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Sunday, November 18, 2007

Citizen Journalist or Unpaid Freelancers?

Watching coverage of the California wildfires made me wonder if all the videos and photographs sent to television stations and newspapers by “citizen journalists” is the way news organizations are supplanting photojournalism and further diluting the ability of professionals to make a living.

A company called NowPublic is growing in leaps and bounds and has nearly 120,000 contributing "reporters" in more than 140 countries. Their idea is to let anyone with a digital camera or camera-enabled mobile to upload images or news to be disseminated through the Internet.

"I promise you, in 18 months NowPublic will be, by reach, the largest news agency in the world," start-up co-founder Len Brody told AFP.

Right now no one is paid for their material, while the company gets most of its money from syndicating the content and charging fees to connect news organizations and the “citizen journalists.”

“Citizen Journalists” are the new “Unpaid Freelancers.” Newspapers, television stations and wire services are getting more material without having to hire and pay people to do the work. Who is making the money here and what happens to professional photographers when the value of their work is devalued by free contributions from the general public. And while some may have talent, most seem to have the urge to hear or see their names publicly associated with their work. It’s the same thing that makes people want to be on TV—it’s their shot of fame making them instant celebrities, if only to their family and friends.

Are people being paid for their material, and if so, how much? Are they signing contracts relinquishing all rights to the media entities?

Quality is already taking a backset to immediacy. I suppose that was inevitable with better and better camera phones, but where is the dedication to quality when everyone and their brother can send news photos to be seen everywhere you look?

The entire world is at risk for becoming unpaid freelancers for the big media owners? Is that what was meant by the formerly ubiquitous phrase “Freelance Nation?” I guess it’s now “ Free Freelance World.”

I think it’s fantastic that people can document what is happening where they are as it’s happening and transmit it to the entire world. What isn’t fantastic is the paradigm that all is for free while the big media rakes in the dough. When people risk their lives, spend their own monies, have to protect their own health while others reap the rewards, there is something very wrong.

Refuse to work for free. Refuse to give away all of the rights to your work. Tell others to do the same. I will be writing more about the proliferation of free contributions to media in a future entry. As long as there are people who don’t ask for or don’t care about making money from their work, being pacified by seeing their name is print on TV as payment, everyone who works professionally is at risk of losing their livelihood.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree it sucks. The BBC in the UK often asks for contributions like this. Then you read the small print of no attribution to the photographer, and the ability of the organisation to licence your work as they see fit.
I refuse to deal with them in the same way that I refused to enter "Photographic competitions" that signed away all your rights for trinkets back in the 80's

March 26, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You have done the right thing, my friend, except, that makes you in the minority. If only we could all just say no, problem is... Joe Public likes to know he's made the news, he tells his friends, who tell their friends and it's what they call 'viral'. Now that the worker, some participated, sees it as problematic, he knows he's on his own. How do you change CNN, BBC... Let's call it what it is, a 'virus' and stay the hell away.

April 18, 2009  

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