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Portions of this column were originally written for the June 2012 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.

June 2012, Volume 112
By Mark Loundy

"It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory."

— W. Edwards Deming

The strongest motivation for any entity is survival. This applies to plants, animals, people and it applies to corporations that own newspapers. When Gannett acquired the photo agency US Presswire last year, I suspected that the hordes of USPW shooters would be used to displace the far more expensive Gannett staffers. Now we're seeing it happen.

De-staffedIn the past, Gannett-owned USA Today has sent its entire staff of five still photographers to the Olympic games. Now only one, probably veteran shooter Robert Deutsch, will be going. USPW freelancers will provide the remainder of the paper's still coverage along with a handful of shooters from Gannett-owned papers. But even that latter group is smaller than in years past with at least one shooter who was slated to go having his assignment cancelled in May.

Controversy, complaining and accusations ensue.

US Presswire started out as a "spec" agency. That's where multiple shooters go to an event on the "speculation" that they will be the one whose images are selected and that they will get paid. The photogs whose images are not selected don't get paid.

Spec shooting puts downward pressure on the entire market and, understandably, builds resentment among photographers who see their incomes dropping.

But these days, USPW shooters are paid $125 per assignment plus 50% of net sales*. USPW's several elite shooters also have their expenses paid for major assignments. But the assignment fee is pitifully low and it makes them about half as costly as USA Today's staffers.
*(Addition: 6/25/12 "Net sales" exclude usage by subscription clients.)

But the USPW "spec" reputation hangs on and brands their shooters as a sort of "B Team." In fact, many of their freelancers such as former Los Angeles Times staffer Jayne Kamin and Phoenix-based motor-sports specialist Mark Rebilas are among the best in the world at what they do. Kamin regularly covers the Dodgers, Lakers and Clippers. Rebilas is among the USPW Olympics contingent.

Veteran freelancer and co-founder, Brad Mangin is dubious about the staff's long-term prospects. "I am shocked the USA Today staff photographers still have jobs," said Mangin. "I have been friends with these good people for over 20 years and have subscribed to the paper for 20 years so I can see their work. Unfortunately I do not see their jobs lasting much longer. If that happens I will be very sad for my friends and for the business. I will also drop my subscription." Ironically, one of Mangin's SportsShooter co-founders is USA Today staff photographer Robert Hanashiro. Hanashiro did not respond to a request for comment.

These days, few freelancers can base their income on a single client. For the vast majority of USPW shooters, the agency is only one among a number of clients. That way, they have a better chance of surviving financially — just as Gannett is attempting to do.

The Good
Bullet I look for the Good in everything. Not finding it this month.

The Bad
Bullet Buffalo Healthy Living Magazine for its offer of a "significant opportunity to showcase your talent" in exchange for shooting their monthly covers.
Bullet Austin-based catering start-up Brown Bag which seems to have been reading Buffalo Healthy Living Magazine.

The Ugly
Bullet The Echo Foundation has modified their terms and limit them just to promoting the contest itself. This moves them into a "Good" for next month. Echo International's International Photojournalism Student Competition for its overly broad rights requirements, which sends a terrible message to the very students that it is trying to showcase.

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.

  • Another survival story is news co-op the Associated Press. As its newspaper members fade, the AP has to scramble for other forms of revenue. Its latest answer is a majority-owner partnership called Invision. The new company seems positioned to compete directly with industry big players like Getty and Corbis. The problem is that Getty and Corbis are struggling with a falling image market. The addition of a new player — and competition for smaller pieces of a shrinking pie — seems like a move of desperation.
  • Start-up company Assignmint will be a freelance ecosystem supporting both clients and freelancers and supporting everything from assignments, to expenses to payments. When it launches later in 2012, it will serve only writers and editors, but all media types are planned for 2013.
  • The continuing legal saga of photographer Daniel Morel vs. AFP continue to drag on and AFP looks sadder and sadder. Photographer Jeremy Nicholl has a great overview of the case on The Russian Photos Blog.
  • Interns are particularly vulnerable to workplace mistreatment. Since suing is often not a practical option, writer Jeff John Roberts writing in Paid Content suggests something novel: A bill of rights for interns. Get out your quills.
  • Is Getty Images up for sale? Reuters reports that the privately held company has hired bankers Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan Chase to explore a sale or an initial public stock offering.