Tuesday, July 12, 2011

STOP Using Freelancers!

Once upon a time, news organizations had robust photo staffs that could cover the news of the day. These staffers were paid well, provided with gear, a retirement, and in turn, were loyal, and ethical, in their work. They also feared being fired for doing something wrong and so, in large part, they didn't. A staffer making $45k a year costs the organization, when all is included, between $250 and $300 a day. The AP, for example, when they pay a staffer $65k a year, and then adding in all their expenses ( office space, computers, cameras, car/mileage, 401k, health insurance, etc) comes to about $320 - $500 or so. It's no wonder they haven't replaced many staffers and are using freelancers when they cost only $200, and they get all the same rights from freelancers, as employees!

Staffers, of course, should do everything they can to discourage management from using freelancers, because, from a cost standpoint alone, the rise of the freelancer equates to the demise of the staffer - it's not like there's less news these days!

I understand that, from time to time, when there's a big news story in a region, temporary needs for freelancers arise. However, when an organization uses multiple freelancers daily, guess what? It's time to staff up! Heck, even union agreements (wherever they still exist) place limits on the frequency of freelance use for the very reason to protect staff positions.

Of course, news organizations, and the AP is just the most recent example, are suffering under the ethically challenged freelancers. Poynter did a good job of reporting on this here, and PDNPulse reported - Another Photo Manipulation Case Raises Question: Is the Penalty High Enough?, and PDN also reported on a Getty freelancer here - Photographer Cut by Getty for Altered Golf Photo Offers Explanation , and the BBC even reported about a freelancer for Reuters (here) who did the same thing.

Yes, there are organizations that need a photographer once a month or twice a year, and freelancers are good for that. Freelancers fit the bill in many instances. However, sending an ethically sound photographer on a plane trip to ensure the images are legitimate serves the long term best interests of news gathering organizations. Hoping you get good sound images from a freelancer you found from an internet search, or a friend of a friend of a friend, is no way to sustain the reputation of your news organization. I know budgets are tight, but with your organizations' reputation on the line as every freelance image moves over the wire, is it worth it?

(Comments, if any, after the Jump)

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William Beem said...

So your premise is that freelancers, by virtue of not being tied to a single employer, are unethical.

How insulting and shortsighted of you.

John Harrington said...

No, not at all. I am saying that a freelancer has less to lose, and is more likely to do something unethical because of that. I am actually a full time freelancer, and have been for 15+ years. I am also encouraging the notion that there should be more staffers, because, frankly, it's un-workable to actually survive on the freelance rates these days.

K. Branson said...

I absolutely agree with you John. If news organizations would look more towards staffing, not to exclude freelancing altogether, it would definitely help those out who've actually spent 10s of thousands of dollars to learn PhotoJournalism. Of course anyone can just pick up a camera and learn how to shoot on manual just by looking at YouTube. You can even learn to get excellent shots just by looking at Gettys Images or any one of the 10 million photography websites. But what will distinguish those ambitious guys with cameras (and now skills) from the college graduates (with skills in photography and management)???

The answer is a company/news organization that staffs professional photographers with great pay and benefits verses having to grind hard and to the best of your ability to get a paid assignment as a freelance photographer. There's nothing wrong with freelancing after you've acquired the proper education. However, it won't be a primary source of income.

Great Posts and response guys!

Anonymous said...

I doubt one comment will change your philosophy, but at some point I respectfully submit that you consider the postulate that times have changed irrevocably, and while there are some spectacular photographers out there, there are also literally millions of people who take pictures that are "good enough". Furthermore, they are willing to give them away at little or no cost. I assert that you cannot change this, nor can you force companies already in deep financial difficulties to not act in their best interests -- as they perceive what's "best".

Consider this: I suspect that there is at least one printed newsletter out there published and distributed by some publishing house bemoaning "freeloaders" such as yourself who avail themselves of free blogging/publishing/tweeting on the Internet to the detriment of "legitimate" publishers who run their business the "right" way. ... See where I am going with this?

Surely you do not agree with my thoughts and have a arsenal of arguments at hand why your situation is "different". I don't mean to come off as mean spirited, but your zealousness in hanging on to a world gone by loses its' appeal after a time.

Essex Wedding Photographer said...

I do a little bit of freelance work for a local paper in my town over here in the UK. They pay peanuts and I do it primarily out of interest. I appreciate that is not helping the cause of full time photo journalists. The paper do emply a number of full time photographers but they cant cover all the jobs. Many small circulation papers are struggling to survive and if there overheads go up (employing more photographers) many will go under.

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