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Portions of this column were originally written for the October 2013 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.

October 2013, Volume 123
By Mark Loundy

"The photographic image... is a message without a code."

— Roland Barthes

Single-tool journalists are the least likely to succeed in a modern newsroom. If all you can do is shoot still images or write lacrosse stories, your value is going to be less than that of a journalist with a full quiver of digital arrows.

Don't be Lately, it's become fashionable to say that all journalists should "learn to code." The idea is that since we work in a digital world, knowing how to build that world is a logical extension.

The Atlantic's global editor, Olga Khazan, disagrees. "If you want to be a reporter, learning code will not help," she wrote. "It will only waste time that you should have been using to write freelance articles or do internships — the real factors that lead to these increasingly scarce positions."

Another problem with the slightly too-glib idea is that it doesn't mean what most of its proponents intend it to mean. Real coding is not a secondary skill like a reporter using a camera. It is a highly specialized and dynamic craft which few journalists have the time to perform effectively.

But that's not the real value of "learning to code." Smaller staffs mean tighter collaboration between specialists. The more a reporter knows about what is possible with the tools of a colleague, the better their team will operate.

"A modern journalist needs to know how the Web works, needs to be exposed to and respect all journalistic crafts (including code), and needs to know their role in working with others," wrote USC journalism professor Robert Hernandez. "And that role is an active role, not a passive one. They need to use these digital tools to produce relevant, quality journalism."

Just as I learned better camera skills to make my life easier in the darkroom and learned to shoot video with the eventual final edit in mind, a journalist who knows the possibilities of digital technology will create in a way that will exploit those tools in ways that would never occur to a traditional journalist.

But the job market might be the ultimate arbiter. "The reporter who can build something to make the fruits of her reporting interactive is more valuable to a potential employer than a reporter who's just good with words and videos," blogged Digital First Media Digital Transformation Editor Steve Buttry. "The reporter who understands coding is going to be better at talking with the newsroom's developers (or with IT's developers) to execute a great digital package."

Ultimately, it's about being open to continual re-training and never thinking that you can stop moving forward.

The Good
Bullet Looking for Good in all the wrong places.

The Bad
Bullet Easy Canvas Prints for grabbing usage rights from its own customers. The company's terms of service allow it to use uploaded images for its related T-shirt and sign companies without compensating the creators.

The Ugly
Bullet Tennis Australia for seeking experienced and well-equipped tennis photographers for its annual precursor tournament for the Australian Open — for zero compensation. TA was shamed into removing the ad by an open letter from the Australian Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance.
Bullet Thomson Reuters for its request in Amazon's Mechanical Turk for photographers to make images in North Dakota. The requests have a number of technical and esthetic requirements including geotagging. The pay? Five bucks per image.
Bullet Texas A&M University drew an Ugly in my July-August column for requesting credit-only images for a science book. This month, they get a repeat honor for doing it again.
Bullet for seeking high-quality real estate images and offering $2 for exteriors and $1 for interiors.

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 because you aren't a photographer doesn't mean that you don't get ticked-off when your images are ripped-off. A story in tells the tale of a plastic surgeon whose before and after photos of his patients have been misused all over the world. Dr. Steve Denenberg has recovered more than $300,000 from infringers over the past decade.
  • Photographer David Hobby, better known as "Strobist," went on a well-deserved rant against the National Association of Realtors. Actually it's understandable that the organization wanted Hobby's image for free. They probably don't have much left over after spending tens of millions of dollars per year lobbying the government.
  • In what might be the worst contract since the Dutch bought Manhattan, Celebrity Cruises' Smartsnaps Travel Photography Competition offers a first prize that seems like a dream, but it's really a zero-compensation "employment" agreement. The winner will get a two-week cruise, but must agree to be a "correspondent" for Celebrity Cruises and promote the company on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other unspecified channels. Of course Celebrity gets all rights in perpetuity. But even after that, they throw in a clause that allows them to add other terms and conditions at any time and the entrants must agree to them sight unseen.