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Friday, June 1, 2007

Photojournalism In The Age Of YouTube

For freelance photojournalists, these are chaotic times. But in chaos there's opportunity if you have the daring to go for it.

The Good Ol' Days

Dirck Halstead, online publisher of The Digital Journalist (www.digitaljournalist.org) says 20 years ago, a typical magazine photojournalist could count on an average of $80,000 a year in fees, and that was before advertising work or publicity.

“Today, I think that probably you'd be lucky to hit $30,000 year,” adds Halstead. “In addition, the costs of doing business have escalated dramatically without a comparable rise in expense payments.”

Because nearly no one uses film anymore, photographers pay all the costs of flash cards. And for every hour spent shooting, a photographer will likely spend two hours in postproduction work. Importing photos into a computer, editing in Photoshop, captioning the images—this is all work photojournalists never had to do before.

“And none of that is compensated for,” says Halstead, with obvious frustration.

“The amount of work that goes into it and the amount of return are just totally inequitable!”

When Halstead began in photojournalism many years ago, his weekly paycheck was $71. He spent years working at what would be considered sustenance wages. He did it because he loved it and because he didn't have that many expenses.

“Photojournalism has never been a lucrative profession to get into, even for the best photographer,” he says. “It's a business in which the expense of doing business is generally almost on a par with your earning power. The profit margin is very small.”

Surviving In A Changed Market

Major players like Time and Newsweek, which used to pour hundreds of thousands of dollars into assignments, aren't doing that anymore. They're assigning one-tenth the number of stories they did 10 years ago, and those assignments go to a very small number of name photographers who have a history with them.

On the newspaper fronts, staffs are being reduced, and there's increased use of freelancers who are being paid at very low rates. Halstead said it's unusual for a freelance photographer to be paid more than $150 for an assignment.

“But that doesn't mean that there won't be opportunities,” Halstead says. “There will be, but it will be from a changed marketplace, which will primarily be Web-oriented. Now how that works out from the standpoint of revenue is very much open to debate. This is because the Web model is totally different from the print model. And I think that every person who wants to work in freelance photojournalism is just going to have to realize that the way they work and the people they work with are going to change drastically.”


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