by Dirck Halstead
DC, August 30, 2000)
In the three
years that The Digital Journalist has been online, we have probably
seen the greatest long-term changes in the history of photojournalism.
Digital has replaced film in most newsrooms. Picture agencies have
gone from being mom-and-pop operations representing their photographers,
to just another holding of one mega-corporation or another. Agencies
no longer know how to talk with the talent that produces what they
sell. Television news has gone from being a service function of
stations and networks, aimed at fulfilling a public need, to profit
centers primarily, concerned with churning out the equivalent of
wire service material to countless affiliates around the world.
Everyone wants to compartmentalize and make a profit on the backs
of photojournalists - and we're mad as hell.
What on earth
We think Tom
Hubbard has come up with one of the most provocative answers in
his article this month. He cuts through most of the static surrounding
photo rights/rates, video/still, film/digital to come to this conclusion:
the craftsperson/artist mentality of the photojournalist is up against
the corporate/industrial mind-set.
Until the late
1980s, photojournalists were viewed as anomalies within their workplace.
Newspapers, magazines, and television news were in the business
of journalism. Most of the people working for these institutions
contributed to the production of their product as a team. On the
other hand, the photographer worked alone. He or she was even able
to retreat into the sanctity of the "darkroom." The definition of
a photojournalist was built around rugged individualism. What they
did was special and mysterious. The value of their product would
vary wildly, depending upon the subject matter and quality of the
pledged their first responsibility to the idea of a "free press."
The line between "church and state," or editorial versus advertiser
was never crossed. Then, beginning with the acquisition of Time
Inc. by Warner Bros. (or vice versa), the order was altered. The
corporation overruled editorial, while insisting nothing was going
to change. But it did. Budgets for coverage started to appear costs
were cut and projects were abandoned. The "special" relationships
between photojournalists and the publications they worked with began
that first acquisition seems quaint. Now, even Time Warner has been
gobbled up by an entity that didn't exist when the first merger
occurred - AOL. Meanwhile, the World Wide Web was creating a market
that would eventually replace print. Up until recently, nobody really
believed that would happen. But the facts are in. The Web will dominate
publishing and television.
As long as publishers
and broadcasters were only worrying about what was going to appear
in that day's/week's/month's edition they were happy to pay for
single usage. This left photojournalists free to sell subsequent
use, which made up for the fact that the publication was able to
get the photographer's work on a discounted basis. Now, however,
publishers realized they must be able to freely use the production
of the photographer across a much broader spectrum. For them, it
really isn't so much about money; it's more about the hassle involved
with clearing rights for other usage.
The answer was
"work-for-hire." That is to say, in return for hiring a freelancer
to perform an assignment, the publisher needed all rights to that
work. In the past, there was a simple formula to achieve this kind
of result. It was called a staff job - a fair exchange. Working
for the employer meant the photographer or reporter received health
insurance, a pension, along with other benefits, while the employer
got the rights to the pictures. Unfortunately, in today's economy,
the concept of staff photographer seems nonsensical to the employer.
We have never quite figured out why the photographer, alone within
the editorial team, is discriminated against when it comes to employment.
Maybe it has to do with that old "darkroom thing."
Last week, one
of the most blatant statements made by the publishing industry regarding
the copyright issue was heard at a convention in Rio de Janeiro,
attended by more than 1,400 publishers and editors from 71 countries.
The World Association of Newspapers, called for the end of obstacles
that would prevent or hinder the development of their companies
in the new digital environment. According to Media Central, their
resolution stated: "Copyright law was established before this digital
environment emerged. Today, this legislation has become a serious
obstacle for newspaper publishers to exploit their content in a
reasonable and economically viable fashion through the new distribution
channels. Publishers are either prevented by law from using this
content as they wish, or obliged to pay several times when this
content is published in a form other than on paper."
are flailing back, trying to fight this beast which takes many forms
and has many identities. Award-winning photographer PF Bentley,
after weeks of negotiating with Time Inc. and its covey of lawyers,
on behalf of his freelance colleagues - trying for a less onerous
contract - finally threw in the towel and resigned. During the past
week, virtually the entire freelance photographer stable of Sygma
photo agency walked out over contract terms with the new owner -
Corbis. But there is a sinking feeling that whatever the merits
of their case, it really doesn't matter in this new market place
this new order.
editors and executives of many of these companies feel as helpless
as the photographers. One agency head told me, "It's a good thing
all this is happening. It will force photographers to realize what
is going on. Everything is changing. I think the wheel has to be
reinvented, totally. They have to wake up to that fact, and maybe
they will finally begin to fight.