Australia and New Zealand Communications Association Conference 2019

Activity: Participating in or organising an event typesContribution to conference


Presented the paper: Agency, Apps and Algorithms: Does self-publishing on Instagram liberate the visual journalist from the gatekeeping constraints of mainstream media?

Abstract: Everyday around the globe more than 95 million images and videos are uploaded to Instagram. While much of what is posted could be considered quotidian, Instagram is emerging as an important site for news at a time when visual priorities in journalism are increasing (Mortensen, Allan, and Peters, 2017). It has also become a key platform for visual journalists who use it to communicate directly with audiences. There has been considerable scholarly attention, in both media communications and journalism studies in the west, on the freedoms and restrictions of the social media space and journalism, but scant focus given to visual journalism and Instagram (Lewis and Molyneux, 2018; Bossio, 2017; Carlson, 2017; Anderson, 2015; and Hermida, 2012, 2017). This paper considers the use of Instagram by visual journalists working for social change, a genre also known as social documentary or social reform photography. Through discussion of individual agency, the paper will reveal if self-publishing on Instagram liberates the visual journalist from the gatekeeping constraints of mainstream media. Informed by insights from semi-structured interviews with eighteen visual journalists working for social change in the United States, the paper argues that Instagram is both a liberating and limiting platform. Through a case study which analyses the Instagram posts made by visual journalist Giles Clarke in December 2018 of an emaciated Yemeni girl, the paper demonstrates the ways in which Instagram delivers greater individual agency to the photographer in comparison to mainstream media. It also draws focus on the limitations of Instagram, specifically the impact of the app’s algorithms and community guidelines on agency. This paper makes a valuable contribution to the existing body of work that connects journalism and the digital space delivering new insights into visual journalism at a time when the photograph is omnipotent, ideas around journalism’s role in social change have re-emerged, and Instagram is becoming an increasingly significant platform for news (Reuters Digital News Report, 2018).
Period3 Jul 2019
Event typeConference
LocationCanberra, Australia
Degree of RecognitionNational


  • Photojournalism
  • Visual Journalism
  • Social Media
  • Instagram
  • Agency
  • Apps
  • Algorithms