Monday, February 12, 2007

What's "replacing" PJs?

CyberJournalist.net ran a press release from The Associated Press yesterday announcing the wire service's partnership with www.NowPublic.com, a "citizen journalist" site.

In the release, AP states,
The Associated Press is the essential global news network, delivering fast, unbiased news from every corner of the world to all media platforms and formats. Founded in 1846, AP today is the largest and most trusted source of independent news and information...

I'm confused. Is AP wanting to remove the words "unbiased" and "trusted" from their self description? As we found in Lebanon, even paid stringers have agendas. Does anyone believe an unpaid, untrained citizen journalist (CJ) is going to also be unbiased?

I don't.

However, I wanted to see what is being produced by CJs that should intimidate the pro PJs. So I looked through their Most Recent Photo section. I understand it'll be different each time someone looks at it so there's no point in discussing specific sets of images (when I looked it was mostly dogs in costumes). But, I can immediately see a trend, which creates some problems for AP.

Let's assume some poor AP editor is tasked with digging through the mud to find the diamonds. Once one is located, the editor reads the cutline. There's the first problem. Most turned-in images don't have cutlines. However, some photographers expressed why they made the images or what they were thinking or feeling when the image was made. That's nice.

The site's developers thought this through and provide an e-mail address to contact the photographer. Cool, one e-mail and AP has a cutline.

Gosh, there might be the second problem. What if the person who made the image doesn't check their e-mail very often? What if the image was actually shot last week or last year?

Let's have a happy day and let the CJ answer the e-mail and call the local bureau. All is cool now. Unfortunately, the photographer was snapping pictures and didn't write down any names. BUT, they do know the name of the person that's pretending to be arrested.

We need a clean up at editing desk four please.

However, let's be honest. There are times when any image is better than none. There are even some CJs who can hold their own against PJs. I have no problem with (semi-trained) CJs. But, I don't approve of anyone giving content away for free. I'm happy to compete against cheap and inexperienced.

Nobody can compete against free.

The worst part is CJs are paying to provide content. They pay for the equipment, they pay for fuel, they may purchase access to an event, they pay an Internet Service Provider to transmit images. Any way we look at it, the CJs are paying to have their images taken from them.

If someone has a desire to "let their name be known" for cheap, at least go to a micro-stock agency like Shutterstock.com and get your quarter-per-download. It'll start to pay for the cost of acquiring images. If a CJ is really good, s/he may make a profit. Good for them.

Until this happens my dear pro PJs, list your dits and 400mm lenses on Ebay. Forget all that rubbish about f-stops and accuracy. AP replaced us all with "trusted and unbiased" (free) CJs. They'll soon be taking us inside prisons and riding out hurricanes to let us know which pet fashions are hot this season.

Enough for now,

13 comments:

Michael said...

I'm kind of dumbfounded by all this. Part of me thinks the AP is smart to align themselves with this group. The majority of the stuff the CJs produce will be useless to the AP, but if something happens and one of these CJs get something breaking or significant, AP will be the first news service to have it.

Most of me, however, is outraged that some photo hobbyist with a half-decent digital camera is chipping away the credibility of all journalists and taking jobs away from professionals who make their living out of covering news. You are right, how can AP claim to be a trusted source when there is no way to hold CJs accountable for the work they do?

Phlip said...

The worst part is CJs are paying to provide content. They pay for the equipment, they pay for fuel, they may purchase access to an event, they pay an Internet Service Provider to transmit images. Any way we look at it, the CJs are paying to have their images taken from them.

Unless they are "photo hobbyists" who just carry their cheap digicam everywhere they go (like I do) at no extra expense and happen to catch something newsworthy. Hard to see how their images are being "taken from them" when they themselves are uploading them specifically to this site. Am I missing something? Do you really think people are trying to break into photojournalism through this thing? I think y'all's jobs are safe. :)

Mark M. Hancock said...

Yes, you are paying for the "hobby." You don't pay as much as a pro might for camera equipment, but you made an investment to make the images.
This year, AP stopped paying contributors transmission fees for feature photos. It was a token amount, but some underpaid PJs used it to make ends meet. Those PJs must now consider leaving the biz. So, yes, it does matter. If CJs don't demand money for their images, pro PJs must quit their jobs. If CJs demand payment, then clients would rather hire a pro.

Phlip said...

OK I stand corrected. Given all the issues you raised in the original post (lack of info about the photos etc), I failed to see how these CJs would be much of a threat. I guess time will tell how large the impact will be.

