy to spread fake photographs and share false information.

Journalism has always been about sharing information with the public as quickly as possible.

Poynter published an article about the six social media mistakes that journalists need to avoid on Election Day. One of those is moving too quickly.

Social media makes it easy to share information quickly. Therefore it is important to be extra careful and ensure that accurate information is shared.

As the Poynter article pointed out, social media has increased the potential for errors and false information to be spread.

Whether you are a professional journalist or a citizen journalist, it is important to analyze and think critically about information before sharing it.

Most professional journalists are trained to do so and have a strong grasp on media literacy. However, they are human and can make mistakes.

Besides it does not hurt to reevaluate the importance of media literacy training.

It is important to think about where we get our information and make sure it is accurate.

Failing to do so will result in poor journalism and will only hurt the public.

Why Media Literacy Matters – Times of Crisis

Be extra careful about what you share on Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites.

Especially when it comes to photographs of Hurricane Sandy. At least 11 photographs of the hurricane have gone viral.

These photographs are NOT of Hurricane Sandy.

You can find these fake images at

This is a major problem that needs to be addressed.

It is easy to spread false information on social media. One might think that they are doing something good and helping people by sharing information. While that individual might have good intentions, this accident only harms the public.

People need to be informed, not misled.

People are influenced by what they see. A photograph is worth a thousand words.

Gilens (2004) explains that it is easier to remember visual images than printed words because pictures are simple and immediate. It takes more time and effort for people to read a sentence than it is to look at a photograph. Gilens (2004) suggests that news photographs shape the subconscious process and can influence behavior.

Hurricane Katrina is an example of how photographs negatively influenced the public.

During the coverage of Hurricane Katrina, the New York Times and Washington Post routinely published images that portrayed Black victims as poor, destitute, and helpless (Lee and Gandy, 2006). These photographs showed White volunteers and the National Guard providing food and medical supplies. Lee and Gandy (2006) explain that the images portrayed Blacks as a primitive people from a Third World country who relied on the United States to help them out. The New York Times published no photos that showed a Black as a rescuer and a White as a victim. These images perpetuate the stereotypes and distorted representations of African Americans (Lee and Gandy, 2006).

I recently conducted a study about the role of media in emergency management, focusing on the influence of photography (photojournalism) and social media.

In an emergency situation, spreading accurate information to the public is crucial. Since the media plays a major role (usually the primary role) as a source of information for the public, it is of great importance that emergency management agencies work with the media.

Media involvement in the emergency management process can help minimize misunderstanding. The goal is after all, to provide the public with accurate information as quickly as possible. Media agencies are great at doing that.

This means that journalists and government agencies need to work together and establish positive mutual working relationships. However, it is important to note that journalists are not the only source of media.

When most people think of media, they typically only think of newspapers and television. They fail to recognize Facebook, Twitter and YouTube as sources of media that influence their daily lives.

The average person plays an important role in disseminating media messages.

Dennis Dunleavy, my former photojournalism professor at San Jose State University once said, the camera phone made it possible for any individual to become a visual communicator who has the potential to shape the way people perceive events around the world.

Armed with camera phones and social media websites, citizens play a significant role in disaster response and recovery efforts.

Social media makes it easy to communicate and share information with others. As evident with the photographs of Hurricane Sandy, it is easy to share false information that misleads people.

Media literacy education will minimize the harm.

People need to learn how to analyze media messages so that they are not misled by false information. People also need to learn how to use media tools.

Media literacy training provides people with tools that will enrich their lives and create opportunities.

It will also teach them about what is appropriate to share with the rest of the world, so they will not accidentally mislead another.




Gilens, M. (2004). Poor People in the News: Images from the Journalistic Subconscious. In D. Heider (Ed.), Class and News (pp. 44-60). Lanham, MD: Rowan & Littlefield Publishing Group.

Lee, C. and Gandy, O. (2006). “Others’ Disaster: How American Newspapers Covered Hurricane Katrina (Methods, Results, and Discussion)”. University of Pennsylvania.