Reversing the Tide Part II
Editorial By Dirck Halstead

It was late in the second week of the first Platypus Workshop when the assembled 30 photojournalists-after days of intensive study of the basic language of television-turned their attention to the issue of what the business  implications are for this new breed. 

In a three-hour panel discussion, attended by National Press Photographers Association President, Linda Angelle, the students and faculty wrestled with such issues as rights, payment, and the creation of new business relationships with publishers and broadcasters. The first hour was devoted to a frank evaluation of where photojournalism stands today. It is not a pretty picture. 

With the shrinking print space available for their work, and a constant drive by publishers and lawyers to minimize payments to photographers-while stripping them of as many rights as possible-the very future of freelance photojournalism is at risk (see "Turning The Tide," our March editorial.) For Linda Angelle, who has always worked in television news, where photographers' rights are non-existent, the session was truly an eye-opener. 

The fundamental position from the freelancer's point of view has always been that unlike salaried employees, who receive health and pension benefits, the archives of the freelancer are his or her security blanket for the future. Until recently, most staff photographers at newspapers and wire services felt they were immune from these pressures. However, in the past few years, these photographers have watched with dismay as a career track for a staff photographer has become increasingly difficult to achieve.. 

Instead, we see a perpetual cycle of intern-level position turn-overs. A photographer losing that first job as soon as his or her salary begins to escalate, moving on to another paper, if one can be found, and starting all over again. So, for those photographers who have, until now, felt secure compared to the chancy life of a freelancer, they should remember Hemingway's words, ask not for whom the bell tolls-it tolls for thee. 

The Platypus students at this forum, part of the birth of a new direction in their profession where no practices or traditions have yet been set, began a discussion about what these new guidelines should be. 

One suggestion was that the new visual journalists should think about abandoning the traditional payment structure of a "day rate." This form of billing was initiated in the late '40s, with the start of the picture agencies, and the creation of the American Society of Magazine Photographers. In those days, it was understood that picture rights belonged to the photographer, that all expenses connected with an assignment would be paid, and subsequent usage would be compensated for on a fair basis. The day rate was solely to be considered payment for the photographer's time on the job, and was a guarantee against space payment. 

Contract photographers, in exchange for signing a document that pledged their services, would not be available to a competing publication. In return, they were given many quasi-staff benefits, including full-payment of a health insurance package similar to the publication's staff policy, plus equipment allowances, and yearly bonuses. Today, few of these benefits exist. 

So, the idea was floated that rather than use a day rate as the basis for billing, we start to think of ourselves more as producers. Rather than providing "services" to the publication or broadcaster, the visual journalist would provide "content packages." Billings would be based on providing a package, either still or video, which would be assembled in totality by the photojournalist. Working from a pre-agreed-to budget, the photographer would include: expenses, overhead, and fee, all in one package. The value of this package would be based on the value to the publisher or broadcaster. The package would be licensed for a given period, such as "first time publication," or "two showings." Online usage fees would be agreed to separately. 

We are approaching a turning point in our profession, this time can be used to our advantage to redefine our most basic business relationships. This opportunity should be seized. 

Motivated in part by her exposure to the discussion, Linda Angelle has now become a force to support photojournalists in this new concept. At a meeting of the NPPA board, last week, it was agreed that the bylaws-which presently prohibits the association from taking part in "labor issues"-need to be changed, and that the Association must move into a more forceful position in favor of the photojournalists as they try to cope with these new challenges. Various leaders in the Association including: past presidents Joe Traver and John Cornell, former national chair Mark Hertzberg, photographer David Burnett, and various regional directors have crafted new resolutions-to be voted on-that could make the NPPA a true voice for the photographer. Perhaps, with the support of photojournalists from all over the world, the tide will be turned to our benefit.

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