The Digital Journalist
A Letter to the New York Times from its Photographers
April 2004

Dear Friends and Colleagues:

A huge thanks to all who have rallied around NYT freelancers in support of our efforts to fight the recently distributed New York Times contract.

This past Friday, our letter [see below] - along with a second letter with news of recent developments with ASMP (The American Society of Media Photographers), was delivered to New York Times Management. By the end of the day, both letters were sent electronically to NYT photo editors. Signatures numbered 87 NYT freelancers who have not signed the contract and another 184 photographers and photo industry professionals from across the country and as far away as Japan, China and India, who signed in solidarity. We would like to thank everyone involved for their efforts and urge continued networking to help raise awareness of this important issue.

We are gaining momentum but there is still much to do. Eugene Mopsik, Executive Director of ASMP, and Victor Perlman, ASMP's general counsel have offered to be contact points in arranging discussions with the Times. Mr. Mopsik was interviewed on Friday by Cynthia Cotts of the Village Voice for an article which will run early next week.

Freelancers in New York and some other states continue to meet and strategize. It is vitally important to support these efforts by continuing to collect signatures of fellow photographers and industry professionals and outreaching to the photojournalism community at large about the bad business of bad contracts.

At the risk of repetition, instructions for signing the letter are repeated below; anyone who has not as yet signed can still do so.

In addition, ASMP, which has a long and proud record of advocating the rights of photographers in an increasingly difficult industry, is accepting contributions on our behalf to help offset any legal or other costs which we may incur. They have set up a separate account within the Legal Action Fund. All contributions must be noted as going towards the "New York Times Freelance Photographers," specifically. Contributions will not be individually refundable, but in case we do not spend all the money or that there is some left over, the NYT Freelance Photographers can decide how it can be spent on other causes benefiting the rights of photographers.


1) Through the Internet with PayPal. Click on and click on the button for the NYT Fund.

2) Postal mail with a check, addressed to ASMP Legal Action Fund, ASMP, 150 N. Second Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106. (Make a note on the check that it is going to the NYT FUND.)

3) Phone with a credit card: 215-451-ASMP (2767) ext. 1200. (Make sure and tell them that it goes to the NYT FUND.)

We are asking that everyone make a contribution of $100.00 at this time. Obviously, if you can't do that, whatever you can contribute is most welcome!

We are still collecting signatures in support of our cause. If you are a freelance photographer who works for The New York Times, and you have not signed the new contract, we urge you to sign the letter below via e-mail. You can do this by e-mailing to or the following statement:

"I agree to the content of this letter and wish to add my name to it as a signatory." along with your name, address, and contact information. Your name will be added to the list of signatures.

If you are a freelance photographer who works for The New York Times and you HAVE signed the contract, or if you are NOT a freelance photographer for The New York Times, but you wish to support us, we urge you to e-mail to or, the following statement of support: "I support the New York Times freelance photographers and endorse this letter." along with your name, address, and contact information. Your name will be added to the list of signatures.

Once again, many thanks to everyone who has supported our efforts. Please continue to outreach to photographers, industry professionals, university professors and anyone else affiliated with the profession to let them know what is happening with this onerous contract.

All the best,

Susan Markisz with Alan Chin

Letter to the New York Times

March 31, 2004

Mr. Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr., Publisher
Mr. Bill Keller, Executive Editor
Ms. Jill Abramson, Managing Editor
Mr. John M. Geddes, Managing Editor
Mr. William E. Schmidt, Associate Managing Editor
Mr. David Frank, Acting Director of Photography

The New York Times
229 West 43rd Street
New York, New York 10036

Dear Messrs. Sulzberger, Keller, Geddes, Schmidt, Frank, and Ms. Abramson:

I am one of the undersigned freelance photojournalists who works regularly for The New York Times. The Times recently sent me a contract and issued an ultimatum: I will no longer be hired unless I sign it. I am writing to object to the contracts substance and to request a meeting with management to discuss a more equitable arrangement between The Times and its freelance photographers.

The contract contains several flaws and ambiguities that need to be addressed, including:

Until recently I have worked for The New York Times without a contract, and I have retained the copyright to my photographs, as is standard under copyright law. The work-for-hire clause radically alters these conditions by seizing my fundamental rights and assigning them to The Times. (par. 3 + 4)

The ten-day embargo would deprive me of the ability to license my photographs to news magazines within the weekly news cycle. This is only one example of how The Times is proposing to take a substantial portion of my income while offering nothing in return. (par. 5)

Copyright, privacy, and libel violations generally arise as a result of a photographs use. The liability provisions (par. 8) do not indemnify me against improper use by The Times of an image that I would not control.

The syndication provisions compromise my exclusive right to license my pictures based on the sole ownership of copyright. This would make The Times Syndicate my direct competitor. It could also put me in breach of existing agreements I might have with photo agencies. (par. 6)

The provisions restricting association and identification (par. 7b) are unworkable in practice. The Times has always relied on and received my professional judgment and ethical vigilance. Am I to lie or remain silent when someone asks for whom I did an assignment? One of the ethical responsibilities of a photojournalist is truth-telling. The context in which a picture arises, and the institutional affiliation of the photographer when the picture is taken, is crucial information to any critical viewer of a photograph. I am deeply troubled that the flagship of free journalistic expression in the United States would assail my First Amendment rights.

The Times has long been an icon among American newspapers. The outstanding work of dedicated photojournalists has helped to establish and maintain its leadership role. The paper has a distinguished history of journalistic integrity with a tradition of exposing injustice and championing civil rights. This contract is inconsistent with those ideals.

I understand that The Times operates in a competitive environment. Electronic distribution and technology pose unique challenges, and it is essential for us to meet these challenges together. The Times has an interest in retaining talented, committed freelance photojournalists: as the papers coverage of September 11th and other world events has demonstrated, freelance photographers are an integral and important part of The Times overall excellence.

I am very proud of and value my relationship with The Times. I request a meeting at the earliest convenience to address these concerns. Several New York-area photographers have offered to be points of contact to arrange this meeting. Please contact Alan Chin, Susan Markisz, Brian Palmer, or Christopher Smith. I look forward to continuing a productive, professional, and mutually beneficial association with The New York Times.

[The following was sent as a separate letter at the same time:

Dear Messrs. Sulzberger, Keller, Geddes, Schmidt, Frank, and Ms. Abramson:

Eugene Mopsik, Executive Director of The American Society of Media Photographers, has offered to facilitate a meeting between The New York Times and freelance photojournalists who wish to discuss the contract.

He can be reached at 215-451-2767, extension 1201.

Thank you.


Alan Chin, Sue Markisz, Brian Palmer, Christopher Smith]

Also in this issue:
New York Times Contract Tells Another Sad Tale by Greg Smith