The Digital Journalist
Common Cents

Warm and Cozy
March 2007

by Mark Loundy

"When anyone asks me how I can best describe my experience in nearly forty years at sea, I merely say, uneventful. Of course there have been winter gales, and storms and fog and the like. But in all my experience, I have never been in any accident... or any sort worth speaking about. I have seen but one vessel in distress in all my years at sea. I never saw a wreck and never have been wrecked nor was I ever in any predicament that threatened to end in disaster of any sort."

- E. J. Smith, 1907, Captain, RMS Titanic

Are you warm and cozy in a staff job taking bad-contract freelance jobs in your spare time for fun money? You may want to put on some financial long johns. It's going to be a cold winter for some folks at the Philadelphia Inquirer and other papers where staff reductions continue to snowball.

More and more we see that there simply is no such thing as job security. My old hometown paper, the Los Angeles Times, used to be known as the "velvet coffin" because once staffers could essentially disappear there yet still collect a paycheck until they reached retirement age. Then the family that owned the Times decided that they wanted to cash out and they sold it to the Tribune Company. Buyouts and even layoffs soon followed.

This is why staff photographers who shoot the occasional freelance job and think nothing of signing Work For Hire contracts need to get their business practices in order before their mortgage payment depends on it. Don't think that you'll be able to raise your rates or start insisting on retaining your rights with existing clients just because you suddenly have to pay for your own gear and office supplies.

Now is the time to determine your Cost of Doing Business and start being a grown-up about paperwork. If you wait until after you become a victim of the beancounters it will be a cold day indeed.


• Two months was too good to last. No "Good" this month. Too bad.


Real Health Magazine for their contract, which starts out asking only for magazine rights but rapidly develops into a total rights grab. Always read the entire contract.


Editor & Publisher magazine for trolling through the University of Missouri for free pictures of a new press operation in Jefferson City. In exchange for the pics, they were offering "a few copies of the magazine." I guess that's why it's not called "Writer & Photographer" magazine.

• Software company Ripple Effects posted a Craigslist request for a few good photos for commercial usage in their products. "Images and subjects must conform to strict creative, subject and technical requirements. In addition to taking the photos, you need to find the subjects, get releases signed, organize and manage the shoots, and select, name, and deliver the digital images." All for $35 per image.

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.


• Attorney Carolyn Wright has written The Photographer's Legal Guide. More about it in a future column.

• Carolyn's fellow attorney, Ed Greenberg posted his Top-10 pet peeves regarding the behavior of his photographer clients. Here are two of them:

#7: Assuming and accepting that if you are told something is 'standard,' it is, and cannot be negotiated or changed;

#"10: Taking all definitive professional advice from government employees, photographers or reps, never from lawyers or accountants."

You rock, Ed.

(If you read the dead-tree version of Common Cents, please note that Ed and Carolyn work for different law firms.)

• If you get an "all rights" contract from the good folks at VNU (Adweek, Brandweek, etc.) stand firm. Their assigning editors have been having the devil's own time finding photographers to sign it. That's what's supposed to happen with bad contracts.

© Mark Loundy

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