Common Cents
March 2009

by Mark Loundy

"Whenever I take up a newspaper I seem to see Ghosts gliding between the lines. Ghosts must be all over the country, as thick as the sands of the sea."

Henrik Ibsen, "Ghosts"

Back when newspapers were first climbing out of the primordial analog soup, they used to advertise for people with "VDT skills." When offset presses started replacing letterpress, all of a sudden, photographers had to "know color." Do your colleagues still have to know how to operate a Wing-Lynch? Do you know anybody in the business who doesn't know Photoshop? Asking a photographer about Photoshop is like asking a carpenter if he or she has "circular saw skills."

Now the buzz is about knowing video and "writing for the Web" (whatever that means). It seems like everything is changing and our profession is disappearing into unknown technologies.

But it's always been what's in between the lines that matters. Of course you absolutely need to have business skills, and most of us will have to add sound and motion to our toolkits, but in the end it's the content that provides the meat in the sandwich.

Technology has changed before and it will continue to change. The advent of digital technology, the Internet and video are part of an eternal stream of changes in communications technology. Learning them as they come along is part of being a journalist.

What's not going to change is that journalists will still need to be able to capture the telling gesture, the decisive moment, the defining phrase. The ability to empathize with your subject and communicate what you learn to others will continue to be the essence of a journalist.

Remember, using pigeons to carry film from the battlefront was once the ultimate in newsgathering technology. And I'm sure that those medieval monks were really pissed off at Gutenberg for inventing moveable type.

If we can't handle change, we can't handle journalism. After all, it is called the "news."


• I hate not to be the bearer of Good tidings, but I have none.


• The Washington, D.C.-area person looking for a photographer with design, music industry and page layout experience to shoot a CD promotion for $250.

• USA Weekend is the latest Gannett pub to institute their less photographer-friendly corporate contract.


• The D.C.-area non-profit advertising for a photographer to shoot an "elegant event" on Jan. 20th (Inauguration Day.) They plead poverty and therefore cannot pay for services. I guess the money for the photographer went toward extra "elegance."

The Huffington Post, the online media darling that recently scored $15 million in venture capital funding, does not pay its contributors.

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.


No Equivalent Art has an interesting idea: Drive up prices by increasing scarcity and making all images exclusive. The new aims to sign up a very small number of photographers and then sell unlimited exclusive rights to buyers for very high fees. Photographers won't be permitted to retain any high-resolution copies of their images once they are sold. It should work — if all of the other picture agencies go out of business.


Huffington Post Gets $15 million

No Equivalent Art

Star-Ledger Replaces Staffers With Interns

NPPA Independent Photographers Toolkit

Advertising Photographers of America Business Manual

Common Cents Column On The Cost of Doing Business

Editorial Photographers

Editorial Photographers Yahoo! Group (Message Archives)

Small Business Administration

NPPA Online Discussion Group Instructions

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© Mark Loundy

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