Breaking the Waves
Editorial By Dirck Halstead

There are many things I wish I had had the time to do in my life. I have loved being a photojournalist, traveling the world, having a ringside seat to the great historic events of this century. But, I always wished I had learned to ski, play tennis, and perhaps most of all, I wish I had learned to sail. 

I know very little about the sport of sailing. And after reading The Perfect Storm, I'm convinced I'm safer on shore. But the book, and some of my sailing friends have given me a few basic principles that can be applied to life. I understand that if you're caught at sea in a bad storm, one of the safest things to do is go below, batten down the hatches, and ride it out. The problem? This is only a short term solution. If you're caught in a really bad storm, eventually, the boat will start to take on water and begin to break apart. The absolute worst thing to do is allow the boat to get caught in a following sea, with its stern to the wind. Disaster is sure to follow. If you want to survive, at some point, you have to get back on deck, take the helm, and start to head into the breaking sea. You must keep forward momentum, and take on the waves. With luck, you will sail out of the storm, perhaps battered, but alive. 

In recent weeks, as I have talked to many friends and colleagues in photojournalism, the picture that comes to mind is of a bunch of terrified people, huddled below deck, while the mighty winds of change in photojournalism sweep over them. The profession they love seems to be breaking apart. Ownership rights they have always taken for granted are being grabbed away by media companies. These companies, themselves are being battered by the same winds of change, and their leaders are almost as panicked as the photographers. It's easier to go below and pray the storm will pass, or the Coast Guard will come to save us. 

Well, I can guarantee you, the Coast Guard and the publishers we have depended on for so long, are too busy taking care of their own emergencies to answer our "Mayday." 

If we are to save ourselves, we must get back on deck and boldly face the crisis confronting us. We need a plan that takes into account the changes we see, and then chart a new course. 

This past weekend, there was an open meeting of the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) in Washington, DC to confront the problems now facing us, and to map a strategy for survival. 

NPPA President Linda Angele, Executive Director Bradley Wilson, Former NPPA Presidents Joe Traver, David Lutman, Jim McNay, and Region Three Director Michel duCille, as well as members David Burnett, Robert Pledge of Contact, and Jose Azel took part in the discussion over rights, and how to reclaim our profession. 

From the outset, it was made clear that the meeting was not about "labor issues," such as setting minimum rates. This is an area the American Society of Media Photographers (which was represented at the meeting) are enfranchised to deal with. Instead, one purpose was to draft a strong resolution that will be presented to the NPPA Board of  Directors in June. It will ask that the bylaws of the Association be changed to allow and encourage the group to become a strong moral force within the industry, recognizing and advocating the basic rights of the photographer concerning ownership and copyright of their images. 

The attendees were unanimous in their agreement to move a program forward which will include an educational brochure stating in unambiguous terms the current copyright laws. The brochure will provide a document photographers can present to their editors and publishers making clear what governments and copyright offices around the world have already set in law.  

In addition, the NPPA will start to work more closely with the American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP) in forming a common front. As was pointed out in the meeting, this is not intended to be an adversarial situation  with editors or publishers, but instead, it is to help us come to a cooperative understanding. Picture Editors now find themselves isolated, stuck between business offices that are making outrageous demands for ownership of images, and photographers who are constantly at war with each other, vying for the available scraps. These editors need our help in presenting our case to the publishers. 

In many instances, magazine and picture editors have simply forgotten or, in many cases, don't even know about the traditions and practices established over the years. 

The first goal is to educate everyone--from publisher to photographer--about the long established guidelines on photographer's rights. 

Graduates of the NPPA Platypus Workshop are now venturing into a new area still photographers have rarely visited--broadcast journalism. These photojournalists, with a history of working relationships in print (based on the established guidelines), are now taking these standards into broadcasting, which itself has no tradition of individual photographer ownership. This will ensure that photographer's contributions, in broadcasting, will conform to the policies we have always been entitled to as professionals. 

As the World Wide Web becomes an increasingly powerful source of revenue for photojournalists, it is crucial that we instill the models of ownership and copyright we have always enjoyed. 

Make no mistake. This will be a daunting challenge to us all. The storm is huge, with no end in sight. But we have the skills and guts to survive, provided we're on deck, at the helm, and headed into the wind. 

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