This isn't the first time I've written about the demise of the employee photographer (aka "staff photographer"), nor, sadly, will it be the last.
I was, at one time, a staff photographer for a magazine. So was this other guy. Rather than let one of us go, they offered us both 1/2 time. I said yes - panicked that I was, he said no, and left. I thought this meant I could stay. I was wrong. this began a rushed effort to become self-sufficient and a commitment to be my own boss. It certainly didn't come at an opportune time, but with Corporate America, they never do.
Previously, I wrote about Time Inc's staff-slashing (And The Staffers Go Marching One By One... , 1/21/07), hence the parodied POTY cover that ran with that piece, and appears here again.
Since then, many staffers have been let go.
The Washington Post - again - has offered buyout packages to their staffers. Here's the deal, generally speaking: We pay you $X per year of service, and we guarantee you 100 days as a contract/freelancer for one year, and, I think it happened that you also got your gear (yes, that would be the gear that's old and worn out - think maximum shutter actuations). To be sure, they're turning out amazingly talented photographers - perhaps even pulitzer winners - without the skills to remain in business as photographers. No website, aged gear.
These people are my friends, and the bean counters at the paper have determined that they can (supposedly) get the same talent from their $200/day (or less) freelancers. THINK AGAIN. Oh wait, The Washington Post Co no longer considers itself a media company, but an educational company (
Washington Post Company Now Skooling U, 11/24/07). The sad fact is that the deal they've put out looks great with the lump sum payment, and the year's contract for 100 days looks like a good deal, but it only really answers the "will I still be able to shoot if I leave..." question, and what they're paying for a day is below most anyone's CODB. Those bean counters are counting on the short term lump sum to make the deal look better than it is.
Also the San Francisco Chronicle, New York Times, and recently, the Seattle Times. While speaking at the just finished tour of ASMP's Strictly Business 2 program, there were a number of currently full-time employed staff photographers in attendance. I say to them "good for you for taking control of your future."
Back February of 2007, I wrote - How to Do It Without Ruining It For Others, which, while it was more directed to the amateur/pro-sumer, it could well have been titled "How to do it without ruining it for others, and yourself", and then the nuggets that are in there could be extracted as they apply to the staffers.
First things first - get your own website. Get either www.yourname.com, or www.your-name.com, or something close. Don't cheap out on the site, get a good one. Yes, liveBooks, or hire someone who knows how to design a site that is modifiable so you can update it easily. Budget between $3k and $5k for this. Get it up now.
Talk to your colleagues in your community. First apologize to them if you were doing those "gravy" jobs for $200, when they should have been more appropriately priced at $750, and then ask them what the proper going rates are for photography in your community. Think about those figures, and see how they work for you. They're probably rates you think are high, but really have taken into consideration the CODB in your community.
This isn't going to get better, it's going to get worse. More papers will slash staff. Oh wait, it just happened again - Tampa Tribune Offers Buyouts To Half Its Staff ( reported all around by Editor & Publisher & NPPA & editorsweblog & A Photo A Day, & PDNPulse). Taking that one step further - more papers will take advantage of unsuspecting freelancers who will use their meager bank accounts and savings to subsidize these newspapers.
If you see a staff photographer, send them this link. Tell them that you care about them and want them to continue to do what they love, and if they don't look out for themselves - NOW, and prepare for the forthcoming cuts, no one will.
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