Election coverage: What change has had the biggest impact? Control.
Getty Images Senior Editorial Advisor Cole Porter has seen a lot. Over the past 43 years in the business, he has had a front row seat to the shifts in technology, media and politics that shape election coverage.
What change has been the most impactful?
For Porter, it’s the fact that the images which are the most telling, the most important — the ones he hopes you see — are the ones that are becoming harder to come by.
“Now, image is everything,” Porter said. “Candidates control so much, so you don’t see as many of those intimate moments. They’re there, but often, you just don’t see them.”
Porter recalls a time when local photojournalists could easily join national media in photographing President Richard Nixon (as he did) or when photographers such as Cecil Stoughton – even though he worked for the White House — could capture President John F. Kennedy looking so real and unguarded.
For both the media and the general public, these insights are worth savoring. And although those moments are rare, our Getty Images photographers are skilled at finding them – a trait that distinguishes our political coverage.
“I remember when the first George Bush was campaigning in Seattle,” he said. “It was a very tightly controlled event. The media was herded way in the back of the auditorium, and it would have made for very uninteresting campaign pictures.
“So, a couple of us, myself included, as people were walking into the event, we handed over our cameras and just told them to press the button. That was a prime example of early citizen journalism – they sometimes have the best, purest view of what’s going on.”
Certainly (and as illustrated in the video above) technology also has played a major role in shaping election coverage over the years, with the introduction of 35mm film, the change from black-and-white to color photography, the shift from analogue to digital and the rise of social media.
But as media has evolved and coverage has adapted, Porter said, there also has been a change within media consumers.
“I do think the polarization of politics has had a huge impact on coverage,” Porter said, remembering how his parents would read all three area papers before forming an opinion.
“Now,” he said, “people [tend to] go to find news that validates their already-formed opinion.”
The challenge as a distributor of images is to work hard at finding a balance in what gets posted on our site, so our customers have access to the volume and quality of images they need.
“Political imagery really tells the history of our country,” Porter said. “Everybody is surrounded by pictures. … They have a meaningful and lasting impact on people.”
And when they’re photos of those unscripted moments, all the better.
“I’ve always felt it was important for people to see whoever’s running as a person,” Porter said. “Candidates try to do that at a factory where they will be rubbing elbows with the workers, but that’s very scripted and staged. I think that’s the challenge.
“For candidates to be seen as people, it is a real connection to the people.”
Editor’s note: Cole Porter joined Getty Images in April, 2005, as senior editorial advisor and advocate for the highest editorial photojournalism standards. Porter brings the views and concerns of Getty Images’ clients, the industry and the public to the company’s editorial operations. A respected luminary in the field of photojournalism, his experience and leadership fosters journalistic accountability and transparency on behalf of Getty Images’ customers and will enhance the company’s existing resources for conflict resolution.
Prior to Getty Images, Porter spent 28 years at the Seattle Times, first as a staff photographer, then editor and, for 18 years, as Director of Photography. He has received numerous awards for his photography and editing from the University of Missouri, National Press Photographers Association and Society of Newspaper Design, among others, and was a News Photography Pulitzer finalist for his team coverage of the WTO riots in 2000. Porter has also served as a mentor for photographers and yearbook photo editors at a local area high school.