Tuesday, December 29, 2009

New York Times Article on Media's Future

A new article from the New York Times on the future of media came out yesterday. It's a rehash of what we have heard before (coming pay walls and itunes like sales models) but it sounds like Murdoch will be the first to take the dive. Honestly, I wouldn't mind if he failed.

Adding Fees and Fences on Media Sites


Over more than a decade, consumers became accustomed to the sweet, steady flow of free news, pictures, videos and music on the Internet. Paying was for suckers and old fogeys. Content, like wild horses, wanted to be free.

Now, however, there are growing signs that this free ride is drawing to a close.

Newspapers, including this one, are weighing whether to ask online readers to pay for at least some of what they offer, as a handful of papers, like The Wall Street Journal and The Financial Times, already do. Indeed, in the next several weeks, industry executives and analysts expect some publications to take the plunge.

(continue here)

Monday, December 28, 2009

Maldives Work Featured on Burn Magazine and Quesabesde.com

My multimedia piece on the Maldives was recently featured on Burn, a site curated by Magnum photographer David Alan Harvey and some of the photos from the same series were featured on the Spanish web site quesabesde.com. You can find the original link in Spanish here and a roughly translated version in English here.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Taking Pictures for a Terroristic Reason...

I was detained for a half hour in the metro station in Barcelona for the same thing two years ago. What can more can you say here?!?!

Friday, December 4, 2009

A Troubled Paradise Multimedia

I've just finished and released my new story on the Maldives called "A Troubled Paradise". My friends at Bombay Flying Club helped me stitch together a soundscape for the story and create the script. Thanks Poul and Henrik!

Watch for more from Bombay Flying Club!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you on the other side of the Atlantic. Kudos to the guys at No Caption Needed for the cartoon. It's beautiful!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Sound Advice on Multimedia

I'm presently working on finalizing my first multimedia piece and it's a complicated process. As photographers we naturally have a knack for the visual narrative, but the audio narrative is new to many of us and probably even more important. MediaStorm has just published a piece about working with music on their blog so I'm sharing it here. I hope you enjoy it.

Ten Tips for Working With Music in Multimedia
Posted by Eric Maierson, November 23rd, 2009

Music is an all too frequently overlooked facet of multimedia production. In this ongoing series of tutorials to improve your multimedia, I’ll explain 10 techniques that the MediaStorm team utilizes when working with music.

First, though, a few definitions commonly used to describe musical attributes.

Tempo: the speed of a musical composition, how fast or slow it’s played.

Timbre: the voice or sound of an instrument. A stringed instrument has a different timbre than a piano or a saxophone.

Pitch: the frequency of a sound. Bass notes have a low pitch; the upper octaves of a piano produce a higher pitch.

Rhythm: the variation in length between sounds and accents. Rhythm is often tapped onto a surface.


Thursday, November 19, 2009

Adobe Camera Raw and Lightroom Updates available

The Adobe Camera Raw 5.6 update can be found here and the Lightroom update 2.6 here.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

X-Equals Blog - My New Must Read Blog

I've actually been following this blog for a few months now, but I find it to be the best when it comes to explaining a Lightroom to Photoshop workflow. As someone who seems to be continuously looking to streamline my workflow and thus spend less time editing photos, this is an extremely important tool. Check it out here!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Dispatches Must Read Article on "Revolutions in the Media Economy"

The beauty of Dispatches Magazine is the depth of their reporting, which today is a rare thing indeed. Today I came across a very well done and in depth article (part one in an ongoing series written by David Campbell) on changes in journalism. In part one it discusses the death of newspapers and contrasts that with the death of journalism. It also discusses a lot of the buzz word trends that we have been hearing about of late like the collapse of the advertising based economic model AND how to better monitize news with pay walls and itunes like per article payment models. Layout some time and coffee for this great three part read...


The way news and information is reported and delivered to citizens is undergoing profound transformations, especially in the United States and Europe. In the last twelve months commentary has been rife with claims about “the death of newspapers,” the end of journalism, and the impact this crisis will allegedly have on democratic politics.

In a series of four posts, I want to consider the revolution that is reshaping the media economy through which we come to know about the wider world. This first post deals with the reasons for this upheaval and how it is changing the economics of news. Because of the ground to be covered in providing the context of these changes, this will be quite a lengthy discussion.

The second post will look at how the structure of information is changing in this new economy and what it means for the practice of journalism; the third post will ask what these transformation mean for photojournalism; and the fourth post will consider some of the implications for universities and academic publishing. Continue reading here...

OR find Part 1 here
Part 2 here
Part 3 here
Part 4 here

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Newspapers aren't doing as badly as we think

Last week Slate published a story on the state of the Newspaper Industry in the U.S. According to the writer, Daniel Gross, it's not all doom and gloom and he's seeing some positive trends.

The part of the article that most got my attention was this.

"This is the new emerging model—cutting costs, raising prices. It may still fail in the end. But we shouldn't act as if the online-only crowd has it all figured out. Every month, several million Americans pay to have newspapers and magazines delivered to their homes—a trick most online publications have yet to pull off."

In other words Newspapers, especially the National newspapers, are trying to replace the loss of classified advertising by increasing the newstand price. In other words they're trying to get paid for what they are providing! Doh!

Let's hope they suceed. If you want to read the whole thing, you can find it here.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Trafic Barcelona and Bruce Gilden

One of the beauties of living in Barcelona is that there is massive interest in photography and practically every week there is some kind of exhibit or talk about photography. One of the highlights every year is Trafic, mainly because the event is synched with workshops with some of the greats in contemporary photography. This year Trafic teamed up with a group of Magnum photographers and I went to some of the presentations.

In my opinion the star was Bruce Gilden. You can read more about Bruce at Trafic on Paco Elvira's blog, but I wanted to highlight one thing.

Often times in these workshops you learn things by listening to the photographers and having them critique your work, but I think you can almost learn more by watching them as they work and this is something that few photographers show in workshops. Many photographer's have problems overcoming their fear of shooting people up close without asking permission, but sometimes it just has to be done. That's how you achieve those magical moments. That being said, it's still difficult for many people, myself included.

Watch this video and you'll see how Bruce works. In the end, it's a barrier any good photographer has to overcome at some point. The key to remember is that you're not doing damage to anyone because it's just a picture! Watch Bruce in action here and thanks to Paco for mentioning this video to me.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Preeminent Underwater Photographer up close with a Leopard Seal

Paul Nicklen repeatedly publishes in National Geographic Magazine and has won back to back World Press Photo. He's an underwater god! Enjoy him here in this short video as he gets up close and personal with a leopard seal in the Antarctic.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

My New Favorite Site

This is a bit of a departure from my typical topics, but I recently bought a Mac Pro. After upgrading to the Canon 5D Mark II in December, the double in file size was crushing my mini Mac Mini. Despite the upgrade, I felt like the processing in Lightroom, Photo Mechanic and Photoshop was quite lacking until I came across the Mac Performance Guide.

Not only did it help me further maximize the power of my Mac Pro when using these programs, but it also provides great solutions to improve performance. I'm planning on going to a Striped Raid, dedicating more space to the scratch disk and updating RAM so hopefully I'll be cruising along soon enough. If any of this sounds like Martian to you, be sure to read the site as it will quickly get you up to speed.

Best of luck!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Back...sort of

I apologize to all for the long delay in posting here. I have some legitimate excuses though, as I got married, went on our honeymoon and am now getting back focused on some interesting work projects.

Please be patient, I'l be posting again soon!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Back on the grid

After a few weeks off the grid attending Perpignan and then getting married, I have some good news to share. I won a highly commended mention in the 2009 CIWEM Environmental Photographer of the Year Competition in the UK. The photo above can also been seen here in the Guardian and at the Telegraph.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Visa pour L'image

Visa is upon us and shortly I will be heading up to Perpignan. For those who would like to know more about this legendary event, here's a nice survival guide over at Dominick Tyler's blog on what to expect and bring, a part from cigarettes and your scarf.

