By Mark Loundy
I found an old plastic container of corn masa while cleaning our pantry. Inside were the remains of a tiny moth. It had hatched, lived out its entire life and died thinking that the universe consisted entirely of corn masa bounded by plastic walls.
It reminded me of aspiring newspaper staff photographers who accept near-slave-labor arrangements with newspapers in hopes that they will get that "next staff opening." Like that moth, they are isolated and know little of the real world.
Q. Why would a small newspaper hire a staffer for $675 a week (including benefits) when they could get the same work for $350 from a freelancer? Plus they can get rid of the freelancer instantly without cost or legal risk.
A. They wouldn't. That's why staffs have been shrinking and more and more work is being contracted-out.
The Loundy Doctrine:
"Freelance fees should be higher than the pro-rated cost of paying a staffer." Anything less encourages the permanent elimination of all staff jobs and is destructive to the industry.
How much should that be? According to The Loundy Doctrine (TLD) if a major-metro is paying its staffers $1500 a week in pay and benefits that translates to a minimum day rate of $300 plus expenses for one-time rights. If you figure-in lost revenue for a WFH contract, the number should go up at least three times — much more for events like the Super Bowl or the Academy Awards, which have very high resale potentials.
At the same time, a small newspaper that pays its staffers $450 a week in base pay would end up paying its freelancers about $135 per day. But even that would have to be carefully balanced against the freelancer's cost of doing business.
Two things the NPPA can do
Adopt The Loundy Doctrine as a prime mission. They don't even have to use my name. Send it out in PR releases and fold it into educational programs. Officially condemn employers who do not adopt it, as shortsighted, greedy and as enemies of the industry. Right now, that list would include most publications on the planet.
Condemn Work-for-Hire clauses. The eventual elimination of photo staffs is the prime motivation behind WFH contracts: Publications get "employees" at a bargain rate and avoid all the muss and fuss of actually hiring them. Heck, they can probably slash the HR staffs too.
Staff photographers should be terrified every time they see a freelancer hired at below-TLD rates. Every assignment produced for chickenfeed is just more proof to publication managers that photo staffs are an expensive luxury.
Be afraid, staffers. Be very afraid. This is not just about freelancers.