PS When I clicked on their latest images link yesterday I saw mostly Anna Nicole Smith stuff . . . I wonder if they were even original images?

Mark M. Hancock said...

Yup. I've noticed some stuff that could be challenged for copyright. Luckily, it's considered an "editorial" site or there would be scores of trademark and trade dress issues as well.

I'm just waiting on the first CJ libel, false light, intrusion, trespass and invasion of privacy cases. It ought to get fun about then. ;-}

Does anyone think AP will legally defend the free CJ shooters? Nope, the CJs will swing on the hook all alone.

Jen B said...

" This year, AP stopped paying contributors transmission fees for feature photos. It was a token amount, but some underpaid PJs used it to make ends meet. Those PJs must now consider leaving the biz. So, yes, it does matter. If CJs don't demand money for their images, pro PJs must quit their jobs. If CJs demand payment, then clients would rather hire a pro."

excellent point...I am still not sure if CJs will be able to deliver the way the pros can...I think CJ coverage will be hit or miss most of the time...but it is frustrating when I see photogs just give their stuff away, because I do agree it devalues what we do.

Mark M. Hancock said...

Rather than getting in an "us vs. them" argument (all pros started as amateurs), I'd simply prefer everyone gets paid. If a magazine wants to pay $300 for three cell phone shots with no cutlines, fine. I'd bet they'll hire a pro next time.
If there's a pile of horse poop, there's a pony somewhere. We just need to find it.

Anthony said...

One day, an editor somewhere will get burned by an image that was well Photoshopped by an ambitious amateur. And what happens to journalistic credibility then?

Mark M. Hancock said...

That's what happened in Lebanon. If a PJ deliberately manipulates an image, the PJ is done in the biz.
A CJ isn't in the biz. What do they have to lose?

cehwiedel said...

Oh, dear. I am tiptoeing in where angels fear to tread, but I am compelled to say *something*. I fall into the "citizen journalist" category, though I style myself as "freelance" and have earned a vanishingly small return from royalty-free stock. I have been working hard at turning myself into some level of professional for over a year now, but make no claims beyond a willingness to try, poke at what I have done, and try again. I read (books, blogs, other online resources), attend classes and seminars, scratch my head over unfamiliar terms (cutline? oh: caption!) and dance jigs when I nail something that formerly eluded me. There is no way on God's green earth that I can see me every competing with someone like Mark Hancock for a staff PJ job. But should my camera and I happen to be at the right place at the right time, I would like to think that at some point I'll have the chops to get the photo that nobody else can because nobody else is there. And, having put in the sweat ahead of time, I'll know what needs to accompany that photo. As for what I would have to lose were I to fake a photo: my self-respect, my reputation, the respect of my family and friends. Not every loss is monetary.

Mark M. Hancock said...

At least you're trying to make people pay for your work. If you get the "once in a generation" shot, I hope you work it right and get rich from it.
This isn't a competition for a gig or even a job. When anyone hands a company their work for free, the company has no need for staff or freelancers. As people retire or move, those jobs are eliminated.
It's a war of attrition. The loser who loses last, still lost. Unfortuately, there's not going won't be a "winner."

cehwiedel said...

I finally found enough time to pop over to NowPublic to browse the current batch of just-in pix: some from a lunar New Year celebration, and some from an SF convention. Not much information except titles and confusing license information. (Creative Commons has a bunch of different licenses, so saying the photo is distributed under a CC license doesn't say much.) If AP or other old-line news organizations are expecting to skim gold nuggets from a feed of photos like that, and save money in the process, I think it's unrealistic. Wildly. There's no feedback loop to the photographers, so there's no mechanism for improvement by individual photographers and no drift to quality over the collection of contributing photographers. This is sort of like MOMA opening their exhibit space to anyone who walks up as a way for MOMA to catch the wave of New Media and save paying exhibit fees to the artist...

Mark M. Hancock said...

True. The short-term jobs are shifting from small papers to stressed-out AP editors (they'll need to hire a lot more).
However, significant news is seriously falling through the cracks.
For example, all this week you'll see Mardi Gras images on this site. Our staff literally shot thousands of images. AP got none. I'm sure AP thought the 200,000+ CJs who attended would submit. AP ran none.
So, according to AP and its CJ reporters, nothing happened.
The shiny side of this coin is that the local newspapers gained value. They're the only real-time source for this info. :-)