The Digital Journalist
Common Cents
March 2005

by Mark Loundy

"You're fired."
– Donald Trump

Smack-dab in the middle of North Carolina lies the city of Durham. It's the home of the headquarters of the National Press Photographers Association. It's also the home of a number of potential brand-new freelancers.

NutsWhen Paxton Media Group recently took over the Herald-Sun in Durham, it promptly axed more than 20% of the newspaper's workers, including 50-year-veteran shooter Harold Moore, who headed the Herald-Sun photo department. According to a story in the Charlotte News and Observer, longtime employees were marched out of the building without even being able to gather their personal belongings.

All staff photographers should act as if Paxton were in talks to take over their paper. It's never too early to learn and use good business practices.

If you haven't planned for working independently, the first thing that you should do is make believe that you just got laid-off. Suddenly, you have to pay for your own equipment, telephone, repairs, insurance, office space, etc. on a daily basis. If you add all of that up, the number you end up with is called your "nut." If you don't make your nut, you lose money. If you do that long enough, you'll go bankrupt. Profitability is found above and beyond your daily nut.

Even if you are secure about your job, it won't hurt to use one of the Cost of Doing Business calculators and at least get an idea of how much you'll need to make. You might also want to invest $50 in your potential future and join Editorial Photographers. The experts there can smooth your way into the freelance world.

If Wall Street should catch up with your Main Street, you might find yourself out in the street. If you're not prepared, you've gotta be "nuts."

The Good

None this month.

The Bad

AOL Cityguide, which is offering "$25 per description and $15 per photo" to cover the L.A. dining scene.

The Ugly

Inside Hockey Magazine for their credit line-only freelancer compensation.

National Post (Canada,) for demanding not only essentially all rights, but also The Canadian exclusivity. Their clause "Freelancer shall retain ownership of copyright in the Content" (underline theirs) is as useless as a roll of film in a 1D Mark II.

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.


Editors at National Geographic Adventure Magazine have been pleading with contributors to sign "clean" copies of their contract. Don't confuse a friendly relationship with a photo editor with sound business practices. Mark out the clauses that do not fit in with your business plan and stick to your guns. Better yet, send them your contract.

Scott Highton has updated his Business Fees Calculator. Follow the "What's New" link on his Quicktime VR site.

Watch out for the "newbie" contract. National Geographic Traveler Magazine has a policy of sending a lowball contract to first-time sellers. Beware and don't be intimidated. There's a name for those who are unwilling to walk away from bad deals: Bankrupt.


NPPA Cost of Doing Business Calculator

Scott Highton's Business Fees Calculator

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.