Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Screwed by the Herald

Since 1951 the Miami Herald has won 20 Pulitzer Prizes.

Many of those were won because the Herald chose to stand up for rights of the wrongfully accused and society's less fortunate; including the most recent prize for photography that showed the appalling conditions in Haiti after hurricanes ravaged the island nation.

In 1983 the paper won a Pulitzer for editorials that campaigned against the detention of illegal Haitian immigrants by federal officials.

In early 2006 the Herald covered the struggle of University of Miami janitors - many of whom earned as little as $7 per hour - and their fight to earn a living wage.

The Herald printed numerous stories and signed opinion pieces detailing the janitors' plight.

In a March 18, 2006, opinion piece Herald columnist Ana Menendez wrote,
"Now that the University of Miami has promised them [janitors] higher pay and healthcare benefits, praise also goes to President Donna Shalala , who after weeks of pressure from faculty, students and others, proved that in difficult circumstances, decent people can be persuaded to do the right thing."
Menendez closed her column with these lines:
``The Shalala effect has reached City Hall,'' [Tomas] Regalado said. ``The UM thing was a wake up call for everyone.''

Who knows? The Shalala effect may even reach as far as 1 Herald Plaza: The Miami Herald's contracted cafeteria staff turns out wildly affordable fare, but workers there don't enjoy the same medical benefits I do.
It's unknown if the Herald cafeteria workers have received those medical benefits.

But if Menendez was still at the Herald, (she's currently on leave from the Herald and teaching at the American University in Cairo) she might be inspired to take up the cause of another group of oppressed workers at the Herald: freelance photographers.

The Herald recently presented its freelance photographers with a contract that has both the freelancers and staff photographers seeing red.

Because of recent staff cutbacks and buyouts, the Herald now relies more and more on work produced by freelancers who are considered independent contractors.

This arrangement is nothing unique to the Herald. Many large newspapers and magazines use the work of freelancers.

But as such, freelancers receive a flat rate for their work and aren't eligible for the benefits enjoyed by full time staffers.

Freelancers who shoot for the Herald are also not given expense money, and are not compensated for mileage although freelancers for papers like the New York Times are reimbursed for expenses.

Herald freelancers receive anywhere from $100 to $200 a day depending on the time spent on assignments. However that small amount was offset by the fact that the freelancers owned the rights to all of the images they produced. Some freelancers made money by re-licensing images to ther publications- a common practice.

Under the new contract that would change.

Random Pixels has seen a copy of the contract that states: "Contractor further grants to the Company all of the rights set forth in the immediately preceding sentence with respect to any and all editorial material previously submitted by Contractor to the Company and published by the Company (the “previous
editorial material”).

In other words the Herald wants ownership of all images produced by freelancers and retroactive ownership of any image ever shot by a freelancer for the Herald.

Under the terms of the new contract, freelancers would not receive any further compensation for those images.

Random Pixels has learned that Herald staff photographers are supporting the freelancers' opposition to the draconian contract.

One email circulating says: "If this contract was to be signed by the freelancers, the Herald would have no need for staff photographers."

As a freelancer myself, I've seen contracts like this before.

Five years ago the New York Times introduced a freelance contract that many photographers called "outrageous" and "insulting."

The Times bullied photographers into signing the document that left the photographers earning less and giving up rights to their work. Those who didn't sign...well, you can guess what happened.

My guess is that the Herald, is attempting to build a stable of low-paid freelancers who will eventually do a majority of the work thereby enabling the paper to get rid of their staff photographers or sharply cutback on the number of staffers.

The Herald contract penalizes this small group of photographers - who earn very little to begin with - and punishes them further by asking them to give up even more.

Whether or not the freelancers cave into Herald management remains to be seen.

On March 21, 2006, after the University of Miami reached a deal with it janitors the Herald editorialized:
"The University of Miami made the right move last week by agreeing to give all of its hourly workers pay raises of at least 25 percent and affordable healthcare coverage. That is a significant pay increase and benefits package for which the university and President Donna Shalala are to be applauded. A strike by UM janitors, supported by some UM students and faculty members, put a spotlight on the university and the labor practices of its contractor, Unicco Services Co. The new policy will immediately benefit many - but not all - UM contract workers and address concerns that date back to 2001.

President Shalala said that UM ``listened to our community.'' The compensation makes sense given the tight labor market and the difficulty of keeping workers. While the janitors' strike isn't over, some Unicco workers are demanding more, including union representation. UM deserves credit for responding to employees' needs.
The Herald's history of support for the downtrodden and afflicted is admirable.

But I wonder if there's any chance that management at the Herald will show the same amount of concern for the welfare and needs of their loyal and hardworking freelance photographers as they displayed for the UM janitors?

1 comment:

  1. Maybe if they buy their freelancers a whole new set of camera gear, including long lenses, would this be a fair deal.


Feel free to comment on anything you read here.

All comments must first be approved. Spam and spam links will not be tolerated or approved.