Decisive Moments and Decisive Change: Veteran Photojournalist Perspective on Changes in Learning and Practice




Nolan, David S.

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Research on photojournalists has focused primarily on ethics in digital photography and computer manipulation, digital photography skills as a condition for a position as a photojournalist, job satisfaction, the use of new technology, and where responsibility for work lies within the newsroom. Otherwise, research on the impact of digital imaging and computer technology on photojournalists and their learning has been limited or nonexistent. Based on several learning theories, specifically self-directed learning and free-agent learning, the purpose of this interpretative phenomenological analysis and life history research was to explore with five veteran photojournalists their perceptions as to how their learning experiences and actions allowed them to successfully maintain their professional competencies over time. I found that all five participants spent more time pursuing new technologies and acquiring new knowledge on their own, which aligned with the findings that there was a larger time commitment outside of work to learn new technology. However, I discovered that the participants didn’t see time spent outside of work learning new technology as a negative issue but as a positive part of their learning. I also discovered that the technological change each photojournalist experienced throughout his or her career demonstrated the need for the continuous construction of new knowledge, especially due to the fast pace of change they had to adapt to. An interesting finding was that most participants rarely took part in organized professional development such as workshops or formal schooling after college or even during their long careers in photojournalism and relied more on self-directed learning to gain new knowledge of technological advances in the profession. I also found that mentoring was a primary factor in their learning and knowledge construction and was cited as one of the most important aspects of their lives. I discovered that the need for formal learning in each photojournalist’s life was not as important as informal learning, professional experience and professional networking. They showed little, if any, inclination to participate in formal training even if their employer provided it and preferred to explore and learn the new processes and technologies on their own. The major finding in my research was that photojournalists are in a unique occupation where individuals aspire to be more than just a cog in the wheel of society or an employee in a faceless corporation. They are passionate about what they do everyday to improve the human condition through the stories they tell. What becomes the central issue in their lives is a life fully worth living and passion, energy and focus are the qualities they revere most. Photojournalists focus on the psychological, or subjective, success in their lives and their learning and survival in their chosen career is a direct result of several intrinsic factors. Photojournalists are dissimilar from other professionals in the fact that their sense of community begins very early on in their career and stretches far beyond the organization they may be affiliated with. Their success is not driven by status and wealth, but by the clarity of their convictions. With that in mind, self-directed careers and free-agent learning and the challenges of technological change turned into a passion for telling visual stories. Photojournalism wasn’t a job, it was a “calling.” While learning was important, it became apparent that what was more important was how each veteran photojournalist adapted to their changing environment and situations concerning their career as a photojournalist. It wasn’t about learning new technology, it was about learning new ways of adapting to keep doing the work they loved, and it was their passion for photojournalism that helped them deal with change. It was more psychological and less physical.



Associated Press, San Antonio Express News, Dallas Morning News, United Press International, Time Magazine, Magnum, Adult learning, Education, Learning, Photography, Calling, Life history, News photography, Free-agent learning, Media, Self-directed learning, Photojournalist, Photojournalism


Nolan, D. S. (2012). <i>Decisive moments and decisive change: Veteran photojournalist perspective on changes in learning and practice</i> (Unpublished dissertation). Texas State University-San Marcos, San Marcos, Texas.


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