Professionalism and Journalism

Working for four years to earn a degree in journalism from the University of Missouri, I gained a lot of knowledge and many skills, but also a sense of pride. With that pride comes knowing that I am now qualified to be a professional journalist. From here on out, besides things like blog posts and tweets, work that I do will be paid for by whomever commissions it.

Here’s the problem:

A lot of people don’t see it that way.

That’s not just for me, either. When it comes to writing, doing videos and taking pictures, oftentimes people see this as “easy” and therefore also “free.” So, in this blog post, I’m going to address this issue with a couple of anecdotes: one of my own and one of a friend’s.

Spring Break

For Spring Break I was asked to accompany a set of geologists on a trip. When I made this agreement, it was said that this trip would be free for me to tag along and take pictures and highlight the research they were doing. However, once on the trip, it was made apparent that this wasn’t all I was expected to do. Apart from near-constant harassment from various members of the group, I was made indirectly aware that I wasn’t actually there for the research. When the research was done and things packed away, the group was doing some sightseeing. I thought I was a part of the group at this point, but that was incorrect.

What some people don’t realize is that I have two different hats when it comes to the work that I do. If I have a camera in my hand, I’m doing work. It becomes a job and I am not thinking “wow, what an amazing view.” Instead, my thoughts are filled with how I should frame a particular shot, what ISO and shutter speed to use and how I can best capture this lighting.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my work. That doesn’t make it a vacation though. If you were to put a surgeon’s operating table in front of a portrait window in front of a beach-scape, he still has to operate on the person lying on his table. He doesn’t get to enjoy the view. Now, add on to that some name calling and degrading comments and you have me on spring break.

Basically, though it was not told to me this way, the person who asked me along wanted me there so the group of geology students would have some really great Facebook photos. In my personal opinion, this is not only insulting to my profession, but also really made me question how I had managed to so poorly miscommunicate my expectations and so poorly understand the expectations of the other party.

When I tried to voice these concerns I was met with “Whatever, Ally,” and a total dismissal.

The Wedding

The friend’s situation was this: He was invited to a wedding in another state. He RSVP’ed, found a great gift, booked his flight and transportation to and from the airport. This friend happens to be a photographer. It is his natural instinct to bring along a camera. In this case, that instinct was lucky, because over the course of the first day, it was mentioned by the bride that he could “bring along his camera and take some pictures of the ceremony, if he wanted.” Then the family began dropping hints that there actually was no wedding photographer. Actually, that’s wrong. There was and it was him.

Not only did this friend come unprepared to take wedding photos, but now he was forced to use his own (expensive) film and to have to spend the wedding behind the lens instead of being “present” for the ceremony. That’s before all of the editing happens at home.

The newlywed couple kindly told him they would cover his flight expenses, and he accepted, but he was irritated to say the least. Most wedding photographers cost a lot of money for time spent at the wedding, equipment costs and editing time. Then there are the costs of actually getting a book of photos or something similar.

In this case, the lack of communication seems to be intentional. But, it was lucky for them that he had brought his camera at all. On top of this, there were risks of water and salt damage to his camera, as the wedding was by the ocean. All of this because many people see our job as “just taking pictures” and don’t realize that it is much more than that.

It reminds me of a couple of rather snarky posts like this one and this one.

At least, those are all of the things we wish we could say.


One thought on “Professionalism and Journalism

  1. Professionals should be paid for their services. The situations you describe are appalling and offensive. I also call them…lessons learned. You both need professional services agreements. Probably available on

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