See you up there!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Americans need the media to give us the truth in the healthcare debate.

'Truth' vs. 'facts' from America's media
Americans need the media to give us the truth in the healthcare debate.

By Neal Gabler
L.A. Times
August 23, 2009

T.S. Eliot was wrong. August is the cruelest month. As we head toward next month's congressional face-off on a national healthcare bill, the news media are infatuated with town hall meetings. Over and over, we see angry citizens screaming about a Big Government takeover of the healthcare system, shouting that they will lose their insurance or be forced to give up their doctors and denouncing "death panels" that will euthanize old people.

Of course, none of this is even remotely true. These are all canards peddled by insurance companies terrified of losing their power and profits, by right-wing militants terrified of a victory for the president they hate and by the Republican Party, which has been commandeered by the insurance industry and the militants. But the lies have obviously had their effect. Recent polls show that support for healthcare reform -- reform that would insure more Americans, would force insurance companies to cover preexisting conditions and prevent them from capriciously terminating coverage, and would provide competition to drive down costs -- is rapidly eroding.

Maybe Americans should know better. Maybe they shouldn't fall for the latest imbecilic propaganda and scare tactics. Maybe. But a citizenry is only as well-informed as the quality of information it receives.


Friday, August 14, 2009

Constantly Looking Over Your Shoulder

Here is a recent follow-up story on the state of African migrants in Spain using some of my images from Living in the Shadows. You can find the actual story in Flemish at Belgium's De Standaard and a Google generated translation here.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Cryptic email from Intl Photography Awards

Anyone else get this crazy cryptic email?

Hello charlie mahoney,

Your entry 'Maldvies' into the 2009 International Photography Awards.

Has been selected for ROUND 1 Judging .


The Int'l Photography Awards

What is that?!?!?!

Monday, August 10, 2009

New York Times Laments the Death of Photojournalism

PARIS — When photojournalists and their admirers gather in southern France at the end of August for Visa pour l’Image, the annual celebration of their craft, many practitioners may well be wondering how much longer they can scrape by.

Newspapers and magazines are cutting back sharply on picture budgets or going out of business altogether, and television stations have cut back on news coverage in favor of less-costly fare. Pictures and video snapped by amateurs on cellphones are posted to Web sites minutes after events have occurred. Photographers trying to make a living from shooting the news call it a crisis.

To continue reading click here.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Publishers: Doh! Creating a desireable product!

Publishers and editors just don't get it: it's the quality that counts. Here is a well expressed argument with some real solutions by Samir Husni at his blog Mr. Magazine.com.

Innovation in Print: The Answer to Print Suicide… Create a Necessary and Sufficient Print Product

Here is a simple, doable solution for print people to utilize so that they will stop killing their printed products: create a necessary and sufficient print product.

It is that simple. I kid you not. If you want to ensure the survival of your printed product, you need to create a product that is both necessary and sufficient. Publishing 360 or publishing plus has been greatly misinterpreted and misused. Print people understood Publishing 360 as the need to be in print, on the web, on television, etc. shuffling from one medium to the other. You read excerpts of an interview in the magazine, then you go to the web to read the entire interview and watch the video. You pick up the newspaper and almost after every story there is a link to go to the web for more. Print folks keep on pushing people to put down the newspaper or the magazine down and head to the web for more. What type of reading experience you are going to have if you have to stop reading and head to the web after few paragraphs, and how often are you going to come back. On the other hand, very few publishers use the web to send people to print and to encourage them to pick up a printed copy of their products.

Print folks have lost confidence in their printed product and they are trying to create a hybrid product that sooner or later will eliminate the need for the same product they are attempting to save. If I do not need something, then for sure it is not going to be sufficient for me. You can’t be satisfied with something you do not need or want. Our dying newspapers have eliminated the need or even the want to be picked up and have ignored, albeit with few exceptions, the simple answer to the question What Is In It For Me (The WIIFM factor).

It is not the first time that I say print is not dying, just the folks who owns it are committing suicide. I firmly believe that our salvation is going to be in ensuring that each and every product, we media people produce, must be necessary and sufficient. Whether it is the newspaper, the web site or the video, each and every one of these products must provide readers/viewers with a self-satisfying experience that folks will lose themselves while interacting with that product. Publishing 360 should not mean that our readers/viewers are going to hop from one medium to the other in order to get the complete picture or experience. We are not in the business of hopping, but rather of reading or viewing. Leave the hopping to the rabbits, and give the humans reading or viewing relevant materials in the relevant medium that they desire.


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

One More Tool in the Fight Against Pirate Journalism

From the New York Times:

Start-Up Plans to Make Journalism Pirates Pay Up

Online piracy isn’t just a problem for music companies; it hurts newspapers and magazines as well. News organizations are now trying to do something about the many Web sites that simply copy articles and paste them into their own pages.

Last week The Associated Press said it would put warnings against copyright violation on its articles and digitally track illegitimate uses. It didn’t say what it would do to violators, but it has been quick to use legal means to block reuse of its material.

A start-up called Attributor, based in Redwood City, Calif., is proposing an approach that is more carrot than stick. It has developed an automated way for newspapers to share in the advertising revenue from even the tiniest sites that copy their articles.

The plan faces many technical and legal hurdles. Attributor wants to take some of the ad money that would have been paid to the pirate site and give it to the copyright owner instead. To do that it needs the cooperation of big advertising networks like those run by Google and Yahoo. So far those companies have reacted coolly to the proposal.

Still, Attributor has been able to attract many major publishing companies to what it calls the Fair Syndication Consortium, which is exploring its ideas. These include The New York Times Company, the Washington Post Company, Hearst, Reuters, Media News Group, McClatchy and Condé Nast.

The Attributor plan “seems to me to be a way to bring order out of the chaos,” said Chris Ahearn, president of Reuters Media.

For now those companies have committed only to receiving data from Attributor about how widely their content is being used on Web sites that don’t pay for it. Later they will decide whether to proceed with the revenue-sharing plan.

“We’re in ‘prove it’ mode,” said Jim Pitkow, the chief executive of Attributor. “We are going to prove to them piracy is an issue and here is the scale. Then we will take that to the ad networks.”

To read the rest click here.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

ANALYSIS: Photo Lab Dissection No.1 Eugene Richards

Copyright 2008 Eugene Richards

The idea behind starting the Photo Lab Dissections is to get you thinking of the technical decisions made prior to producing a photo, but it is also intended to get you thinking about the aesthetic elements. I chose this image, by Eugene Richards, as the first image in this series because on a technical level it wasn't a difficult photo to take, but on aesthetic level it is complex and layered. One thing to keep in mind is that Eugene Richards completed most of this project without formal access to these mental facilities, so he was often working quickly and trying to attract as little attention as possible, before being escorted away.

So let's get to the technical issues first.

What lens was used (ballpark)?
Daniel left a comment saying that he thought it was a 35mm lens, which I would have been inclined to guess as well, except for two reasons. One, if you look at the man sitting on the ground in the right bottom corner of the image you will see that his head and body appeared to be stretched towards the corner. This type of distortion you don't usually see at 35mm, so I am guessing that Gene used a wider angled lens than a 35mm. Two, I know that historically Gene has used Olympus cameras and has favored a 21mm lens. Now, that's cheating, but cheating in this exercise is irrelevant because what we are really trying to learn is how to look at photos and from this analysis become better shooting photographers. The key to emphasize is that you can often guess what lens was used by looking at the corners. If you see distortion, then a wide-angle lens was used and at this point that's all we need to know. Whether it was a 21mm, a 24mm, a 28mm is not really important as a similar image could have been made with all three lens.

