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Portions of this column were originally written for the September 2005 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.

September, 2005
By Mark Loundy

"Ev'rythin's like a dream in Kansas City, It's better than a magic lantern show!"

— "Oklahoma" by Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein II

Last month, the Kansas City Star made it onto "The Bad" list. Sadly, the Star is far from a rarity in the newspaper business.

An editor from a major metro recently E-mailed me saying that he was in such a situation but that his hands were tied. He simply didn't have the budget to pay more. He did indicate that some of his "loyal" freelancers made as much or more than some of his fulltime staffers.

Crunching the NumbersWell, some of the paper's freelancers might make an amount approaching a staffer's weekly salary, but there is much more to the equation...

Let's run some numbers:

If a fulltime staffer is making $650 per week the typical cost to the paper per staffer, including non-cash benefits is about $975 per week. For a freelancer with low-end expenses of about $250 per day (365 days/year) that equates to a daily rate of about $545 per day for five days of work per week.

A freelancer would have to bill about $2725 per week, every week, to truly make as much as a fulltime staffer.

The difference between $545 and average daily freelance rates is a number I hope the bean counters never figure out. If they do, many newspaper departments will end up consisting entirely of freelancers.

Since many major metros pay more than $650 per week the gap is even wider. The first sign that freelancers are adopting good business practices and abandoning poorly paying markets will be that well-qualified freelancers become difficult to find.

Staffers at newspapers where the freelancers are paid less than they are should keep their portfolios and resumes up to date.

The Good
Bullet Alpinist Magazine for their excellent communications and businesslike handling of assignment paperwork.

The Bad
BulletWire Image's Work-For-Hire agency agreement. This one cries out for substantial revision.
BulletNewsCom's forever-and-ever, irrevocable, perpetual contract. You should always be able to pull your images from an agency.

The Ugly
BulletThe Washington Examiner for it's all-rights contract that also claims perpetual market exclusivity — all for the princely sum of less than $200 — often much less.

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.

  • In his "Public Editor" column in the New York Times, Byron Calame wrote about the importance of freelancers in the Time's operations. Calame quoted Times Executive Editor Bill Keller as saying that freelancer expenditures have risen "significantly" at the Gray Lady from 2000 to 2004. Although Keller declined to put a number to the increase, it's clear to photo freelancers that the money is not being spent on them.