Photojournalist or pack mule? A look back at the good old days of wire service photography

My first news job inherited an older model of the UPI photo transmitter. It was at the end of a hallway, resigned to a corner table near the office one-hole toilet shared by everyone in the building. It became my favorite spot in the office. It also became by portfolio manager resulting in my first newspaper job at the Orlando Sentinel when I was by the photo editor having seen my almost daily production of news and feature photos. Never showed a formal printed portfolio. Never have.

It’s obviously radically different today with news photos capable of coming from a phone. It’s no longer necessary to have a darkroom, typewriter, telephone land line, and a proprietary photo transmitter. Wireless connectivity from a digital camera allows photos accented with the tools of a high-res digital camera with interchangeable lenses and powerful lighting tools.

And, it’s almost instantaneous. Much faster than the nearly 10minutes to send a black and white photo with analog equipment.

This 2012 article at the Dallas Morning News describes the process.

Becoming a wire service photographer in 1987 had numerous job requirements that still apply today. However, one backbreaking prerequisite no longer pertains in 2012.

At that time, the wires were represented by The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse, Reuters and United Press International. Staff photographer jobs were highly sought after and difficult to obtain.

You had to be a well-rounded photographer, proficient in news and sports. You had to be a decisive journalist, able to think on your feet and make coverage choices on the move. You needed to be a good editor, narrowing your photo shoot down to the best frames to transmit on deadline to newspapers around the world. Top wire service photographers were able to handle extreme competition and difficult deadlines.

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