What ISO, aperture and shutter speed?
Just by looking at the photo and the depth of field, we can see that the photo was taken in relatively good light on a cloudy, overcast day. How can we tell all that? One, the sky. Two, there are no harsh shadows on the face in the foreground, nor on the ground below the people in the background. Beyond that, it's difficult to decipher whether Gene was shooting at 100 or 400 ISO or whether he was shooting digitally or with Tri-X film. What's important to know is that he shot at a shutter speed fast enough to freeze movement and at an aperture closed enough to give him plenty of depth of field. My guess is ISO 400, f/8 at 1/250.

Was flash used?
The key to looking for flash use is by looking at the eyes. If you see keylights, which are tiny dot reflections of light, in the subjects eyes you can often identify flash use. You can also identify flash use by looking at the main light source, usually the sun, and if the shadows are well lit, then you know that the photographer has used some fill flash. Considering what we know now, that it was a grey, overcast day with plenty of light, flash was likely not used in this photo.

How much post-processing was applied (if any)?
I don't see any obvious use of post-processing techniques, but that doesn't mean none was applied. If done well, post processing is difficult to recognize. Usually poorly done post-processing is very noticeable. I'm guessing that in this photo the face in the foreground may have been dodged a bit. The only clue is that the men in the background are much darker. Beyond that, it seems to me that little post-processing was done to the photo.

From what angle was the photo taken?
Both Ed and Daniel nailed this one. The photo was taken above the man in the foreground's head. Whether Gene was standing over this man or was standing on something like a chair is difficult to say. The key here is to recognize that he was slightly above the man in the foreground and was aiming the camera down at an angle.

How might Eugene have measured the light?
There are many ways Eugene might have measured the light. The key to recognize here is that the patio was all cement and all roughly white, which would likely throw off any light meter, just as a snow or beach scene would tend to underexpose the scene. My guess is that whatever method Eugene used to read the light, he would have had to increase the exposure by 1-2 stops or the meter would have been fooled in to producing an underexposed image.

Where was the focus set?
We know from answering the question about ISO, aperture and shutter speed that Gene used a relatively wide depth of field, around f/8. We can clearly see that the man in the foreground is out of focus. The second man, third, forth and fifth men are all relatively speaking in focus. There is a general rule of thumb in photography that says that one-third of the distance in front of the focal point and two-thirds of the distance behind the focal point will stay relatively in focus, so based on this information it is likely that Gene focuses on the third man (from front to back) in order to insure that the man in front of him (the second man) and all the men in the background would stay in focus.

To many a beginning photographer, the decision of leaving the first and main subject out of focus would seem to be a mistake, but it's a wonderful technique. Why? Leaving the background elements of the photo in focus, draws the eye of the viewer in to the photograph. If you learn anything from this exercise this is it! Hint! Hint! We want to make complex and interesting photos so when you shoot groups of people with layering...in other words situations where there are people in the foreground, mid-ground and background keep this in mind and set your focus between the mid-ground and the foreground.

The second thing to notice about the layering of this photo is the spacing between each layer. Each man in the scene, whether he is in the foreground or the background is nicely separated by space from the other men in the image. It creates a sense of watching five unique scenes at once and thus adds complexity to the image.

The final thing to take away from studying this image is move your feet and explore different angles. Get above your subjects, get below them, but move around and explore different angles that can make your images more interesting.

So that's the analysis for the day, layer your photos, deepen your focal point, leave space between the subjects and look for different angles. If you can keep those four things in mind, you're shooting will improve right away. Try to shoot like this yourself and if you want email me the images and I'll post some of the best examples in a future posting. Good luck!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Video of your shutter

Here's a great video clip which shows you how your shutter actually takes a picture. Look at that mirror bounce...amazing!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Photo Lab Dissection No.1 Eugene Richards

copyright 2008 Eugene Richards

In March I taught two clases in the Masters program of Photojournalism at the University Autonoma of Barcelona. I completed the same program two years ago and it was a strange experience for me to be back in the same classroom where I sat as a rather clueless hopeful to enter the world of photojournalism. As an alumnus of the program I know the program's strengths and weakenesses, so I set about to improve one of the weaknesses, which is the lack of practical analysis of other photographer's work.

As a result I selected about 40 images and as a class we tried to dissect the photos trying to interpret the techniques used. It was an enormously successful and well received exercise, so I've decided to continue it here by regularly posting an analysis of a photo I happen to particularly like.

This photo was taken by documentary legend, Eugene Richards, as part of a project on mental treatment around the world. The work, entitled "Out of Mind, Out of Sight" can be seen in a limited slideshow on Mother Jones. The work is being used to bring attention to the treatment of mental disability around the world, so if you are interested in reading more please check out Mental Disability Rights International. Richards has also published a book, A Procession of Them, which can be purchased here.

I invite you to participate by trying to dissect the following information from this photo and answer the following questions. I'll follow with what I think are the answers next week, plus additional commentary. Feel free to post your analysis in the commentary below.

What lens was used (ballpark)?
What ISO, aperture and shutter speed?
Was flash used?
How much post-processing was applied (if any)?
From what angle was the photo taken?
How might Eugene have measured the light?
Where was the focus point set?

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

100 Eyes Magazine

Andy Levin, an experienced photojournalist, recently started curating an online magazine called 100 Eyes. Each month he chooses a selection of reportages about global themes. Last month, 100 Eyes focused on Penal Systems around the world. This month the focus is on Global Migration. It's an honor to have my work on African immigrants in Spain included.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Maldives Revisited in Time Magazine's Best of Asia 2009

While in the Maldives I was given two assignments by Time Magazine - one, on the the problems the country is facing and the second on a mosque. The shot took a day to prepare as I rode around on the back of a motorcycle looking at all the most aesthetically pleasing mosque in the Maldives. We climbed buildings looking for a clean shot of the various mosques, but there were few good solutions.

In the end I opted to shot the Friday Mosque as it is by far the most grandiose, but again it was a complicated shot as directly across the street was a large wall that surrounded the Department of Defense. The security forces guarding the facility were very strict and I couldn't shoot the building without shooting over the defense facility, so my last and only option was to use my 24mm and get right up against the wall and wait. I shot the building twice. Once in the morning and one right after dusk. In the end Time opted for this photo, which I think was the best choice.

Monday, July 6, 2009

A Radical Way of Saving the Newspaper Industry?

Here is a truncated version of the blog posting over at the Becker Posner Blog The comments are quite interesting as well so be sure to go to the link and read the comments there.

June 23, 2009
The Future of Newspapers--Posner

Warren Buffett, who is a wit as well as a multibillionaire, said with reference to the fact that Bernard Madoff's long-running Ponzi scheme came to light during the financial collapse of last fall that until the tide goes out, you don't know who's swimming naked. A year ago Becker and I blogged about the decline of the newspaper industry. A year later the decline has accelerated. The economic crisis has hurt the newspaper industry as it has so many industries. The question is whether it will recover (or at least rejoin its slower downward path of last year) when the economy as a whole recovers; or has the economic crisis merely revealed the terminal status of the industry.

I am pessimistic about a recovery by the newspapers. One reason is the current economic situation. A serious, protracted economic crisis can result in changes in consumer behavior that persist after the end of the crisis. A change in consumption, even in some sense involuntary, can be a learning experience. People make what they think will be merely temporary adjustments in their consumption behavior to reduce financial distress but may discover that they like elements of their new consumption pattern; and businesses too, which have reduced their newspaper (and other print-media) ad expenditures drastically. They may never go back.

