Media in the digital age – or how freelancers, press photography and newspapers can beat up the crisis.

Some warning, for those who don’t like to read long posts: this is a result of three years of research and several years of personal experience. And we really wanted to make significant contribution to the topic. We are also dividing it into several parts (will be posted on the blog in due time) because we don’t want to lose the quality of information and we are never interested in just brushing the surface.

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When Rita and I think of our college years, the only thing that comes to mind is “How did we survive it all?” – sleeping 4 hours a night, having sandwiches and instant noodles for a diet and generally running around like headless chickens from one place to another. Oh, and being constantly broke.

Malicia on assignment in Berlin for Fantasy Film Fest, 2004

Malicia on assignment in Berlin for Fantasy Film Fest, 2004

No, there were no parties involved. We have spent seven years majoring in two subjects each at the same time, being members of what now can be described as an youth NGO (“Section 9” of Silesian Fantasy Club), organizing conventions, panels, exhibitions, taking part in TV and radio programs and working as cultural journalists.

Between 2002 and 2005, we have been involved in three comics/manga/anime publications (“Kawaii”, “MANGAzyn” and “Anime Plus” respectively), going from being freelancers to editorial staff members.

It surely was a great experience: you got to interview people, write your own column and break news (we were first in Europe to write about Korean manghwa) and attend assignments abroad. The bad part of it, especially when you are a freelancer was being paid by word count (no fixed salary, not even minimal one), buying the books you had to review, covering your own expenses abroad, having no medical coverage (thanks old folks for taking care of us!) and not having your working years being counted towards your future retirement quota (because you are just a freelancer).

By 2005, we had to stop because the comics market in Poland broke down – a mix of crisis (unemployment rose to nearly 40%), far-right government at power (3 millions of people emigrated) and mass-a-stealing of everything off Internet. All three magazines died, only a handful of comics publishes survived the onslaught on the market and there was no longer any real possibility to earn any money this way. What we didn’t know at that time, was that we were living out something that would spread all over media globally – a slow but steady decline in newspapers` readership, crisis that cuts staff at newspapers and readers, who look for news and information online and are no longer concerned about printed medium.

Mal and Rita taking part in a  TV program in October 1999. We were young!

Mal and Rita taking part in a TV program in October 1999. We were young!

I remember having one conversation with Rita when “Anime Plus” died after its first issue. I said I never wanted to be a freelancer ever again in my life: it was brutal and the benefits of doing it were few, while costs were enormous. It couldn’t be even classified as labour of love, but a suicide mission – at the end of the month you were paid so poorly, that you couldn’t actually live from it. For a short period of time, I considered taking up press photography (having my photos used on a regular basis by the magazines) but since the crisis wasn’t sparing photographers either, I decided to stick to corporate jobs since.

Over the last decade things only got more and more wrong for traditional media. Not only the crisis, Internet use and dwindling revenues come into equation. Bad management is probably the biggest threat – because suddenly people who have no idea about media come in to “bring the profit and restructure” the company. One lunatic at Chicago Sun-Times fired the whole photographic department (including a Pulitzer Prize winner) and handed iPhones to reporters thinking he is going to have good photography and cost cutting exercise. I don’t even have to tell you that the damage done is going to come back and bite the whole company back real soon.

The world of freelancers (be they journos or photographers) in the millennium is a wild, wild west: what you have been paid in the mid 90`s now has shrunk to 1/3 of it. You are even no longer a contributor to newspaper or magazine – these days you are told to set up your own one-person-service company. Partly it is done because you have to pay your own NI and insurance (we didn’t do it back in the day as we were paid too little to cover the costs and our parents stepped in with their own medical insurance!). The requirement to set up your own company has also a meaner reason – it effectively strips you of the prestige of being a contributor to the press… and the press pass in the process. You must buy the staff you review, but also have to pay to get your way into events you write about (unless the organizers will be so kind to give you a pass). The pinnacle of absurd that we have come across was one jewellery exhibition in Malta: no photo passes available, they confiscated your gear at the entrance, and even Reuters` employees were denied the right to photograph it – citing security concerns. In the mean time security was eating lunch at the exposition and people snapped all over with iPhones.

Rita on assignment in Denmark, 2003. During the same time she was also a volunteer for Roskilde Festival.

Rita on assignment in Denmark, 2003. During the same time she was also a volunteer for Roskilde Festival.

We know multum of Creatives. Yet, only two of our dear friends were brave enough to jump in the deep and live in the freelancer’s world: Olga Drenda (http://olgadrenda.tumblr.com/) is a writer and pop culture genius, Marcin Chylinski runs his own wedding photography company (www.ProZdjecia.pl). I’m pretty sure that given an occasion, they would share even more horror stories than us 🙂

One would think that going digital would be easier. For the last three years, Rita and I run this blog. We have about 13K readers from all over the globe and we could actually start putting ads on here but we don’t want to. Having a successful cultural blog doesn’t make you eligible for a press pass to any events: be it Poland, Malta or UK (since we move around between three countries), you are not even recognized as a citizen journalist. But we don’t have it that bad. Another good friend Pawlu Mizzi runs a blog dedicated to Valletta – his home city and Malta`s capital (https://www.facebook.com/beltvalletta).  He is also a recognized artist in his own right and a successful graphic designer. For all he has done over the years to promote culture, it is unnerving to think he was not even given a press card by Maltese authorities.

