The business of journalism is communication. Photojournalism is communication through photographs. A newspaper photo must tell the story and tell it clearly; otherwise, it is wasting valuable space in the paper. Newspapers give the facts as soon after the event as possible, whereas magazines can wait until more information is in and try to give the story more depth.
In the “golden age” of photojournalism 1930s–1950s, some magazines Picture Post London, Paris Match Paris, Life USA, and Sports Illustrated USA built their huge readerships and reputations largely on their use of photography, and photographers such as Robert Capa, Alfred Eisenstaedt and W. Eugene Smith became well-known names. Until the 1980s, most large magazines were printed with turn-of-the-century “letterpress” technology using easily smudged oil-based ink, off-white, low-quality “newsprint” paper, and coarse engraving screens. While letterpresses produced legible text, the photoengraving dots that formed pictures often bled or smeared and became fuzzy and indistinct. In this way, even when magazines used
photographs well-a good crop, a respectable size- murky reproduction often left readers re-reading the caption to see what the photo was all about. Not until the 1980s had a majority of magazines switched to “offset” presses that reproduce photos with fidelity on better, whiter paper.
By contrast Life, one of America’s most popular weekly magazines from 1936 through the early 1970s, was filled with photographs reproduced beautifully on oversize 11×14-inch pages, using fine engraving screens, high-quality inks, and glossy paper. Life often published a United Press International UPI) or Associated Press AP) the photo that had been first reproduced in newspapers, but the quality magazine version appeared to be a different photo altogether.
In large part because their pictures were clear enough to be appreciated, and because their name always appeared with their work, magazine photographers achieved near-celebrity status. Life became a standard by which the public judged photography, and many of today’s photo books celebrate “photojournalism” as if it had been the exclusive province of near-celebrity magazine photographers. The Best of Life 1973, for example, opens with a two-page 1960 group shot of 39 justly famous Life photographers. But 300 pages later, photo credits reveal that scores of the photos among Life’s “best” were taken by anonymous UPI and AP photographers.