18 Pages

The tyranny of the empty frame

Reluctance to use citizen-produced photographs in online journalism
WithIgor Vobič, Ilija Tomanić Trivundža

This study explores the notion of the “tyranny of the empty frame” within the online departments of the two leading Slovenian newspapers, Delo and Dnevnik, where online journalists—newsworkers with little or no training or experience in photojournalism—are required to provide each news item with at least one photograph. By adopting newsroom observation and in-depth interviews with online journalists working for Delo and Dnevnik, we investigate paradoxes associated with this imperative. Despite often being faced with a desperate search for “any image,” online journalists at both institutions are reluctant to use citizen-produced photographs—their use appears to be an aberration rather than a norm. Instead, they frequently resort to using what they refer to as a “symbolic photograph” to overcome the lack of visual material originating from the reported event. This move from indexical–iconic nexus to metaphoric visual communication signals challenges to the dominant paradigm of press photography. At the same time, we suggest that we should not view the phenomena of citizen photojournalism as a radical break with the past but as the latest development in a series of interrelated processes, intellectual projects of modernity, such as ocularcentrism, journalism, capitalism and the nation state.