Gloucester Daily Times: Photojournalists as storytellers and documentarians build understanding, add drama in a struggling industry

January 4, 2024

Photography is a powerful tool in journalism. Photojournalists add depth to stories. They capture emotion. They take people to places and times unavailable to many.

Cape Ann Museum’s exhibit “Above the Fold” featuring the work of the Gloucester Daily Times photojournalists over more than three decades is much more than another art exhibit. It is a reminder of why communities should support newspapers staffed by professional journalists. Included are photojournalists whose work produces often strong reactions to tragedy and controversy, as well as community concerns around housing, education, childcare, economic development, medical treatments, public safety, environmental impacts — and more.

Unfortunately, the number of newspapers nationally covering local news with a combination of in-depth writing and strong images continues to decline, according to the latest report in November from Northwestern University’s Medill Local News Initiative.

Northwestern found that “the loss of local newspapers accelerated in 2023. ... more than half of all U.S. counties now have limited access to reliable local news and information … .” Since 2005, according to Medill, about two-thirds of journalism jobs, mostly in larger metropolitan areas, have been lost. For many communities this means loss of the often dramatic and sensitive photographs that engage, animate, and often guide community activities.

Medill sees some hopeful signs for local news:

In the last five years, 164 news startups were launched.

State and federal legislation has been introduced generally focusing on tax credits and the ability for newspapers to negotiate collectively with tech companies for use of their news stories.

Seventeen privately held and controlled newspapers studied by Medill and not traded on public markets have retained or added reporting staffs.

While not part of the Medill study, the Gloucester Daily Times, The Salem News, the Daily News of Newburyport, and The Eagle-Tribune newspapers within the North of Boston Media Group have similar attributes: they are not publicly traded, highlight a commitment “to in-depth, local, community journalism,” have worked to retain staff, and collaborate on coverage and editorial content as they did early this week on an editorial urging Gov. Maura Healey to “put homeless issue on front burner.”

And all value and give prominence to photojournalists who capture the power of storms, the heartaches of loss, the celebrations of history, the beauty of the area and the economic, social, and political challenges that play out year-after-year.

The CAM exhibit demonstrates how photography has been and continues to be integral to successful, professional news coverage. It describes changes in photo technologies as the large format Graphlex Speed Graphic was replaced by 35mm single-lens reflex cameras and now digital SLRs. In addition to the photos, the exhibit traces the history of newspapers on Cape Ann dating to 1827 and leading to the first issue of the Gloucester Daily Times in 1888.

The CAM “Above the Fold” exhibit continues through March 17. It’s a great time to be reminded of many events of the last 30 years seen through the eyes of Gloucester Daily Times photographers from the Perfect Storm to the Gloucester 400th to local politics and the impacts of economic, social, and environmental changes.

The tribute to Gloucester Daily Times photographers is also a great partnership between a prominent museum and a news organization.

Carl Gustin, a North Shore resident, is a retired corporate and government communication executive and columnist.

Read the article here.

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