So, the media landscape today is far from perfect. But that doesn’t mean the press and journalism is all dying and doomed. There is actually much needed soul-searching in the industry to find questions to so many issues that arose over the years. Rita and I have been brainstorming, reading and seeing some very good ideas being born despite the whole mess. This series of blog posts is actually to summarize the best proposals. We have recently gathered all our silly thoughts and ended up with like 18 pages of tricks. As we have passed it onto a local newspaper, we thought that maybe we could run some posts here. Think of it as our little voice in the discussion what can be done to bring up additional revenues to the traditional media being caught up in the digital world.

We put a lot of emphasis on visual side of the business (like photography, but it can be stretched out to video and illustrations as well) because the digital era is all about visuals, and this is where the revenues would be coming from.

Please enjoy part one of the post as we take a closer look at what can be achieved if you decide to brush off the dust from the old photos and scanners. It’s press version of Cash in the Attic 😉

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Create a photo archive and know how to use it!

 

This is one of the best ideas we have come across. And many newspapers actually do it with different degrees of success! According to photo editors of Chicago Tribune, photo archive is crucial for a newspaper for several reasons. It allows newspaper to maintain journalistic standards (having unbiased stories), independence (alternative to press releases), prestige (“our archive is better than yours”) and business (you can sell newspapers content twice: as news and as archives).

Functional archive for both text and photos can positively affect revenues: it allows newspaper to expand their services and find new niches to operate from. In the process it also retains or even brings in more readers.

Some possible uses of text and photo archives:

–          Reproductions of old front pages can become anniversary mementos

–          Photos can be offered to collectors and private buyers in form of a print

–          Photos can be also used to create posters, cards or other items

–          Thematically organized archives can be used in research and teaching of journalism

–          By owning historical materials, newspaper can become a desired partner in the process of creating books, exhibitions or TV programs

–          Newspaper may charge for the access to the archives

–          Photo archive can preserve the works of local photojournalists from being forgotten, fragmented or even destroyed

–          Functional archive means that photographers are properly credited

–          Materials in the archives can be used for iPad and iPhone apps or to generate interest on social media

Let’s have a closer look at the Chicago Tribune’s photo archive, which is regarded as a stellar example in the news business. It is organized in two ways: website (www.tribunephotos.com) and social media outlets (Ebay, Twitter, Facebook and blog).

Chicago Tribune photo archive page

Chicago Tribune photo archive page

The site is divided into separate categories (sports, education, agriculture, children, health, government, environment, fashion, events, music, and holidays among others). It works like a regular online shop with a cart and requires a customer login (and a need to create purchaser profile protected with a password). It has links to Twitter, Facebook and Ebay pages and since it is visited by many people, it features ads. Revenues from the ads help maintain the website and its operations. There is a free newsletter being sent to the subscribers. The website is hosted by http://www.imagefortress.com

While the website is ran by professional marketing company, the social media platform make pictures “go viral” and create a buzz:

a)      Ebay: http://stores.ebay.com/tribunephotos

Photos put on the auctions are watermarked for security reasons. Each auction  lasts approx. 30 days. Prices per print range between 10 USD – 15 USD, larger and rarer prints are advertised in the newsletter and priced accordingly.

b)      Blog: http://blog.tribunephotos.com/

Weekly and occasionally daily posts, with stories and anecdotes from the newsroom, related to the photos in the archives.

c)      Facebookhttps://www.facebook.com/TribunePhotos

Separate page for the archives. It incorporates posts from other media and printed newspapers; basically anything that can generate interest online is mentioned.

d)     Twitter https://twitter.com/TribunePhotos

Twitter can be connected to Facebook and blog and can generate multiple posts at the same time via different channels. One post on a blog will automatically be twitter and appear on Facebook. It can be run separately, in a similar manner to Facebook page.

The really cool thing about the functional archives is that is can be operated by the newspaper itself. We had a closer look at several newspapers and we came to conclusion that possible structure would look something like this:

– Usually the work is overseen by a photo editor and sales director

– Photo editor oversees the quality of prints or scans, while marketing team are involved in direct customer inquiries and sales

– Graphic designers are called in if prints need to be edited, some work is done by staff photographers if time allows, or by interns and journalism students

– Scanning, filing and general maintenance is done either by journalism students, general interns or by library and archiving students. Yes, you can actually use interns according to their field of study and get some real work done. There will be perhaps less coffee brewed in the office, but we don’t think anybody will be complaining that they are actually getting real – work experience

– Also the running of the social media sites can be done by interns

–          Blog posts can be created by more experienced journalists

See, put pieces in the right places and you can create a truly useful tool that will benefit journalists, students and readers all at once. But that’s not all. Having functional archives is just the beginning!

***

Photo – page is all the rage!

Let’s imagine that a functional photo archive was set up and it’s ready. Now, what are we gonna do with it? (apologies to Heavy D).

The answer is: show it to the world. And a photo page surely comes in handy in doing so.

