The dreaded Facebook overshare and quick and dirty journalism
The Age of Git Er Done Journalism
Most people get their news on social media. For that reason, new sites have to observe social media best practices, such as keeping information brief, punchy, and to the point, while also striving to keep it factual. Online stories are expected to be timely, as well. Fast and factual; can these two qualities coexist? Have consumers’ limited attention spans and need for constant entertainment created a social media Frankenstein? And can quick and dirty journalism give you the real picture?
Facebook Overshare—Are You Guilty?
On a highly scientific scale of one to ten for social media ‘sharitude,’ I probably fall at a 4. If you were dying to know if pantyhose make my crotch itch, what my husband’s ‘packing,’ or how I really feel about abortion, you will be disappointed. I’m not sorry though. I am just not willing to share these personal details even though these might be conversation starters on social media.
I go through phases when I spend more time on Facebook and other social media sites. Well, that’s been the case, as of late. As a result, I have been pondering the dreaded overshare. What constitutes a topic that’s suitable to share with your social media circle? How do you decide what’s ok for your 1000 ‘friends’ to see? And how do you decide if the topic you’ve chosen to discuss is conducive to the medium?
I have some general guidelines I attempt to follow when I post something online. I usually think of these questions: What is my goal in sharing this? What is the purpose of this status or statement? What response am I hoping to receive? Does this need more context than I can give in a social media setting? Is this doing good or is this trivializing an issue or problem? You run the risk of creating false intimacy and encouraging people you don’t know that well to offer unhelpful advice about your problems if you don’t follow these principles.
How does this relate to photography?
Since this is mostly a photography blog, let’s have a photography example:
How do you feel about this woman, her plight, and her words? How do the words reinforce the photo? Do you feel that the text helps you understand her life better? Do you think she is able to find some closure or solace by sharing this personal story with Humans of New York’s almost 18.5-million-user following? What does her story offer others who have experienced a similar thing?
Jerry, Jerry, Jerry!
Remember 90s talk shows? When my parents weren’t home, I remember enjoying the Jerry Springer Show, The Jenny Jones Show or The Maury Show. Wow, a guest has 10 possible baby’s daddies? The sordid details were shocking and debates were astonishingly devoid of research or information. The TV psychologist would sum everything up in 3-5 minutes at the end of each tawdry show and we went on our merry way. I found the shows interesting precisely because people shared intimate details. However, the shows were light entertainment and instantly forgettable with their formulaic routine. Maybe my upbringing made me tight-lipped? But members of my family would never share secrets with other family members, much less a studio audience. It seems that Facebook, Twitter and the rest have the potential to be the updated talk show if you let them.
Humans of New York’s Street Vigilante Journalism
On the one hand, HONY (Humans of New York) page owner and photographer Brandon Stanton’s formula of a photo and a short quote can certainly be engaging, and even edifying. It can be fascinating to hear a snippet of information from a person that we wouldn’t otherwise know anything about. Moreover, it’s enjoyable when the story is relatable, but from someone who appears to have a very different lifestyle than your own. But is what Stanton does journalism?
Stanton was invited on a whirlwind United Nations trip to ten countries, where he photographed people in some countries we rarely have visual access to, like Iran. He took photos in a prison. And finally, he has begun concentrating on video, which will perhaps become a better storytelling tool for him, since he has enlisted the help of a professional cinematographer.
Is Brandon a Journalist?
This man on the street/direct question approach is basically the antithesis of traditions such as cinéma vérité, which lets things unfold naturally, without prying. But that’s pretty different from traditional journalism, too. Stanton’s approach is more of a ‘get in and git ‘er done’ method, where he, as the interviewer, asks pointed questions to get a specific, sometimes shocking, response. We don’t have the privilege of getting to know the subjects slowly, or in a nuanced way, therefore the connection sometimes feels forced.
How are we to be sure that the questions Brandon chooses to ask the subject are the ones we need to know? What is Brandon’s responsibility as interviewer? And how can he be sure that the question or their response will not hurt the subject, or make them vulnerable in some awful way? The viewer is neither privy to Brandon’s interview process and photo/video sessions, nor his editing process. The audience must interpret his work without knowing the backstory, unlike how the documentary photographer, Darcy Padilla, approached The Julie Project.
Although Brandon does refer to himself as a journalist in his open letter to Donald Trump, I am not sure if we should consider him one. Journalists follow a code of ethics, and Brandon’s approach to gathering data and photographs doesn’t seem to fall into journalistic best practices. This came into the forefront when the HONY page posted a photo of a young boy, quoted as saying, “I’m homosexual, and I’m afraid about what my future will be and that people won’t like me.” To read more about this particular instance, check out this excellent article, Everything Wrong (Including Yes, Journalistically) With the HONY Gay Schoolboy Photo.
The Julie Project and Longform Photodocumentary Work
This photo essay by Darcy Padilla is called The Julie Project. It follows a woman with HIV from the time she was 19 until she died about 18 years later in 2010. Padilla even continued documenting her partner and young daughter, after Julie’s death. Unlike the HONY series, Julie Project viewers get a nuanced, meticulous view into Julie’s troubled existence.
Viewing the project, I became witness to Julie’s children’s births, the occasionally loving, usually traumatic relationships she had with men, her reunion with her father, and ultimately the intense agony she experienced before she died. I poured through the conversational notes the photographer took about her time with Julie. I could feel their connection in the photos and read about it in the text. The project was an emotional journey, after all; I’m still thinking about Julie’s existence. But I didn’t feel the need to write, “This restores my faith in humanity” (as I so often see people type on HONY’s page) to let it make me feel the humanity. I just don’t find myself thinking about the people I see on HONY as much.
(Unfortunately, The Julie Project is no longer available to view in its entirety on Padilla’s website, but you should watch this excellent reel of photographs and video (below, as well) from the project. Also, there is a book for sale on Padilla’s website.
Do you prefer photography that’s easier-to-digest or the kind with nutritional content? (Or maybe both?)
What do you think? Do both longform photography projects and man-on-the-street styles have their place? Is it just that Padilla’s project is not a Facebook project? HONY and pages like it, are quick and dirty. Sometimes the photos contain extraneous lampposts coming out of the subject’s head, or bright orange cones by their feet. The message is easy to comprehend, though, and easily-digested. Padilla’s Julie Project, on the other hand, is involved, heavy and takes time to process.
I dunno, maybe it’s all subjective. Sort of like the Facebook share. Sometimes one thoughtful line about how my friend is feeling that day can really be insightful. Other times, I wish I just didn’t know.
I’d love to hear your views about sharing on social media, and what constitutes good photos of people. What do you think? Leave me a comment below.