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Yahoo! Yodeler Settles

Yahoo Yodel

Portions of this column were originally written for the May edition of News Photographer Magazine.

Mark Loundy is a media producer and consultant based in San Jose, California. Full bio.

The opinions in this article are those of the author alone and do not necessarily represent the official views of the National Press Photographers Association.

May, 2002
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.

Pop Quiz
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 DoctrineThe 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.

  • The Good
    BulletNot a single one submitted.

    Dig deep folks. We really need to give brownie points to the clients who do it right.

    The Bad
    Bullet The Austin American-Statesman for its all-rights-forever-and-ever-plus-use-of-the-photographer's-likeness contract. It also has an always-deal breaking indemnification clause. But you do "retain" the copyright. (sigh)

    The Ugly
    Bullet Elegant Bride Magazine for offering "editorial credit" as full compensation.

    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.

    Just in case you were thinking about signing a WFH contract for a "minor" job, remember the quickie job Wylie Gustafson did six years ago. Wylie is a singer for a country band and was hired to do a two-second vocalization for a TV commercial. He was paid $590 for the use of his voice in that single ad.

    Imagine his surprise when the client used it thousands of times since then — including Super Bowl broadcasts. He tried to resolve the unpermissioned usage informally over the years, but the client ignored him. It took a lawsuit to finally bring the client to the table to settle the matter.

    The client? It was Yahoo! The two-second vocalization is the famous Yahoo! Yodel.

    You just never know when that outtake will end up as the next Monica Lewinsky. If you signed a WFH contract, you will be so mad you might find yourself letting out an involuntary yodel.

    (Since this column first appeared, Yahoo! removed the Gustafson story from its own news pages and I had to change the link to USA Today's archives.)

    Copyright © 2002 Mark Loundy
    All Rights Reserved