Newspaper ad revenues fell by almost 8 percent in 2007, a surprising drop in a non-recession year (the current economic downturn began in the late fall of that year), and by almost 23 percent the following year, and accelerated this year. In the first quarter of 2009 newspaper ad revenues fell 30 percent from their level in the first quarter of 2008. This fall in revenue, amplified by drops in print circulation (about 5 percent last year, and running at 7 percent this year--and readership is declining in all age groups, not just the young), have precipitated bankruptcies of major newspaper companies and, more important, the disappearance of a number of newspapers, including major ones, such as the Rocky Mountain News and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Falling revenues have led to layoffs of some 20,000 employees of the remaining newspapers. Print journalism has come to be regarded as a dying profession. Online viewership and revenues have grown but not nearly enough to offset the decline in ad revenues. Even the most prestigious newspapers, such as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and USA Today, have experienced staggering losses.

News, as well the other information found in newspapers, is available online for nothing, including at the websites of the newspapers themselves, who thus are giving away content. The fact that online viewing is rising as print circulation is falling indicates a shift of consumers from the paid to the free medium. The economic downturn has doubtless accelerated the trend, but economic recovery is unlikely to reverse it. To repeat my earlier point, many of the people who have switched under economic pressure to the free medium may find themselves as happy or happier and hence will not switch back when their financial condition improves.

Moreover, while in many industries a reduction in output need not entail any reduction in the quality of the product, in newspaper it does entail a reduction in quality. Most of the costs of a newspaper are fixed costs, that is, costs invariant to output--for they are journalists' salaries. A newspaper with shrinking revenues can shrink its costs only by reducing the number of reporters, columnists, and editors, and when it does that quality falls, and therefore demand, and falling demand means falling revenues and therefore increased pressure to economize--by cutting the journalist staff some more. This vicious cycle, amplified by the economic downturn, may continue until very little of the newspaper industry is left.

So what will happen to news and information? Online news is free for two reasons. First, in the case of a newspaper, the marginal cost of providing content online is virtually zero, since it is the same content (or a selection of the content) in a different medium. Second, online providers of news who are not affiliated with a newspaper can provide links to newspaper websites and paraphrase articles in newspapers, in neither case being required to compensate the newspaper.

As newspaper revenues decline, newspaper content becomes thinner and thinner--but by the same token so does the linked or paraphrased newspaper content found in web sites that have no affiliation with a newspaper. If eventually newspapers vanish, online providers will have higher advertising revenues (because newspaper advertising will have disappeared) and may decide to charge for access to their online news, and so the critical question is whether online advertising revenues will defray the costly news-gathering expenses incurred at this time by newspapers. Imagine if the New York Times migrated entirely to the World Wide Web. Could it support, out of advertising and subscriber revenues, as large a news-gathering apparatus as it does today? This seems unlikely, because it is much easier to create a web site and free ride on other sites than to create a print newspaper and free ride on other print newspapers, in part because of the lag in print publication; what is staler than last week's news. Expanding copyright law to bar online access to copyrighted materials without the copyright holder's consent, or to bar linking to or paraphrasing copyrighted materials without the copyright holder's consent, might be necessary to keep free riding on content financed by online newspapers from so impairing the incentive to create costly news-gathering operations that news services like Reuters and the Associated Press would become the only professional, nongovernmental sources of news and opinion.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Nominated as a Finalist in the City of Gijon Photojournalism Award

I am very happy to announce that my work on African Immigrants in Spain: Living in the Shadows has been named as a finalist in the prestigious City of Gijon International Photojournalism Award.

SPAIN - Living in the Shadows - Images by Charlie Mahoney

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Black and White and Dead All Over

There is an interesting and funny list of factoids posted on the state of American journalism over at Mother Jones.

I loved this one:
"Last year, as The New York Times stock fell 58%, CEO Janet Robinson's compensation went up $1.4 million, to $5.6 million."

That's a day-rate of $15,385. Their day-rate for freelance photojournalists is $250. If I were on the Board of Directors or a major stock-holder, I think I would be pressuring for cuts at corporate headquarters before making cuts in the newsroom.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

It's The Economist Stupid!

I just came across this article and video from The Atlantic about the state of the newsweekly industry. The writer, Michael Hirschorn, explains that The Economist saw it's advertising revenues increase 25% from last year where Time and Newsweek saw declines of 14% and 27% respectively.

The answer is quite simple - The Economist provides quality worldwide news and analysis. That's why people read it. This article is a must read.

Another interesting article about a future without the New York Times can be found here.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Marco Vernaschi's "The Fall of Africa's First Narco State"

Marco Vernaschi ©, for the Pulitzer Center

I just came across Marco Vernaschi's work which was sponsored by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting travel grant. Wonderful work and sponsored by a worthy organization. Is this the future of journalism?

The Fall of Africa's First Narco-State

Posted using ShareThis

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Jason Howe at Frontline

Jason Howe, a conflict photographer, who has worked principally in the jungles of Columbia is a fascinating guy. He'll be speaking live today on the Foto 8 site at 7pm GMT. For more information, check here.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Welcome Back David and Tahir!

David Rohde, a New York Times Journalist and Tahir Ludin, a local Afghanistan reporter, who were captured by the Taliban in Kabul in November 2008, escaped to freedom yesterday. Rhode's noted investigative work in the Balkans helped expose the Srebrenica Massacre.

New York Times article.

Times Reporter Escapes Taliban After 7 Months

David Rohde, a New York Times reporter who was kidnapped by the Taliban, escaped Friday night and made his way to freedom after more than seven months of captivity in the mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Mr. Rohde, along with a local reporter, Tahir Ludin, and their driver, Asadullah Mangal, was abducted outside Kabul, Afghanistan, on Nov. 10 while he was researching a book.

Mr. Rohde was part of The Times’s reporting team that won a Pulitzer Prize this spring for coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan last year.

Mr. Rohde told his wife, Kristen Mulvihill, that Mr. Ludin joined him in climbing over the wall of a compound where they were being held in the North Waziristan region of Pakistan. They made their way to a nearby Pakistani Frontier Corps base and on Saturday they were flown to the American military base in Bagram, Afghanistan.

“They just walked over the wall of the compound,” Ms. Mulvihill said.

The driver, Mr. Mangal, did not escape with the other two men. The initial report was that Mr. Rohde was in good health, while Mr. Ludin injured his foot in the escape.

Until now, the kidnapping has been kept quiet by The Times and other media organizations out of concern for the men’s safety.

“From the early days of this ordeal, the prevailing view among David’s family, experts in kidnapping cases, officials of several governments and others we consulted was that going public could increase the danger to David and the other hostages,” said Bill Keller, the executive editor of The Times. “The kidnappers initially said as much. We decided to respect that advice, as we have in other kidnapping cases, and a number of other news organizations that learned of David’s plight have done the same. We are enormously grateful for their support.”

Since the men were abducted, there had been sporadic communication from them and from the kidnappers. Ms. Mulvihill expressed relief at the end of the ordeal and gratitude to the many people — official and unofficial — who offered information, advice and support.

“The family is so grateful to everyone who has helped — The New York Times, the U.S. government, all the others,” Ms. Mulvihill said. “Now we just hope to have a chance to reunite with him in peace.”

“We’ve been married nine months,” she added. “And seven of those, David has been in captivity.”

Both Mr. Keller and Mr. Rohde’s family declined to discuss details of the efforts to free the captives, except to say that no ransom money was paid and no Taliban or other prisoners were released.

“Kidnapping, tragically, is a flourishing industry in much of the world,” Mr. Keller said. “As other victims have told us, discussing your strategy just offers guidance for future kidnappers.”

Mr. Rohde, 41, had traveled to Afghanistan in early November to work on a book about the history of American involvement there when he was invited to interview a Taliban commander in Logar Province outside Kabul. Mr. Rohde, who years before had been taken prisoner while reporting in Bosnia, had instructed The Times’s bureau in Kabul about whom to notify if he did not return. He also indicated that he believed that the interview was important and that he would be all right.

