by Les Stukenberg
The Daily Courier Prescott, AZ
Here it is the middle of August already and kids are going back to school, high school sports is getting going, and the summertime courthouse plaza weekend events are coming to a close. I have almost spent a year at my current paper and the topic of the month is "What is my opinion of the future of photojournalism." So it gave me some time to reflect over the past nine months here in Prescott, what I have learned and where I see myself going in the future. This is actually the second write through on this topic, after writing and proof reading the first I started asking myself if I think things are this bad why am I a photojournalist. Then I sat back and realized things for me are not that bad, just some areas of this profession which would frustrate anyone in any job given the same circumstances. So instead of griping I figured I'd offer up some solutions to some problem areas I have had and have heard others complain about.
First and foremost in my mind, why can't editors and publishers include the photographers in the editorial decision making? It seems with my limited experience that the photojournalists are like the unwanted stepchildren of the editorial department. Sure we use and need fancy equipment, sure we may not always wear a suit and tie, sure we work odd hours, and yes at times we can be a bit testy. Let's look at what we offer to the editorial department, we go out in all kinds of weather to get the image that goes with a story. We at times can put ourselves in harms way to get the image. We are tasked with being multi functional, we for the most part don't get to specialize in one single area, we must be a master of all situations and assignments. We are the ones who are out there talking to the public, interacting with them on a one on one basis. We get the facts and include them, hopefully, in our captions. So what is wrong with a little professional respect around the newsroom? Just include us and our thoughts and ideas when you make the decisions of what editorially the paper will have on the front page, sure we shouldn't be the final answer, but asking us what we think every once in awhile sure would be nice.
Professional sports: It seems these days with the revenues going up as networks vie for the sports entertainment dollar it is hard to get that one special image. I think back to one of my favorite images of all time, sorry I don't know the photographer, but it was of Y.A. Tittle bloodied and battered kneeling on the ground. I would hate to bet if that same moment occurred today no still shooter would have gotten it because whichever network had the NFL contract would have had a camera person, sound person and a cable puller all in the way. Sure they are paying the big dollars to cover these games so they should have some perks. So my suggestion is this, networks quit paying the big dollars to the leagues so some athlete can make $25,000,000. a year. Share the sports and rotate them every year. We have four major networks and four "major" professional sports why is it so hard to share? Now for other sports like the PGA, NASCAR, College Sports, and the Olympics just share them the same way, break it all down and share. Make it equal for all journalists to cover the story how they see fit. Give me the PURE excitement of a Little league baseball game, Pop Warner football, or any child just trying to do their best. Those are the true sports people of the world today. They are not worried about the television ratings, or what is the proper thing to say, or where people are spending their entertainment dollars, they just want to do their best on the field of competition.
Freelancers rights and pay: Scary topic here, as the rich get richer, the freelancer is being forced to invest more in their gear and equipment to keep up technologically, give up the rights to their images, and work for the same wages they did 10 years ago. Something just isn't right in that equation. So to you who make the cash disbursement decisions, pay fair market value for what you are getting. Photojournalism is not just about the bottom line itŐs about being able to tell a story and keep your subscribers and readers interested. Raise your ad rates and pay the freelancers fairly for the expertise and imagery they bring you to captivate your audience. You will see your bottom line go up as you bring readers back to the fold to read the stories and see the imagery freelancers can produce.
I know I am a dreamer, but I have to be honest I left a profession that paid extremely well to become a photojournalist because of my love of photography, and the feeling I might either make a statement or a difference, and money was not the object. I realize today you can't feed a family, pay the rent, pay your bills, keep up with the technology advances and still continue to work for the horrible pay some offer. I recently got my social security statement and I am making 1/3 what I used to make, so I need to make some changes in how I do business and with whom I do business with. Photojournalism is not about the money but the money is necessary to pay the bills. So maybe today I have turned the corner and have turned from a dreamer into a realist.
Now being a realist and knowing the day will never come when all photographers take a stand and provide no imagery to publications throughout the world due to the bad contracts, low pay, and lack of professional respect. My little protest statement is this month's journal, where I include no imagery. I may be "preaching to the choir" here, but what the heck, it made me feel better. And that my friends is why I got into photography in the first place because when I am making an image, or on scene at a spot news event, or just know I got the peak moment of action at a sporting event I feel GOOD.
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