Why Staff Photographers Should 
Care About Photographer's Rights 
Editorial By Dirck Halstead

(This is only a fable) 
Arlington, Texas (June 10, 1999) 

Okay, so, here I am, a staff photographer working for the Fort Worth Daily News. I have one awesome job. I've been here for the last ten years, and it's the best! They give me all the latest equipment, plus, a car for both professional and personal. The paper has the best heath insurance plan money can buy, and I have profit sharing. I work with a great bunch of photographers and editors. Last month, I won the NPPA clip contest with a great picture of a highway patrolman comforting a baby whose mother and father had just died in a car crash. I got lots of nice letters on that one. My wife, Brandy, is a photojournalist for WKPG here in Fort Worth. She's been working at the station for five years, and just graduated from the NPPA TV News Workshop. We recently bought a new house near Amon Carter, with a beautiful pool in the backyard. Life is good. But, I keep reading all this stuff on the NPPA list about photographers belly-aching about photographers' rights. You know what, they're just freelancers who can't hold a staff job--sort of the "coachroaches" of photography. Give me a Break! 

Arlington, Texas (September 10, 1999) 

Wow! Life magazine just used my picture of the car crash as a double-truck. People are saying I could win Picture of the Year! We had a staff meeting right after Labor Day, and the publisher (a terrific guy!) told us that we've been bought by a major communications company. He said, with the new infusion of capital we're going to get the best of the new technologies, and make our paper No.1 in the country. The TV station was also purchased, and both Brandy and I are really excited about the future. BTW, so far, the paper has sent me checks for more than a thousand dollars--my share of the paper's profits from the sale of the crash photo. 

Arlington, Texas (October 15, 1999) 

I can't believe this! I got called in by the director of photography today. He asked for the $1,500 check I just got from LIFE for the double spread. I told him that we always got a percentage of sales on our work, and I felt that the "LIFE use" was very special for a great picture. He told me he was going to see the new publisher (a really good guy who'll fight for me). 

Arlington, Texas (November 1st, 1999) 

They just fired Allen--the director of photography. Man, that sucks. He knows more about news photography than anybody. All the photographers met this afternoon. We're together. We're going to get this turned around. 

Arlington, Texas (November 10, 1999) 

Now, those assholes upstairs have fired our chief photographer as well. Meanwhile, they're sending all these people, from Baltimore, around the department inventorying equipment. My last two expense accounts just got bounced back to me. They want to know how many miles I'm putting on my car for personal use. Brandy says it's just as bad at the TV station. They're cutting back on the amount of tape she can use--don't they know it takes tape to do good stories? 

Arlington, Texas (November 22, 1999) 

Oh man! I was supposed to leave today to cover the war in Kosovo. It's my big chance. Now, the editor is telling me they hired a young freelancer to cover the story. I pointed out to him that this could be a Pulitzer Prize-winning story, that the paper would want to run it in the magazine, and maybe do a book. And afterall, if they hired a freelancer they would have to pay all those additional rights to use his work. He told me the freelancer waived his photo rights. He also said that if anything happened to me on assignment, it would drive up the paper's insurance rates--thefreelancer waived any benefits. To make matters worse, my expense checks haven't arrived for the past six weeks. We invited my parents and Brandy's parents for Thanksgiving, but now I don't know how we're going to pay for it. The grocery store says they won't honor our account until we pay our balance. 

Arlington, Texas (December 21, 1999) 

Half the photo staff got pink slips today, and they're taking away our cars. Now, we'll have to share two cars each shift. Meanwhile, I see new freelancers in the newsroom every day. The editor says anybody can take still pictures. As long as they get the rights from them, why should they maintain a big photo staff? Thank God, Brandy is in TV. As she says: they aren't likely to hire freelancers to operate a $60,000 Betacam which the station has paid for. Although, it seems now her expense checks are getting held up too. And her bonus won't happen this year! Merry Christmas! 

Arlington, Texas (July 1, 2000) 

Well, they did it--I got canned. How can they do this after I won POY? I know what did it: I complained to the publisher (he's brand new--just arrived from Baltimore--the second one in less than a year) that a movie producer had approached me to buy the crash picture, and also wanted me to consult on the movie. The publisher refused permission. How could he do that? I told him this wasn't the same newspaper anymore. That night, the editor called and told me to clean out my locker. I was pulling down my pictures when this jerk, who's been freelancing for us, started to put his personal gear in my locker. He told me that I was history! They want people who can work in multimedia, and write as well as take pictures. Shit! I can write. Can't I? 

Arlington, Texas (December 31, 2000) 

Well, I guess this is the last week in the house. Since Brandy got let go last month, there just isn't anything left in the bank account. When the station went all DV, they sold off the Beta gear, and now they're using freelancers who supply their own equipment. They can swing it, because a kit only costs about $5,000 now. These people work for no benefits, just a dayrate, which is less than what Brandy used to get on salary. She's really depressed and is getting counseling. I sure hope she'll be OK. 

Nogales, New Mexico (December 31, 2001) 

This is probably the last entry in this dairy. I'm selling my Powerbook tonight. It's about the last thing I own. When Brandy left me, my whole world fell apart. To make it worse, everywhere I go I see the poster for the movie made about the highway patrolman, it's my picture. That photograph is all over the place--it just reminds me how great things used to be. 

Norman, Oklahoma (February 20, 2002) 

I feel like, maybe, I'm getting my life back together. Brandy, who is an instructor at the Platypus Workshop, asked me to come and teach photographers what I've learned about the importance of photographers' rights. If there is anything I know about now, it's how important these rights are. If we had listened to those freelancers a couple of years ago, and worked with the NPPA and the ASMP to form a united front, things might be a lot different today. 

These new people seem to understand it, but it's going to be a hard fight and a long road back.Wish us luck.  

MORAL:If we don't hang together, we will surely hang separately! 
Is this only a fable? 


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