His father, Harvey Rohde, said that while he regretted that his son had made the trip, he understood his motivation, “to get both sides of the story, to have his book honestly portray not just the one side but the other side as well.”

“I guess that personifies my son,” Mr. Rohde said.

As security has deteriorated in Afghanistan, kidnappers have increasingly singled out affluent Afghans as well as foreign contractors, aid workers, church members and journalists. Last fall, Melissa Fung, a reporter for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, was held captive in a dank underground hole for nearly a month until Afghan authorities pressured her kidnappers to release her. Mr. Rohde’s captivity was one of the longest in the country.

Mr. Rohde joined The Times 12 years ago after winning a Pulitzer Prize in international reporting in 1996 for documenting the massacre of Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica.

He is known by colleagues as an intrepid yet unassuming reporter who conducts himself modestly around the office, predictably attired in neatly ironed Oxford shirts and, often, his weathered Boston Red Sox cap. Affable and soft-spoken, he is not one to regale colleagues with war stories, instead saving his storytelling for articles.

“David Rohde is one unbelievably dogged reporter who brings an open mind and big heart to every story,” Mr. Keller said.

Mr. Rohde’s keen interest in Afghanistan was ignited in the intense three months he spent there after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, and cemented during his tenure as co-chief of The Times’s South Asia bureau from 2002 to 2005. He continued to travel to Afghanistan after he returned to New York, where he is a member of The Times’s investigations department.

Mr. Ludin, 35, the Afghan reporter who was assisting Mr. Rohde as an interpreter, has worked with The Times of London and other news organizations. A Pashtun originally from Zabul Province, he fled with his family to Quetta, Pakistan, after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. He attended high school there, learning English, before returning to his country and settling in Kabul, where he is now the father of seven children under the age of 8 and the sole breadwinner for an extended family of 17.

Mr. Mangal, 24, who had regularly driven Mr. Ludin, ran a car service with his brother.

Mr. Rohde, who grew up in a tight-knit New England family, majored in history at Brown University. Mr. Rohde’s big opportunity as a reporter came in the mid-1990s, when The Christian Science Monitor sent him to cover the conflict in the Balkans. His tenacious reporting played a crucial role in exposing the ethnic cleansing of Muslims in Bosnia.

Mr. Rohde had been the first Western journalist to travel into Bosnian Serb territory to search for evidence of mass graves. What he found seemed to confirm the suspicions: blood and human feces in a soccer stadium where Muslim prisoners had most likely been shot; bulldozer tracks leading to three rectangles of freshly turned dirt; empty ammunition boxes; and a decomposing human leg. But Mr. Rohde did not think his findings drew sufficient attention to the massacre, said Faye Bowers, his former editor at The Monitor. He decided to venture once more into rebel territory, this time secretly and alone.

“I got a long e-mail saying that he couldn’t live with himself if the massacre went unheeded so he was going back for more evidence,” Ms. Bowers said.

Shortly after sending the e-mail message, Mr. Rohde vanished.

During the trip, he had discovered additional grave sites and photographed piles of clothing and human bones near an earthen dam. But he was detected by a plainclothes watchman and turned over to Bosnian Serb authorities and imprisoned.

It was late November 1995, and Mr. Rohde’s editors joined 11 of his relatives on a trip to Dayton, Ohio, where the Bosnian peace talks were being held, to urge American diplomats to demand his release. After 10 days of imprisonment, during which he was interrogated relentlessly and deprived of sleep, Mr. Rohde was freed. When he arrived in Boston, he was greeted by a phalanx of cameras at the airport, which made him cringe, said his older brother, Lee.

“He’s old school,” Lee Rohde said. “The last thing he ever wants is to be the story. He’s supposed to be the storyteller.”

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Madrid Airport Incident

When I began to research my project on African immigrants living in Spain, Living in the Shadows, I came across some surprising information. Immigrants in Spain when detained for expulsion are often violently treated and forcibly placed on flights to be returned to their country of origin. El Pais reported back in September 2008 that the Spanish government regularly flys illegal immigrants back to their countries of origin in Western Africa with a security force of more then one policeman per person (in this case 117 police for 101 illegal aliens).

The Spanish government also does not allow journalists in to detention centers nor on these flights. This video brings to light a little known reality and it's about time Spanish citizens began to know the truth about how Spanish and E.U. immigration policy is being maintained.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Expect More Than "Some Diminution of Quality"

The other day I spoke with the director of a magazine about the publication of a story I did on the Maldives. The magazine is part of a franchise of magazines that share the brand name in other countries. He said that he really would prefer to publish my story, but because one of their partner magazines has a story about the same place, albeit a different story and a "softer" theme, he was obliged to take the other offer because the offers that come through their partners are so cheap. In the end, price trumps the better story or in this case, photo reportage.

This is a common reality in today's marketplace. The reason I bring this all up is because I just read a piece in The Washington Post about how cut-backs in the industry are going to negatively effect the quality of the news we read. My question for the author, Andrew Alexander, is: Aren't we already there? The quality of news has been deteriorating with every cutback in the newsrooms the last few years, so it's logical that it's going to only get worse until a viable business model is found for the news industry.

Here's the article from the Post:

Big Changes Bring Fears About Quality

By Andrew Alexander
Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Post was losing money. The staff was depleted. The competition was fierce. The economy was a shambles, and the paper needed radical change to survive.

That was the situation in 1933 when Eugene Meyer purchased The Post at a bankruptcy sale and began nursing it back to health.

The circumstances are similar today, as is the challenge. Once again, The Post is at a crossroads. With Meyer's heirs in control, it's entering the most critical phase of a broad transformation, underway for several years, that may determine if it survives and thrives.

The pace of change is breathtaking. A brain drain continues this month with the fourth round of staff buyouts since 2003. The Web site, housed in Northern Virginia, will soon be integrated into The Post's downtown newsroom to provide a unified 24-hour operation. A far-reaching reorganization of the newsroom staff will alter the way coverage is planned and content is processed.

But what will it mean for readers?

I posed that question to dozens in the newsroom, from top editors to rookie reporters, asking them to be candid in return for confidentiality. Of the 27 who responded, almost all said quality will suffer, at least in the short term.

Their predictions:

-- Reduced quality control.

An editor expressed fears of "an overall loss of polish and professionalism." Readers "have come to expect a certain standard, and it's going to decline in hundreds of small ways," said another. "You'll see more minor factual mistakes, more grammar errors." Added a veteran reporter: "With fewer editors, there is a greater chance things will slip into the paper."

-- Less watchdog reporting.

Most think The Post will continue to deliver exclusives and major projects, a hallmark of the paper. But they also think tighter staffing, and the need to constantly feed the Web with what one called "news nuggets," will leave little time for short-term investigative reporting that unearths corruption. "There's a loss of reporting time" when staff is stretched thin, said a seasoned reporter. "We'll be able to cover the mayor, but we won't have time to cover the agencies. That's where the dirt is."

-- Less depth.

The Post's bench strength has been badly depleted. Post management won't disclose the total number of reporters and editors who have left or remain, but more than 100 were eligible for this latest buyout. More than 100 took the previous one. In recent years, some prized talent has defected to competitors. "It has stripped us of a lot of our institutional memory," said one of the paper's stars. "We lack historical context that can guide our reporting and sharpen our stories." Several said the loss of veteran talent puts The Post at a competitive disadvantage. "We get beat more often," said one, "and when we do, we don't have the Rolodex to quickly recover."

Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli said he expects "some diminution of quality."

"This is a year of exceptional changes," he said. "We're willing to endure some distraction in the short term in order to be stronger in the long term."

