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Portions of this column were originally written for the September 2013 edition of News Photographer Magazine.

Mark Loundy is a media producer and consultant based in San Jose, California. Full bio.

The opinions in this article are those of the author alone and do not necessarily represent the official views of the National Press Photographers Association.

September 2013, Volume 122
By Mark Loundy

"Or where the pictures for the page atone And Quarles is sav'd by beauties not his own."

— Alexander Pope

If you're reading this, you probably take it as an article of faith that there is an indispensible value to professional photojournalism. But when it comes to the business of producing news, there are few things more likely to try the faith of an executive than a diminishing bottom line. Even winning a Pulitzer Prize last year didn't prevent the Denver Post from sacrificing photo director John Sunderland on the altar of declining revenue.

Newsosaur Alan D. Mutter puts the situation in historical context, "Unable to stanch the 50%-plus contraction in sales since 2005 and desperate to sustain a rough approximation of 20% and 30% pretax profits that newspapers produced in their halcyon days, most publishers have watered down and hollowed out their products to the point that discerning readers can see that newspapers ain't what they used to be." In short, they're in denial about the fact that the good old days are simply not returning.

Few managers have the vision to see that they're not just cutting expenses, they're sawing off the branch they're sitting on. "In a time when visual journalism is undergoing a bit of a renaissance," blogged Spokesman Review editor Gary Graham, "it is difficult to understand why a newspaper could possibly think that eliminating its professional photographers will enhance its storytelling in print and on the Web. Newspapers today are devoting more resources and attention to visual storytelling not just in print, but on their websites and their mobile offerings."

The success of image-oriented sites like Instagram and Pinterest and the invasion of inline graphics into the Twitter's famous 140 characters should be a clear message that if content is king, then visuals are emperor. Pinterest is even giving Facebook a run for its money. Yes, actual money.

In a time of concentrating "digital engagement" with readers as a way of atoning for the sins of arrogance of the past 50 years, perhaps photographer Alex Garcia put it best, "If publishers want emotional engagement," blogged Garcia in the Chicago Tribune, "they should have on staff the most talented experts in the provision of emotionally-charged content. In fact, photojournalists are so good at this they often provide pictures that need to be reined-in by editors for being too powerful. That's a good problem to have."

The Good
Bullet Kind of a downer month. How about some Good for next month?

The Bad
Bullet Live Nation Labs for their $100 a night "Instagram stringer" gigs.
Bullet International Chef Congress, $150 day rate. They do feed you, though.

The Ugly
Bullet New York Giants freelancer agreement: All-rights transfer.

Please let me know of any particularly good, bad or ugly dealings that you have had with clients recently. I will use the client's name, but I won't use your name if you don't want me to. Anonymous submissions will not be considered. Please include contact information for yourself and for the client.

  • Reuters was one of the few remaining refuges for professional freelance photojournalists. Their rates were higher than most and the company is known for having high quality standards. But few companies have resisted the pressure of the bottom line and Reuters has offloaded its sports coverage to USA Today Sports Images (USATSI,) the Gannett subsidiary formerly known as US Presswire. Shooters used to getting the call from Reuters to cover sports events now sit by a silent phone or shoot for USATSI at half the former Reuters rate.
    US Presswire started out as a spec-only company (photogs shot for free and made only a percentage of sales) before instituting relatively low guaranteed per-game payments. Although some of its freelancers are tops in their specialties, USATSI has not been able to shake the US Presswire reputation of using lower-tier photographers. It will be interesting to see how Reuters feels, over time, about hitching their brand to this new batch of shooters and if USATSI can transcend its reputation.
  • USA Today has long treated freelancers relatively well compared to the rest of the newspaper industry. But now that its parent corporation, Gannett, has clustered all of its freelance sports coverage under the USATSI umbrella, that reputation is starting to evaporate. Sports assignments that once paid $400, plus mileage, (like assignments for other USAT sections,) now pay the USATSI rate of a flat $125.
    How long will the Life and Money section editors be able to justify paying freelancers more than twice what the Sports section editors pay? As the freelance photo budget line item drops more and more, how long will USAT be able to justify employing full-time staff photographers? What time is it now? Are we seeing a pattern here?
  • Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières US communications director Jason Cone writes about NGOs looking for "networked photojournalists" or photogs who have existing distribution channels. It's worth a read in the British Journal of Photography.
  • In a rare win for photographers in Canada, shooters have finally caught up with other creatives and now own the rights to their work — whether or not it was commissioned. Congratulations to the Canadian Association of Professional Image Creators and the other organizations that worked for more than 20 years to change the country's copyright law.