The Digital Journalist
Common Cents
October 2004

by Mark Loundy

"And the category is ..."
- Alex Trebek

This month it's potpourri ...

Potpourri- Do you still doubt that photographers are disrespected? According to a report from a New York Times picture editor, the company's corporate attitude toward freelancers is that the current crop of photographers will retire or otherwise leave the business and that the new generation will be more amenable to their demands. In other words, they're waiting for the knowledgeable ones to die and hoping that the new crop of freelancers will fail to educate themselves about prudent business practices. I think the Times is in for a very long wait.

- Try to catch yourself when you refer to what you do as "selling" your images. Independent photographers "license" limited usage rights to their images. I know it's commonly-used shorthand, but it creates a subconscious impression in the minds of clients and in our own minds that we deal in a cookie-cutter commodity. There's enough of that going on in the offices of media management.

One well-respected intellectual property attorney tells me that using the term "sold" in your paperwork can potentially cost you thousands of dollars in the event of a dispute.

We need to resist the commoditization of our profession and the devaluing of individual photographic skills on every level.

The Good

- The publishers of Photo District News for refusing to carry ads for a company that submits "assignments" to multiple photographers and then lets its clients pick which one they want to use. The losers get nothing for their effort.

- The operators of the We Support U Web site who pulled their unpermissioned, newsphoto-laden site after their copyright infringements were brought to their attention. If you have images of currently-deployed U.S. servicepeople, give them a visit. You might want to donate some usage rights to somebody who's trying to do the right thing.

The Bad

- The Athens (Ga.) Banner-Herald for its all-rights $25-an-assignment freelancer contract. Eight of those each day and you might just barely break even.

- HBO's Work-for-Hire contract.

- The Journal-Register Company for recently stripping its staff photographers of their cut of print sales. They must have mistaken their staff shooters for freelancers.

The Ugly

- The photographer who recently accepted HBO's contract without negotiating more favorable terms.

- Talk about cheap! The Maryland-Delaware region of the Associated Press recently instituted a $50 award for the best monthly photo and then, used the award as the reason for cutting the amount paid for member submissions from $25 to $10. What? Were they only getting 10 submissions a month?

- UPI for its one-year exclusive rights, followed by a perpetual non-exclusive rights contract.

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.


- So, you don't submit paperwork when you get that late-night, last-minute spot news assignment? Why the heck not? All you have to do is get a verbal agreement from the client ahead of time and make sure that the assignment desk is notified. Then, when the phone rings at 2 a.m., you can have a contract form ready to go next to your fax machine. It shouldn't take more than 30 seconds to send your paperwork to the assigning editor for their signature. Even if you don't wait for the return fax, you can get it when you return from the assignment. If they don't sign, then they don't get the images. No more excuses.

- Do you accept assignments from newspaper clients who pay you only if the images are published? Your clients are also businesspeople. They already understand ordinary business practices. Because they do, they may view you as being inexperienced and naive. No matter how friendly they may behave, they are deliberately taking advantage of you.

It doesn't matter if you're from a big city or a rural area. Business is business everywhere.


Photo District News

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.