Photojournalism is dying - readers rejoice
The abundance of images
My question revolves around one of the central concepts in your article: that you were more concerned about being paid for your "labor" rather than the work itself. That got me thinking ...
There used to a lot of labor in photography. Often freelancers had to have their own darkrooms. In addition, cameras were bulky and film - at least good film - was extremely expensive. After development, the transportation of the work was also non-trivial, as it involved protective packaging of either film or finished prints.
Now the manufacture and distribution of the finished work - the prints - is unbelievably cheap. Digital cameras technically never run out of film (because you can always dump the pictures into a computer), and distribution is as easy as sending an email or uploading.
If photographers are expecting to be paid for the labor of making pictures now, well, there's just not much money in it. Furthermore, the tools of the trade are now accessible to just about anyone, and the specialization is gone.
But you correctly single out the societal affects of citizen journalism or other forms of news rubbish. Unfortunately, that's not just a photographic phenomenon ... all media are affected by a bunch of amateurs who think they can write/photograph/chronicle something better than the professionals. The loss of an authoritative Fourth Estate is the result of this activity, and that is a detriment to all of us.
I have no idea of your age, but I'll bet hard-earned cash you're younger than I. When television first came along, the immediate reaction was it was going to utterly destroy radio. It did have a devastating effect, but radio survived. Radio did so by reinventing itself. Many stations did close, but many did survive. You need to take a lesson from this and reinvent yourself. How? No idea; not my problem. But you'll never win if all you do is fight and complain. Or explain maybe.
Albert Einstein once said something on the order of, "If you keep doing the same thing expecting a different result, you might be insane".
You can't do the same thing in the face of a changing world and expect to survive. Think typewriters, color film labs and Swiss watches.
I know, I know, but they're breaking the law or screwing with the law or enforcing it selectively. My friend, the law is the law only when people believe it's the law ... and enforce it. The law can be changed in an instant and often is. And those with deep pockets will always hold the advantage.
Nobody forced you into the business you're in ... that was your choice. If your business no longer serves you, well, you again need to reinvent yourself.
You correctly class "User Contributed Content" as theft (I saw it as such the first time I saw it solicited, it amazes me that so many people don't see it) and a danger to the professionals in the field, but this is in fact nothing to do with the "anti-copyright" lobby.
The organisations involved in "User Contributed Content" could have done the same with chemical photographs (and some did), the advent of cheap digital cameras and communications has simply made it economically feasible, at least until the readers get fed up with the poor content. This would have happened without any "anti-copyright" groups, because the person who took the picture generally owns the copyright.
People have a tendency to assume that anything not chained down is 'free' for their use. Yes, there are some people who want to get rid of copyright altogether and say that anything anyone produces 'should' be free for everyone, but they are in a (admittedly vocal) minority, the vast majority have no problem with a creative person being able to profit from their work, what they are against are the abuses of copyright (like extending it to more than a lifetime after the author's death). And they are also against large organisations which steal or trick copyright assignments from creative people (like the big music companies, who do things like signing up a musician or group for 5 albums and then only producing 4 of them, thus preventing them from producing any more themselves).
Indeed, many "anti-copyright" people would be in favour of the author retaining copyright but organisations being forbidden to acquire it (the copyright owner can, of course, say that anyone can use their work freely if they want).
I sympathize with your plight. I'm a "pro-am" photographer myself. What you do has value and is being demeaned by the masses, but -
Copyright is dead. Its death is attributable to technology and started with the first printing press, accelerated with the Xerox copy machine and has been finished off by digital copying and character recognition. Technology can not be legislated away. Your plight is truly helpless.
What your industry is experiencing has hit industries since the buggy whip and the Industrial Revolution. You are a craftsman in an age of mass produced product. It is only a matter of time until all "craft" is dead except a handful catering to the very rich.
I've seen the newspapers dying since the 1960s. They are too slow and too cumbersome. Radio and then TV butchered the newspapers. Now the internet is finishing them off. My reason for cancelling the newspaper wasn't even related to the technology issues. They changed ink or paper adding something that started causing me severe toxic reaction. My computer monitor doesn't make me ill and allows me to target my news interests.
When the Tsunami hit a few years back I knew about it and had identified and made contribution to relief agencies a day before the newspapers had the story. Magazines are even worse. With live video feed possible from anywhere in the world photojournalism just doesn't cut it anymore as a competing medium.
I'd suggest wedding photography. My niece just got robbed blind ($2k for a three-hour shoot with the poorest quality photos I've ever seen, washed out highlights, poor composition, etc.) and seemed fine with the situtation. The $2k did not even include a standard bride and groom print package! The wedding photography industry could use some fresh talent and seems willing to pay for it.
So who takes pictures of the wars? They'll emerge spontaneously, no doubt.
Fascinating article, thanks kindly for taking the time to write it up and present it in such an understandable way.
That said, I think that at least part of the problem, as you see it, is based in the simple fact that images are no longer a scarce resource. Along with willy-nilly image lifting, we also have good and cheap digital cameras that vastly simply 'webbing' images without bothering with all that bother that we all so loved in the days of kodachrome and cibachrome.
Images are now abundant. The living to earned by exploiting the economics of scarcity is gone. The living to be earned by providing the service still exists, and if anything, is just as lucrative and rich as it ever was. Some wedding photographers are gone with the wind sure, but many others are exploiting all the new media to great market advantages. I'm just using wedding photography as an easy example.
Keep up the good work, things most certainly have changed, but are not all bad. At the end of the day, if you are trying to restrict access to things that are readably available, you will loose. So don't do that.
And that's the best many readers can offer. There was little in the way of economic innovation, or policy innovation, that might help photojournalists. Just a sense that anyone who obstructs the mechanics of the networks, or the economics of big business, is really being impertinent.
It's a Brave New World. Be Happy. ®