Rick Edmonds, a business analyst with the Poynter Institute for media studies in Florida, said a loss of quality eventually affects a newspaper's bottom line. Loyal readers will remain despite major cutbacks in news coverage or more minor errors, he said. "But you've got people on the margin who start saying: 'I'm not so sure.'

"But I'm suspecting that The Post is going to be among the last to reach that stage with their readers," he said, because the overall quality will remain high.

He's right. The Post on its worst days remains better than most metropolitan papers on their best days.

The feedback I received suggests that staff morale is low but that commitment remains high. There's anxiety, but immense pride. Most view the changes as painful but necessary. Some say they're overdue. I agree.

Brauchli predicted that the staff will show that "even in times of great distraction, we're still capable of producing great journalism."

"All of us are trying hard to make sure none of these things [reductions in quality] happen," said Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Dana Priest. "We are journalists not because of the good pay or the bankers' hours, but because we love The Washington Post and its role in making the country stronger and better. Those motivations are not going to disappear. They will just compete with the chaos of a transition from the present to what is at the other end of this long, dark media industry tunnel."

Andrew Alexander can be reached at 202-334-7582 or at ombudsman@washpost.com. For daily updates, read the Omblog.

Monday, June 15, 2009

A.P. Moves to Share Investigative Journalism of Non-Profits

This weekend I was following the news coming out of Iran and the lack of information as to what is really happening on the ground there. Obviously, it's a difficult place to investigate news stories and this gets to the fundamental problem we have today: Good news reporting is expensive! More importantly, as newspapers close, the whole chain of news reporting is breaking. Most television news and blogs get their source information from other newspapers, not from being on the ground, so if newspapers keep folding the question then becomes who is going to pay for news reporting?

In past blogs we have covered some of the scenarios (here and here), but this weekend stuffed in the newspapers was a big announcement that the Associated Press (AP) is launching a six-month experiment in investigative journalism with various news non-profits. This is a sure sign that the media is taking steps to address the void in investigative journalism, so it will be interesting to see how it plays out.

You can find the article here.

A.P. in Deal to Deliver Nonprofits’ Journalism

Four nonprofit groups devoted to investigative journalism will have their work distributed by The Associated Press, The A.P. will announce on Saturday, greatly expanding their potential audience and helping newspapers fill the gap left by their own shrinking resources.

Starting on July 1, the A.P. will deliver work by the Center for Public Integrity, the Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University, the Center for Investigative Reporting, and ProPublica to the 1,500 American newspapers that are A.P. members, which will be free to publish the material.

The A.P. called the arrangement a six-month experiment that could later be broadened to include other investigative nonprofits, and to serve its nonmember clients, which include broadcast and Internet outlets.

“It’s something we’ve talked about for a long time, since part of our mission is to enable our members to share material with each other,” said Sue Cross, a senior vice president of The A.P. She said the development in 2006 of an Internet-based system for members to receive A.P. material made it easier to do that kind of sharing, and to offer new products like the investigative service.

As they sharply reduce their staffs, many newspapers have cut back on investigations or given them up entirely. When there are barely enough reporters to cover the daily news from the local courthouse and the school board, it is harder to justify assigning someone to an in-depth project that might take weeks or months.

At the same time, independent groups doing investigative journalism have grown in number and size, fueled by foundations and wealthy patrons, and are offering their work to newspapers, magazines, television and radio news programs, and news Web sites. ProPublica was created in 2007 and the Investigative Reporting Workshop in 2008. The Center for Investigative Reporting has operated for more than three decades, and is doubling in size. The four groups combined have more than 50 professional journalists.

Each group operates a little differently, but in general they have made deals one by one with outlets that wanted to use their work. (Though ProPublica’s Web home page also has a tab that urges “Steal Our Stories.”) But soon, their projects will be part of the stream of material The A.P. delivers to its members, and a single project could be published by dozens of newspapers.

“Our goal here is getting more eyeballs on what we do, and the nonprofit sector is really picking up steam,” said Robert Rosenthal, executive director of the Center for Investigative Reporting, based in Berkeley, Calif.

In some cases, he said, the nonprofit groups might still make exclusive arrangements with a partner in traditional media, in which case the work would not immediately go out to A.P. members.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Who's Going to Pay for Journalism?

I've talked about this before here but on Monday I came across an interesting blog posting on the Time web site about the dark future of journalism. I think a government funded news model like the BBC or a private donor funded model are the most viable options. Opponents would argue that they would be open to a corrupting of the news, but isn't that what we have today in the current advertising based model with limited hard news and celebrity cult worship? Read on below...

If the Journalism Business Fails, Who Pays for Journalism?

You can't open a newspaper—or read a newsmagazine website—these days without seeing a report wondering if X, Y or Z "can save journalism." Maybe that's the wrong question.

Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that nothing saves journalism. "Journalism," that is, as a profession and as currently constructed: a full-time job paid for by newsgathering entities through a combination of subscriptions and advertising.

[Update: Some commenters at Romenesko argue this is a narrow definition of journalism. Agreed. That's the point. It is the narrow definition implicit in all those articles about "Will _____ save journalism?" But. However you do define journalism—a term I generally hate anyway but have no substitute coinage for—it will still be practiced by human beings who need to pay rent and purchase food. Where will they get that money? And thus, how will the activity of journalism be enabled, if not by the presently-constituated profession of "journalism"? Especially if "unnamed model that someone else will invent later" is not an allowable answer? That's the question of this post.]

Let's assume—with maybe a rare few exceptions—that just goes away. Let's assume that you can improve journalism as much as you want, take advantage of the possibilities of new media as much as you want, but in general, people still simply do not want to pay for it, and it still remains worth far less to advertisers than it used to be. Let's assume newspapers fold en masse, and going online-only does not save enough money to pay people to do journalism as their chief source of income. That's gone.

What replaces it? And by that, I mean, who pays for what replaces it?

Here are a few thoughts. This is entirely thinking out loud. I'm not endorsing or decrying any of the below options. I'm not saying they would be as good as, better than, or worse than, what we have now. But anybody who cares about journalism should at least be taking a cold-eyed, honest look at them, and thinking about what they would mean:

* Day jobs. Think of this as the literary-fiction / poetry model. A lucky few, best-selling creative writers right now are able to support themselves through their work. The rest work in other fields, teach in MFA programs (basically support programs for authors) or rely on other external sources of support. (William Carlos Williams was a doctor; Wallace Stevens sold insurance.) Those who stick with it do it because they're passionate, but they don't expect ever to make a living at it. If journalism is not a revenue producer, much of it could become like freelancing—but freelancing you can't live off of.

* Crowdsourcing. This is a variation on the "day job" possibility, except that rather than a single person producing journalism "on spec," some kinds of news are drawn from amateur reports—Twitter, Flickr, etc., etc.—and gathered/moderated/curated/encouraged by editors, "community managers" or what have you. (The upshot of both this and the "day job" model might be that you may make a living at filtering or managing content, but not so much by creating it—at least, not directly, not in the old-fashioned sense.)

* Interested parties. If for-profit companies can't make a business out of reporting on issues, non-for-profits may hire more people to write and blog on their particular areas of policy interest. Matt Yglesias—who himself blogs politics for the Center for American Progress thinktank—wrote about this possibility last week. Tim Cavanaugh of Reason magazine argues that public-relations professionals could start doing more of the work of investigative reporters.

* Nonprofit foundations. There's increasing talk about trying to run news institutions funded, NPR-style, by donations or deep-pocketed sugar daddies. In practice, of course, this could be just another variation on "interested parties," above, depending how many people are willing to spend a lot of money on journalism with no agenda. (Insert discussion about whether there is such a thing here.)

