The Digital Journalist
Common Cents
March 2004

by Mark Loundy

There's no point in taking a luxury cruise if you know that the ship is going to sink during the trip. Likewise, there's no point in pursuing a profession if you're going to go bankrupt before you retire.

In my last column I called for a re-examination of the NPPA's mission and a fundamental change in its priorities. The conversion of photojournalism into a virtual "steerage class" profession means that everything must take a backseat to fighting for economic survival. Anything less is tantamount to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

Guess, what? We're already in the water and hypothermia is setting in.

NPAAI've written a package of bylaw revisions that will transform the NPPA into a more militant organization on economic issues while preserving the very valuable and respected educational programs the NPPA is known and admired for. In other words, we will build an organization that is relevant to today's world.

But are we up to it? Real change means that everybody is going to have to stop moaning about the lowest dues in the industry and chip in. How much? A nickel a day. That's right, for five cents a day each, we'll be able to hire a professional Advocate and fund a reasonable budget to pursue things like:

* Vigorous opposition to organizations that engage in practices detrimental to freelancers or staffers

* Business education for freelancers and staffers (Staffers are an endangered species)

* Business curriculum outreach to colleges and universities

* Cooperative efforts with other photo organizations

* Lobbying for legislation favorable to staff and freelance photojournalists

* Educating the public on the value and complexity of photojournalism

Good images, ethics and First Amendment issues are important, but we need to have a viable profession first. If nobody can make a living as a photojournalist, who will be left to fight for Constitutional issues?

Are you up to it? If so, go to and click on the "What can I do to make this happen?" link.

The Ugly:

Eating our young: Distinguished photographer Steve McCurry is looking for someone with high-level computer skills, including 2-3 years of scanning experience, to work in his NYC studio. Oh, did I mention that the pay for the 12-week position is lunch and local transportation expenses?

(The Good and The Bad are taking this month off again for space reasons in the print version.)

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.


* A group of Former National Geographic photographers including Jerry Greenberg and Fred Ward sued the publication for copyright infringement when NGS released a CD-ROM including more than 108 years of the magazine's content. The case reaches to the heart of the principle of licensing images for specific uses. NGS claims that the searchable CD-ROM, which includes sound and music, is merely an extension of the original print use.

According to Ward, the CD-ROM has reportedly become one of the top-selling titles in history, with millions of copies being sold over the last six years. A jury found in favor of Greenberg last year and awarded him the maximum damages allowed. NGS has asked that the jury determination be set aside and a ruling on that is pending.

New York judge Louis Kaplan recently ruled in Ward's case that the new features in the CD-ROM did not transform it into a new work effectively contradicting the jury in the Greenberg case. Ward is appealing the decision.

As Ward files his appeal it is critical that all professional photo organizations file separate friend of the court briefs with the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in support of Ward. Such briefs can affect the eventual decision by indicating standard industry practices. This is another opportunity for the NPPA to step up as an industry leader in a critical situation.

Fred Ward invites inquiries at

* The Boston Globe Freelancers Association has dropped their legal action against the paper. The group was concerned that if they pursued an appeal and lost that it would set a precedent that could be used against all freelancers. I thank them for fighting the good fight for all of us. And I thank the ASMP and the National Writers Union for assisting the BGFA in their effort.


Boston Globe Freelancers Association Announcement

Proposed bylaw revisions

Boston Globe Freelancers Association Announcement

NPPA Bylaws

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.