The Digital Journalist
Common Cents
May 2004

by Mark Loundy

The "Gray Lady" is getting meaner than ever in her old age. Two years after cutting off payment for digital transmission (Common Cents, March, 2002) the New York Times has rolled-out a new take-it-or-leave-it contract for freelance photographers.

You can read about its many pitfalls in-detail on the Editorial Photographers Group and on the ASMP site (links below.) But I can tell you why the Times thinks it will work.

The most insidious thing about the contract is that it assumes that most freelancers are so in awe of the Times, that they will actually pay for the privilege of shooting for it.

A steady stream of ill-prepared, yet starry-eyed, rookie shooters would sign away their firstborn to get a photo credit in the Times. Signing away their firstborn is probably a good thing, because with the rights that they give up they will never be able to support any children.

Mean Old Gray LadyThere are ways to fight back. First, get real, grow-up, whatever it takes. Unless you've retired and are shooting for your Garden Club, photography is a business. You not only have to earn your daily expenses, but you have to have a plan to increase your income over the years and save for your retirement. Unless the NYT contract fits into a carefully thought-out business plan, either cross out the clauses that don't work for your business or present them with your own contract.

Don't be a lonely wolf. Get together with other photographers and work on ways of negotiating with the Times. It's been done before with great success with other large clients. There are Yahoo Groups devoted to both Editorial Photographers and to New York Times Freelancers. There are a great many savvy and creative people involved in both areas. Take responsibility for the profession beyond your immediate situation by contributing some of your creative horsepower to the common good.

Are you up to saving our profession? By the time you read this, I will have formally submitted three resolutions that, if passed, will fundamentally change the NPPA into an organization that sees the survival of our profession as its primary mission. If you agree that a new NPPA would benefit our profession, go to and click on the "What can I do to make this happen?" link.

Education is the centerpiece of the resolutions to change the NPPA bylaws. It's about the education of student and mid-career photographers about business practices and education of the public about the value and complexity of photography. Are you up to saving our profession? If so, go to and click on the "What can I do to make this happen?" link.

The Ugly:

The District Chronicles in Washington DC is looking for a freelancer who will shoot for the princely sum of $25 per assignment - for perpetual rights. Most freelancers would have to shoot about eight such assignments a day, every day, just to break even. Whoever was answering their E-mail refused to identify themselves to me. I guess I can sympathize.

(The Good and The Bad will return next month.)

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.


* The Getty web spreads just a little wider. Not only did it more than double it's earnings-per-share, but it extended its agreement with Major League Baseball. According to Photo District News, Getty will pay $5 million over the next five years to be the exclusive commercial partner of MLB. Assuming that Getty intends to make more from its investment than they would by plopping it into a money market account, they plan to make a boatload of money on images created largely by MLB staffers and by freelancers who have signed Work For Hire contracts. That means that they will not see any of the millions generated by their work. But they will be able to shoot from the photo well next to the dugout and eat free hotdogs.


ASMP NYT Contract Analysis

New York Times Freelancer Contract

New York Times Freelancer Yahoo Group

ASMP NYT Contract Analysis

Proposed bylaw revisions

NPPA Independent Photographers Toolkit

Advertising Photographers of America Resource page

Common Cents Column On The Cost of Doing Business

Editorial Photographers Cost of Doing Business Calculator

Editorial Photographers Yahoo! Group

Small Business Administration

NPPA Online Discussion Group Instructions

© Mark Loundy

Mark Loundy is a visual journalist, writer and media consultant based in San Jose, California.