* Product placements and sponsorships. Last week we saw Starbucks paying eight figures to "brew" MSNBC's Morning Joe. Former CNN reporter Miles O'Brien is seeking aerospace companies to sponsor his online reporting about aviation, according to the Washington Post. Meanwhile, the Daily Beast and other websites are using branded content or "sponsored stories."

* The business is the news outlet. But why bother contracting the work out by "sponsoring" other people's news organizations? If journalism increasingly does not work as a standalone business entity, could it be a loss leader for a business that makes money by selling stuff? Business, of course, already produce a lot of what could be called "service journalism" online. If the market can't support, say, standalone parenting magazines or websites, might Proctor & Gamble—which sells a lot of stuff to parents—want to produce its own?

* The news outlet is the business. One of my favorite local-news outlets in Brooklyn is Brownstoner, which covers the borough's events, news and real-estate market with a granularity the New York Times can't. As a business, it doesn't just rely on standard advertising; its founder is a principal in Brooklyn Flea, a popular and growing antiques, crafts, etc. market in Fort Greene. If journalism itself doesn't pay for journalism, will it become a branding tool to establish businesses that sell things people will pay for?

* Experts become journalists, instead of vice versa. We already have examples in mainstream journalism of doctors, lawyers and other professionals developing second careers as reporters and analysts on their own fields. (Sanjay Gupta and Jeffrey Toobin, for instance.) If beat reporting dwindles as a way to make a living, this could become the norm. Already, the Huffington Post relies heavily on free blogs by people—authors and other authorities—using them as a calling card to build their brands in other fields.

[Update: Via Twitter, Josh Young offers his idea—and Mitch Ratcliffe's—of paying for someone's work in exchange for greater access to and interaction with the journalist. See also Firedoglake's effort to raise contributions to fund Marcy Wheeler's investigative reporting.]

I guess all these ideas boil down to one principle: if journalism—reporting, analysis, communicating, whatever you want to call it—takes time, then someone will have to either pay for or donate that time. Any other thoughts? What do we gain from these possibilities? What do we lose?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

PDN Responds with a sort of apology...

PDN responded to the controversy with this posting yesterday. If you read the comments of Stan Banos and from Duckrabbit in the comments section, they seem to accept PDN's apology. I'm more inclined to believe that PDN followed their PR firm's advice and came up with a typical PR firm like response. It reminds me of politicians who slip-up and say what they really believe...then after much controversy refuse to claim responsibility and apologize half-heartedly. Their words were mis-interpreted. If they happened to have hurt anyone, then, that was not their intention. Blah, blah, blah.

I personally have to side with David Levi Strauss at (Notes on) Politics, Theory & Photography again. Decide for yourself.

The PDN Folks Practice the Bureaucratic Two-Step
Well, the folks at PDN have issued this statement about the color-blindness I noted in my post the day before yesterday. I suppose one might think that is something. And it is. Only it is not at all clear what sort of "thing" it is. Here is the nugget from their mea culpa:

"Yesterday some blogs circulated a note about the fact that of the 24 judges of the 2009 PDN Photo Annual contest, all of them are white. It's a valid point, and one that everyone who works on PDN’s contests has given a lot of thought. While the lack of any judges of color wasn’t intentional, it is regrettable. Thanks to the huge number of entries it draws from around the world, the Photo Annual offers us our best opportunity to see a wide range of work from different perspectives. We should make sure our judges represent a wide range of perspectives as well."

Not bad, huh? Actually, no; this is pretty lame. First, of course, Stan Banos had raised the issue with PDN way before "yesterday." So this generally glacial response conveys a certain, shall we say, lack of enthusiasm for dealing with a pretty amazingly bad judgement.

Second, the passive voice is sooooo useful when you want to deflect responsibility. No one actually did anything! So there is no need for anyone to be responsible. And, of course, there is no need to specify any steps that any specific person ("everyone who works on PDN's contests " hardly is a viable locus of decision-making) might take to avoid similar situations in the future. Eventually the statement gets around to an active sentence (the final one in the paragraph) but by then we readers have been so dulled by ass-covering-bureaucracy-speak that it is hard to notice. And, even there, there is no assignable person who will make sure that the problem is corrected in future years. The statement is signed by Holly Hughes who edits PDN. She doesn't take responsibility. Nor does she identify those who will. She just gives us the royal "we."

Try this instead:

"I failed to consider how an all white panel of judges might effect the perception of, to say nothing of the outcomes to, our contests. This oversight is a departure from our past practice. Since I recognize that theses choices have impact on the lives and careers of individuals and on the fortunes of organizations, I regret this failure. In the future I plan to do X, Y, Z to insure that our panels are not simply composed of accomplished individuals but are diverse as well. That will include making sure that there is a specific person on staff here at PDN whose job it is to scrutinize our internal practices."

Unfortunately the remainder of the statement is even less confidence inspiring.

"Past judges of PDN photo contests have included African-Americans, Latinos and Asians who work as photo editors, art directors, web designers and educators. We didn’t choose them out of tokenism. (Yesterday when we were reading the blog comments about this issue, PDN Custom Media Project Manager John Gimenez, who works with the judges during the judging process, noted that he usually doesn’t know the race of the judges until they send him their head shots, and by then the judging is done.) We don’t like to put the same judges through this grueling task too often, and the lack of diversity in the photo community as a whole means that it requires effort to compose a diverse panel year after year. But it is an effort that’s worth making. "

First, I will take the PDN folks at their word. It is great that past panels have been more diverse than the monochromatic one they put together this year. And it is great too (if we can judge by Mr. Gimenez's surname) that they even have something of an ethnically diverse staff. Your subtlety has not been lost Ms. Highes. But, I read this paragraph as an admission that any past diversity was more or less accidental. Even Mr. Gimenez didn't know the composition of the panel he was working with until he saw their head shots! Well, that is wholly beside the point, really. Is Mr. Gimenez responsible in any way for selecting the panels or for identifying in advance rosters of individuals who might be solicited to serve as a judge? If the profession is so bereft of accomplished men and women of color, one would think that whomever put the panels together would have been taking great care to try to insure a diverse group of judges. There is no indication that that has been the case. I have no confidence, based on this statement from PDN that anything will actually change. Do you?
P.S.: In a related matter, yesterday PDN published this interesting interview with Miriam Romais on "Confronting the Photo Industry's Lack of Diversity." In her statement Ms. Hughes explicitly states that "our interview with Romais was not spurred by questions about PDN’s own commitment to diversity. " Of course not. The interview had been in the works for some time. But are we to believe it is wholly conincidental that PDN managed to finally respond to Stan Banos on the very same day that it published the interview? I was born at night, but not last night!

The interview is insightful. It addresses the scope of the difficulty that confronts not only photography but most professions. But it does two things in the current context. First, it allows the PDN folks to divert attention from a quite specific problem - the composition of their panel of judges - by pointing to a broader, undeniably troubling, pattern. Second, given that the interview has been in the works for so long, it makes one wonder why the PDN folks could not look in the mirror and see the specific ways they were contributing to the overall pattern by neglecting diversity in their panel of judges.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Chiming in on the PDN Controversy

I came across, what I think, is an intelligent commentary on the recent PDN controversy at one of the blogs I follow, (Notes on) Politics, Theory & Photography. The debate should be played out in public, although I feel most people are going to avoid the controversy for fear that it could some how adversely effect their careers. Photographers often quote Elie Wiesel's famous refrain "...to remain silent and indifferent is the greatest sin of all...", we'll see if others will step forward and condemn PDN or remain cynically indifferent.

Here's the blog posting...

