Friday, April 01, 2011

Who works for free?

"I rank photographers who work for free just below child molesters." -Tim Chapman, Miami Herald photographer

Who works for free? Quite a few people, apparently.

You might be one of those people and not even know it. More on that later.

Right now, let's talk about writers and photographers who work for free.

There's a growing revolt of sorts in journalism circles against the popular Huffington Post blog which doesn't pay many of the bloggers and writers who supply much of its content. From the LA Times:
Last week the Newspaper Guild called on its 26,000 members to boycott the Huffington Post in support of a "virtual picket line" until a pay schedule for writers was established.

The core of Huffington's justification for not paying is that the Huffington Post is a showcase for writers, and that exposure there leads to paying gigs and greater visibility.
Of course, there's a much simpler solution than a boycott: "If You Think Writing For Free Undermines Your Profession, Just Don't Do It!" writes an unnamed blogger.

I don't have an MBA, but a long time ago I figured that if I had something of value and gave it to someone else without being compensated - and if I kept repeating that - before long that other person would be a lot better off than me.

And the argument that posting one's work on a site like HuffPost leads to paying gigs?


In 25 years as a working photojournalist and having my work appear in every publication in the world, I've had just one - that's ONE - photo editor call me because he saw one of my photos. And that was because it was on page one of the New York Times.

Of course, there's another aspect to this story.

Up until a few months ago, very few of HuffPost's bloggers were complaining. From Dan Abrams on Mediaite:
But why the public cry for a strike now? What happened last week? Did Huffington Post suddenly change its model as a result of its sale to Aol? Are they now refusing to pay bloggers and editors they had been paying for years? Has the merger led them to change the pay scale for their writers? Unless there was a major development I missed, isn’t this exactly what they have been doing since they launched in 2005? So why now?

Maybe, in the words of the Newspaper Guild, because the outcry comes “in the wake of its $315 million merger with AOL.”
Yep, it's all about the money...or in the case of HuffPost's bloggers, a lack of it. They gave their stuff away and Arianna Huffington got rich. (See above.)

But, if you think that Arianna Huffington is the only one getting rich from people giving away free stuff, then all you have to do is look around the Internet to be convinced otherwise.

Five years ago, in 2006, Facebook's founder, Mark Zuckerberg, reportedly "turned down a $750 million offer from Viacom" according to Forbes. Today, Facebook is worth billions. If you're a Facebook user, did you help make Mark Zuckerberg a billionaire?

Also in 2006, Google bought Youtube, a site that wouldn't exist if weren't for all those piano playing cats and laughing baby videos uploaded by users. The price paid by Google? A whopping $1.65 billion. If you uploaded one of those cat videos, did you get your share of that $1.65 billion? I'm betting you didn't!

And what about Flickr? Do you have all your vacation pics there?

And Twitpic? Ever upload a photo there? Right now you're probably saying, "Who cares about a stupid Twitpic?"

Remember this?

Janis Krums uploaded that photo of 2009's Hudson River emergency splashdown in a high-res version to Twitpic.

It ended up being used on the front pages of many newspapers without Krums being paid. Krums isn't a pro and apparently didn't know the value of a great news photo or didn't care.

Daniel Morel is a professional photojournalist and knows the value of news photos.

Last year, while in Haiti, he photographed the aftermath of the devastating earthquake in that country and immediately uploaded, high res images to Twitpic.

Now he's entangled in a costly and long drawn-out legal battle with several news organizations that Morel claims stole his images.

There's no question the news orgs used his images without permission.

But the question remains: Why did a seasoned pro upload large files of a major news event without any kind of safeguards? It's kind of like leaving your car parked in front of your house with the keys in it and doors unlocked. Eventually, someone will get in and drive away.

OK, so you're not in a position to witness a once-in-lifetime news event.

You're just a guy who drives around Miami Beach and takes pics and uploads them to the 'net for your friends to see. Any harm in that?

Consider the case of a photographer who calls himself Miami Fever.

Using a formula that never changes, Mr. Fever is an avid amateur who takes somewhat interesting, but repetitive pictures that show either Lamborghinis or hot chicks or both on Miami Beach after dark.

He's one of those who doesn't mind giving away his work.

And as he discovered a while back, there's no shortage of people looking to steal it. And he made it real easy for them.

Despite having an MBA, he apparently never considered photography a business and it never occurred to him that his images might have value.

That is, until he found some of them splashed all over the website of a Turkish newspaper and another site.

Recently, a newspaper photo editor told me that he got an email from an accomplished photographer who offered to supply photos to the paper for free in exchange for press credentials! The editor's response? "We don't do free. If you have something we need, we'll pay for it."

Elsewhere, things are looking really grim.

There no shortage of idiots willing to send broadcast quality video to CNN or local TV stations in exchange for seeing their name on a TV screen and very little else.

So, by now you might be saying, "I like seeing my work on the Internet. What's wrong with not getting paid? What's the worst that could happen if I give my stuff away?"

For the answer to that question, you need look no further than your local newspaper.

Bottom line...if you wanna get rich, - and you can have this for free - don't give your stuff away.

1 comment:

  1. As a college journalist, I have been happy to get published on HuffPo because, well, no one pays me anyway so I might as well aim for the stars in terms of where I am published. But I am sure my view will change once I get a job at a newspaper/blog.

    But in terms of the TwitPic situation, I think it would serve the Internet if TwitPic allowed its millions of photogs clear rights to photos. Maybe a system similar to Flickr and Creative Commons. Right now, TwitPic is just a vessel for your photos on Twitter and it can be so much more.

    Thanks for your post.


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