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Common Cents Column On The Cost of Doing Business

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Portions of this column were originally written for the March 2014 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.

March 2014, Volume 126
By Mark Loundy

"It's all storytelling, you know. That's what journalism is all about."

— Tom Brokaw

It's bad enough that UK-based Johnston Press is eliminating all staff photographers from its Midlands Publishing division. But Roy Greenslade has to pop up and declare the company justified for doing so. In his blog published in The Guardian, Greenslade wrote, "No event occurs — fires, fetes, road accidents, cats up trees, whatever — without someone being on hand to snap a picture. In the real sense of the word, newspaper photographers are therefore redundant."

Telling Our Story Greenslade is not just some yahoo with a blog; he's a professor of journalism at City University, and former editor of the London Daily Mirror. Although he left the Mirror more than two decades ago, his thinking is representative of many news managers around the world. They see photojournalism as little more than button pushing performed by technicians whose usefulness has been superseded by digital technology and social media.

That misperception is partly the fault of photographers themselves. For more than a century, we toiled in the isolation of the darkroom, failing to involve ourselves in what ended up being critically important office politics. By allowing word-trained journalists to dominate the traditional newspaper leadership ladder, we left ourselves without a place at the table when the tough cost-cutting decisions had to be made.

British photographer Edmond Terakopian responded to Greenslade in his Photo This & That blog by writing, "Anyone can take a picture; just as anyone can write a word, sing a song, write a poem, paint a painting, run, jump, kick a ball, make a paper aeroplane; it doesn't mean that they can do these things well, let alone properly and at a high level. It certainly doesn't make these people photographers, journalists, singers, poets, artists, athletes, professional footballers or aeronautical designers and engineers."

It's been our responsibility to assure that the entire newsroom understands the craftsmanship and value of photojournalism by setting policy. As the mysterious arts of follow-focus and the darkroom dropped away, making news photography appear easier than ever before, few, if any, industry-wide efforts were made to train visual journalists for roles that were valued by upper management. Vanishingly few photographers have moved into management roles outside of the shrinking photo track.

We can't just hope that the decision makers will suddenly appreciate us. Visual journalism needs promoting and lobbying. Presenting the value of visual journalism in this magazine is just preaching to the choir. The story needs to be told directly to news managers.

Do you know anybody who knows how to tell a visual story?

The Good
Bullet The pro photographers who took to social media to advise amateur shooters who shot viral news images about the true value of those images and saving them from being lowballed by news organizations.

The Bad
Bullet Berks County Living for soliciting images from a local event in exchange for a photo credit in the magazine.

The Ugly
Bullet Legendary photo cooperative VII for trading on its reputation to offer an unpaid "editorial training opportunity."
Bullet Veteran photographer and trainer Scott Kelby for terms of service that assume nearly every possible publishing right for images submitted for an online critique.
Bullet Survival Magazine for grabbing a photographer?s image for use on their Facebook page without permission, removing her watermark and then calling the photographer an "asshole" for posting a takedown request.

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.

  • I've been writing about the Cost of Doing Business for well over a decade. It?s well worth revisiting the topic over at Vincent Laforet's blog. The internationally known photographer and video producer posted a real-world example there and it?s amazing how expenses can add up to nearly $300 per day and that?s before you pay yourself anything.
  • Last month, I told the story of the St. Augustine Record which invited readers to volunteer to help proofread the paper in exchange for a meal. Ya gotta love Dottie Andrews, the 90-year-old retired proofreader who emailed media critic Jim Romenesko and offered to do just that. Romenesko passed Andrews' contact info on to the Record's publisher. The last we heard, Andrews is still waiting for the phone to ring.