The Digital Journalist
Common Cents

by Mark Loundy

"If you want to test your memory, try to recall what you were worrying about one year ago today."

-- Rotarian

An editorial is where a publication tells its readers what it stands for. The New York Times may have set a new standard for irony when it opined about the importance of intellectual property in connection with peer-to-peer file -sharing software like Grokster.

Seemingly, the Times understands the necessity for freelancers to retain the right to their own work when it says, "If their creators cannot make money from them, many will be unwilling or unable to keep producing. Or they may have to finance their work in troubling ways, like by building in-product placements or taking money from donors with agendas."

This is the same Times that imposed a near-confiscatory contract on its freelance contributors last year.

New Orleans-based photographer David Rae Morris stopped shooting for the Times when they cut transmission fees in 2002. Morris says that the break has worked for him, "I have chosen to work with a handful of editorial clients who do have contracts, but pay fairly well," says Morris, "In addition, I am on retainer for a new local business magazine. They are very respectful of my rights, and I am able to get enough work to get by. Because of my magazine work, I had my best year ever in 2004."

Robin Nelson, in Atlanta, has kept shooting for the Times. "I've been able to negotiate a bit more in fees depending on the complexity and depth of the assignment," said Nelson, "but what I see as more valuable is the access to the good stories, and the stock images than can often come from those assignments." Nelson recognizes a less-than-ideal situation, but is nonetheless hopeful. "I would like to believe that the new regime at the Times' photo department will bring things around in time, that photojournalism isn't dead at the Times, and that fees will officially increase later this year. That said, I don't count on Times assignments to pay the mortgage; they're fun to do if I have the time and they keep my journalism blood flowing. I have other clients who pay much more for my talents, so it's a good mix. At the end of the month, it all adds up. I pay my bills, save some, tithe some, hug my wife and son, and enjoy the sunset."

Detroit shooter Alan Barnes is actually looking into alternate careers, but his heart is still in photojournalism. "I think about signing that contract at least once a week," said Barnes, "but it's like agreeing in writing that my work today is worth less than my work five years ago. Meanwhile, the costs of everything have gone up. If they would just pay us a bit more, I would sign ... In its editorial, the Times went on to say, "Both the court and Congress should be sensitive to evolving technologies. But they should not let technology evolve in a way that deprives people who create of the ability to be paid for their work."

The Times' photo department could use a visit from their editorial writers.

"The Good, The Bad and The Ugly" have taken the month off for space reasons.


  • In the continuing march of staffers to freelanceland, the Seattle Times has trimmed its editorial staff by 27. Included in the exodus were Director of Photography Cole Porter, a 28-year Times veteran and photographers Harley Soltes and Barry Wong, who had been with the Times for a combined 48 years. Although all of the cuts in the editorial department were voluntary, some of the 107 non-editorial employees involved in the reductions were laid-off.

© Mark Loundy

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