There is a constant debate which medium is better: a video or a still photograph. Both have capacity to bring attention of readers, especially in a digital age (“going viral”), both can be shared and discussed, thus enhancing website content.

However there is one big (small) difference between them: video takes time – you have to see it through to fully understand what is happening. Photo on the other hand, requires less time, just a glance and the message is received: one photo is truly worth of a thousand words especially in the fast lived cyber space.

Full page of Time Magazine LightBox - just see how complex this photo page is!

Full page of Time Magazine LightBox – just see how complex this photo page is!

That is why photo-essays and photo pages are extremely popular. According to Google: Time`s LightBox (http://lightbox.time.com/) and NY Times` Lense (http://lens.blogs.nytimes.com/) are one of the most visited pages when it comes to visual journalism.

A separate photo page can not only double a traffic onto newspaper’s website, it can be also used to present readers with reportages or other longer forms of photojournalism or even portfolios of staff photographers.

Possibilities are endless: you can set up photo of the week/month/year features; you can run photographic contests and publish readers` photos, you can co-operate with news and photo agencies to bring the most striking visual stories.

You can anything, even set up your own in-house photo agency and promote it via a well constructed photo-page!

***

In-house photo agency – tapping into new markets

When we first heard the term “in-house” photo agency operated by a newspaper, we honestly thought it was science fiction. Only, it is not and it’s being practiced for at least 18 years. And the reason you have never heard about it, it’s because you don’t usually read all the small print. Please look at the Gazeta Wyborcza (Polish biggest daily newspaper) photo page called “Duży Kadr” (The Big Picture):

http://wyborcza.pl/duzy_kadr/0,0.html

When opening the website, in the right upper corner the reader will find The Big Picture iPad application and a link to Agencja Gazeta – which is ultimately the photo agency set up by photographers of the newspaper.

http://agencjagazeta.pl/foto/0,0.html#TRNavSST

The agency has been set up in 1994 by members of the photo department who wanted to sell photos from the newspaper’s archives and their own work that was not always used by the newspaper. Today it consists of 35 staff photographers, freelancers and contributors (ranging from sports and fashion to war correspondence), two photo editors and 5 sales consultants. Agency members won several World Press Photo prizes and work closely with Reuters.

Page for Agencja Gazeta

Page for Agencja Gazeta

The agency offers the following services:

–          reportages

–          portraiture (also weddings)

–          fashion shoots

–          corporate portraitures and business photography

–          commercial photography

–          fully accessible photo studio for renting

Newspapers photographers can be “rented out” or hired (usually on their day off) to do an assignment for Agency’s customers, or they can offer their unused shots or personal projects that they pursue. Photographer is paid part of the fee, the agency retains the other half. This way a photographer can earn more and the newspaper has extra revenue.

Newspaper also has a functional studio that can be rented out or used by the staff photographers.

Such agency allows Gazeta Wyborcza to sell their archival pictures, unseen /unused press photos and to tap into commercial photography for additional revenues.

Pretty smart, you have to agree. But that is not the end of possibilities what you can do with a properly organized photo archive. If newspapers can have in-house photo agencies, why not create in-house stock collection. Kick-ass? Time to give some credit to Corbis!

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Stock – joining the forces with freelancers and local enthusiasts.

You need to thank Rita for finding this one. There is very little she can’t find on the World Wide Web.

Another idea how to enhance a photo department is to create a stock photography collection. Many newspapers use stock photography bought from stock companies over the Internet. Having a local one – could bring a revenue (stock images could be sold to local or international clients) and could also employ talents of local photographers. A separate stock collection for mobile phones could also prove to be profitable.

Corbis Royalty Free service page

Corbis Royalty Free service page

Stock Photography or Royalty Free Collection is now a standard offer among Photographic Agencies. A good example would be a service of Corbis:

http://www.corbisimages.com/content/royalty-free/

It includes not just separate photos (stock) but also whole series (up to 100 pictures called as “virtual disc”) shot by one photographer around certain theme and with the same visual style.

There are literary unlimited possibilities to turn a stock or royalty free collection into profit:

–     It can attract local businesses which don’t always have time and big budget to
plan a campaign from scratch,

–     Parties and political candidates may use the images for their flyers,

–          Local councils, agencies and even some newspapers prefer to use generic images that appear to a larger public, than the usual documentary photography,

–          International clients are more likely to tailor made their coverage by using images taken by local photographers,

So we have (finally) reached the end of the part one of our media report. We truly hope you enjoyed reading and perhaps, you have found something interesting for your work place in case you work in the media. Give that link to your editor and let us know what the reaction was.

or at least make them read this blog post by Rohn Engh who beautifully said the same thing as we only with less word count:

http://rising.blackstar.com/a-new-dawn-for-photojournalism.html

For now we will sign off and walk out of the house to enjoy a bit of ice cream and the sunshine.

Mal+Rita

P.S If you know Polish, you can have a fab side reading to this rant by our friend Olga Drenda about how much photographers earn today:

http://digitalcamerapolska.pl/warsztat/339-ile-zarabia-fotograf-w-polsce-zobacz-realne-stawki

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