Life here in bucolic Western NY has been unusually wacky lately. So I am late calling attention to this matter. But the inimitable Stan Banos has pointed out something odd about the emperor's new suit. And he has rightly chastised me for not speaking out too. Stan has (now repeatedly) pointed out the exclusively Caucasian character of panels of winners and judges at PDN (Photo District News). Most recently he has pointed out - here - that the panel of 24 judges that named the "players" in the 2009 PDN Photo Annual is completely, totally, without exception white folks ~ an "all white jury" as he named it. Stan's observation has been taken up by a number of bloggers - David White and Benjamin Chesterton at duckrabbit have offered a $1K bounty for anyone who can rationalize the pattern Stan observed, and Pete Brook at Prison Photography, Rob Haggart at A Photo Editor have been egging everyone on. Good.

The issue here is not quotas or tokens. The issue is change. Sure, one can lament (even sincerely so) the disproportionately small numbers of racial and ethnic minorities in any field of endeavor. (As an academic, this is a standard lament.) Photography is not alone in that. But in part the problem is to find ways to alter that state of the world. And hand wringing is not enough. Having people of color* in positions of influence when prizes are decided upon, grants awarded, short lists compiled, photo-spreads assigned, shows mounted, Kudos bestowed, and so forth is a good place to start. For those are the very people who are more likely (I suspect) to notice the otherwise invisible - the young, the aspiring, the overlooked or obscure.** And, as I have mentioned here before, there are good systematic reasons to claim that diversity contributes to better decision-making in groups and organizations period.

And, by the way, Pete Brook suggests that the pattern Stan observed is "passive racism." I tend to disagree. Why? Because Stan had already called their attention to the matter - in a letter to the editor that they published last year. This seems like more or less conscious indifference on the part of the folks at PDN. And if the members of the jury - this goes for each and every one of the 24 members - sat around a table (or, if they didn't meet physically, even simply looked down the list of names) and did not recognize and object to the obviously monochromatic composition of the group, are we to suppose that they simply failed to notice? If they did why should we want their judgment on anything ? Perhaps worst of all, thus far no one from PDN or the jury seems to have the gumption to even address the issue. Could it be that they simply and truly do not give a shit?
* Before all the resentful cries arise, need I say accomplished people of color? Let's grant that there are plenty of mediocre white guys in positions of influence across the professions, photography included. We surely don't want to replicate that state of affairs. I am not suggesting having African-American or Hispanic or Asian members on the jury just because they are of whatever particular variety they happen to be. I am suggesting that accomplishment - as photographer, editor, curator, gallery owner, or whatever - can be your first filter and race, ethnicity, gender and so forth a second.

** Sonia Sotomayor is right about that with respect to judges more generally.

Monday, June 8, 2009

And on a lighter note...

Why Freelancing is Hard

I recently taught two classes of photojournalism at the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona in a post-graduate level course. At the beginning of the class I asked every student to state their name, where they were from and what field of photography of photojournalism they wanted to enter. With the exception of one student everyone said they wanted to do freelance "reportage" work. Were they all crazy or just clueless???

Here's why....

Why Freelancing Is Freakin’ Hard

Rock climbing is hard, and so is freelancing. Despite how magnificent it can be to work for yourself, there are some things about freelancing that just plain suck. And no matter where you specialize, these vicious drawbacks usually find a way of asserting themselves.

What drawbacks am I talking about?

* Dealing with the feast & famine cycle
* Managing every aspect of business entirely on your own
* Finding time to market yourself, do client work, deal with clients, keep up the administrative stuff, and still grow the business
* Balancing work and life (and often family) while dealing with all of the above
* Getting sick, going on vacation, or otherwise not working 24/7 while still dealing with all of the above

Now if you only look at these negatives, freelancing seems like a pretty bad idea — that’s definitely not the case. It’s important to acknowledge the challenges of freelancing, though, so that you can manage them and learn to free yourself from the usual limitations.

And that’s what we’re going to do in this article.

The Feast and Famine Cycle

This is a problem that most freelancers deal with painfully at the beginning of their career — and usually still manage later on too (hopefully with less pain).

It starts when you have lots of free time and very few clients, when the obvious thing to do is to market a lot. After marketing for a while you’ll get clients and eventually start running out of time — and then you’ll stop marketing (because you’re packed with work and have no time). Finally, when you’ve managed to hammer through those client projects and finish all of the work, you’re left with very few clients again, and the cycle repeats.

What to do about it
The feast and famine cycle is primarily a problem of time. If you can shave a bit of time off of your client work, and automate some of your marketing, you’ll do a lot to alleviate the stress. You can also even things out by building alternate sources of income that are steadier than client work.
Managing Everything Yourself

Like the feast and famine cycle, this is the hardest at the beginning, but the problem never fully goes away. Truth be told, managing every aspect of a growing business is incredibly difficult to do on your own, regardless of how much experience you have.

The root of the issue is that there is simply too much information for any one person to handle. It’s like trying to view an entire atlas at one time — you can’t do it unless you flip to the front and look at the “general” map that doesn’t have all of the details.

It’s the same for freelancing. Very, very, very few people can think about the accounting, legal, marketing, customer support, industry, and strategy/growth aspects of their business at the same time. Trying to plan, manage, and schedule all of these by yourself is a recipe for disaster.

So don’t try to do it alone.
The solution to this problem is an easy one — get help from other people. You shouldn’t do your own accounting, let an accountant do it for you. If you can delegate the less important tasks, and only focus on what’s important to you, then your business is likely to be in much better shape.
Doing Everything Yourself

If thinking about and managing everything is a problem, than actually doing it is much worse.

Let’s say you’ve found help from an accountant, and you’re using some tools to help with the marketing. That still leaves an enormous amount of work to be done by you — enough that you’ll eventually run into an earnings plateau and have a hard time making more than that. How happy you are with that number and how much time it requires to maintain it will depend on how well you’ve handled the other problems.

But what if your income weren’t time limited? What if there were ways to leverage your time so that you get more work done with less effort? There are…

The way to beat these time and earnings limitations by working with other people. You could outsource some of your work, you could work with other freelancers, you could find partnerships. You can create an entire distributed team. With these concepts time is no longer a limiting factor on your income.
Maintaining a Work/Life Balance

The hardest part about all of this is that freelancers don’t work in a vacuum, separated from everything else. We have lives, families, hobbies, and many other things that demand our time. We just can’t work all day and all night.

Not to mention, freelancers who do work all day and all night typically end up burning out in a spectacular ball of flames (yep, I’ve done that).

How to keep a healthy balance
The trick to keeping a good work/life balance is pretty easy, at least in theory. It tends to be very difficult to actually put into practice.

The ’secret’ is to set limits. Only work during set hours. Deal with clients during designated periods. Take breaks at regular intervals throughout the day.

Unfortunately, there aren’t many ways to make it easier, though having more time overall will help. So in a way you’re lucky: dealing with the other problems we’ve mentioned will help alleviate this one too :-)
Planning for emergencies

Perhaps the worst thing that can happen to a freelancer is getting so sick that they can’t work. Losing the only employee of a one-person business is devastating, and it can happen without warning.

So what can you do?

There are a few ways you can deal with this. The first is to have someone ready to answer emails or take phone calls in your absence. It doesn’t have to be a good solution, it just needs to work in an emergency.

The second part is to have someone you can call to take over some of your work if it becomes absolutely necessary. I recommend working with other freelancers on a regular basis anyhow, which makes setting up a situation like this even easier.

If you have those two pieces standing by, unexpected emergencies will be a lot easier to deal with.
So what’s the big answer?

As we hinted at throughout the article, the answer to these problems is to treat your freelancing more like a business and less like a job. Start building systems that save you time, start working with other people where it’s valuable to you, and start to build assets that bring in some steady money.

Of course, doing all of this can be very difficult, and there’s not a lot of information out there. Which is why, I’m happy to say, we’ve been working on an ebook for the past several months that outlines exactly how to do all of these things — in detail. If you find yourself dealing with these problems, I highly recommend you check it out.

Find more great posts about Freelancing here.