For student photojournalists at the University of Georgia, the old adage rings true: a picture really is worth a thousand words. Their carefully shot photographs are at once artistic, journalistic and academic, constituting scholarly production just as a performance would for someone studying music or theatre.
Helmed by Mark Johnson since 2005, the photojournalism program at the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication helps students develop the skills they need to succeed as visual storytellers.
Among the many highlights of the program is the Woodall Weekend Workshop. Each year, Johnson selects a Georgia county for the students in his documentary photojournalism class to explore. Before their visit, they research and pitch stories about people or events in the area.
When the workshop weekend arrives, Johnson sets up a newsroom in the county to serve as home base. Over the three days, students take photos, return to the newsroom for critique, and then go back out to shoot some more. They’re coached by a team of 10-12 photojournalists from around the country, who provide feedback on everything from photography technique to the journalistic goals of the story.
“It’s critical the students understand that the way I practice photojournalism is not the only way to do it,” said Johnson, a senior lecturer in journalism. “We’ve had editors from National Geographic, the Associated Press and other publications work with us, which is fantastic for the students, because they’re getting all kinds of different voices in their heads.”
The workshop has been on hold due to the pandemic since 2019, but it will return this spring as the photojournalism students cover Oglethorpe County. There they will learn to take photographs that are not just pretty or interesting, but that showcase the true and often untold stories of the community.
“I genuinely think the great photojournalists don’t want anybody to know their names at the end of the day,” said Johnson. “It’s not the work they did, it’s the stories they told that matter.”