Monday, October 20, 2014

An Official Style Competition? ; Official Style and Photojournalism

         If the average American reads at a seventh grade reading level and in seventh grade you are typically between the ages twelve and thirteen, this would mean that the average American reads about the same level as a twelve or thirteen year old. This isn’t to say, by any means, that there aren’t outliers, or that reading at that level is a bad thing, but if the average, average being the key word, American reads at that level, then why on earth do people feel the need to write in levels even higher than the 21st grade level of official style like the preamble which follows?

“The National Press Photographers Association, a professional society that promotes the highest standards in visual journalism, acknowledges concern for every person's need both to be fully informed about public events and to be recognized as part of the world in which we live.”

            The National Press Photographers Association was founded in 1946 and is the leading association devoted to advocating for visual journalists. The organization focuses on the working news photographer, videographer and multimedia journalist in hopes to keep journalism alive in this tech-savvy era. NPPA has education initiatives, which seek to fully prepare all members for success in their visual journalistic lifestyles. The creation, practice, training, editing and distribution of visual journalism are all main focuses of what the NPPA works with its members to excel in. The membership fee for joining NPPA varies per person and per situation. A professional membership costs $110.00 annually and is geared for those aspiring or currently freelancing in photography, multimedia, audio, video, design, editing, producing, teaching, writing, reporting, or visual journalism on the Web. A student membership on the other hand only costs $65.00 annually and is students who are attending class full-time in universities and high schools who aspire to join the photojournalistic world.  NPPA is known for its renowned expertise, ethics, and ideals in photojournalism and by becoming a member you will be experiencing this first hand. NPPA helps each member meet, network with, and learn from many experienced photojournalists of today. Members also have access to career-building benefits and publications. With all of this said, NPPA sounds like a great association for any photojournalist with any sort of background or knowledge to be a part of. But I am still unsure as to why, if they want everyday people and students to join the association, they felt the need to write such an official sounding pre-amble which many people may be scared away by.
            As someone who one day dreams of becoming a photojournalist in hopes of, honestly just taking photographs that make viewers feel an emotional connection or response, I have to admit that reading the preamble of The National Press Photographers Association made me wonder what kind of sphere I’m trying to get myself into. I am just beginning to dip my toes into It’s not that it turned me off to the idea of photojournalism, but it did scare me a little into feeling like maybe this photojournalistic world is more hoity-toity than I had thought. I realize that from a legal standpoint maybe the things stated in the preamble need to be written a certain way, or maybe the association is trying to sound elite, but the purpose of a preamble is to introduce and explain the purpose of something. So if the preamble had simply stated something along the lines of “as an association devoted to helping photojournalists reach their full potential, they have created this association to do just that,” maybe more people would know the purpose of the association and become interested in learning how to become a member.
             I do, on the other hand, understand why associations might use official style to convince people into do things or other kinds of trickery. Not to say I agree with it, but I do understand how the use of official style can benefit a company or situation. But I do not think that writing a preamble for a photojournalistic website in the 21st grade level is necessary. Especially since tons of people never even make it to 21st grade. So if “EVERY PERSON’S need to be fully informed about public events,” is being acknowledged, then maybe it should be written so every person feels included. With a Flesch-Kincaid Reading ease score of 22.5, an average grade level of 21.0, and 44 words per sentence I can guarantee that not every person who reads that will be able to understand what is being said.
            I also think that the use of official style stems from the need to sound smart, or “official”. I think there are certain expectations held for people, even in situations like a photojournalism association’s website, to sound smart. I have a hard time understanding the reasoning behind why someone would use official style to prove to perspective members that the association knows what they are talking about, because in my opinion, if you know your stuff well enough you should be able to explain it simply, say everything you need to say, and honestly, I don’t think anyone would question the associations expertise anyways.
             I strongly believe that the idea that a national association such as this needs to use official style comes from the idea that the “Arts” are less important or prestige than say Sciences. I also think that in the art world there is this notion where in accordance to things such as a websites or other documentations where the artist, or in this case photojournalist, feels the need to speak in more elite terms to sound official and of importance to society. Scientists, for instance, are a “group” that may feel and be seen as more elite than someone who takes photographs. This isn’t to say that scientists are not elite and extremely important, but it is a fact that they know things photographers don’t, and photographers know things many scientists could never begin to comprehend. This may be why a photographic website would use official style.

             The use of official style, in situations like this, is all about competition and proving expertise. An association like NPPA may feel like they need to prove they know what they are talking about in hopes of being seen as a prestige association. While I agree with the fact that official style can give authority or credibility, I don’t think that it is practical in all instances. In situations like The National Press Photographers Association preamble I think that the use of official style may push people away more than pull them in because the use of elevated vocabulary and long sentences may seem too prestigious and scholarly. Many people who view the website looking for support for their photography and are seeking help to make a name for them selves are every day members of the public population who may only be comfortable reading at a seventh grade reading level. I think catering to everyone’s reading and comprehension ability is important when trying to gain members in order to help an association’s cause. Official style is completely impractical when attempting to relate or attract the average individual.

Abbey Grall

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