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.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Tired of the abusive clients? Here's some comic relief.

The killer for me was when an agency of the UN came to me saying they didn't have a budget to pay for the use of a photo. I mean, come on the United Nations! For a laugh watch this video that's floating around on client relations.

Friday, June 5, 2009

MediaStorm Multimedia Piece: Driftless

MediaStorm has a new multimedia piece on life in rural Iowa entitled Driftless. It's well worth watching as it integrates still photography, ambient sound and really well done video. Kudos to Danny Wilcox Frazier.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Fight For Your Rights

You've got to fight for your rights to...digital images? Paul Melcher over at Blackstar Rising asks the question and proposes 10 Ways to Fight for Your Digital Rights as a Photographer. For all you up and comers who write me asking if you should give your images away because it's good publicity...fahgedabodit! Well the same thing applies to digital images and here's why:

Fighting for your digital rights would seem to be an uphill battle these days. Let’s face it; the rights of photographers have been badly battered.

First came Google, when it won the case to publish images in its search results without paying anything. Then came National Geographic and others, republishing entire issues on CD-ROM without paying additional fees. Even today, the magazine industry poor-mouths its way to paying pennies for images on Web sites that now have bigger circulations than the corresponding print editions.

And yet, many in the photo industry still view the Web as their savior. The question is, How so?

An image posted on the home page of a site that receives one million hits per week is not licensed at the same price as an image on the cover of a weekly magazine that has one million readers. Why is that?

What makes publishers believe that images online are worth less than those in print? What makes photographers and photo agencies agree?

Most of the discourse is about how a magazine’s online edition generates far less revenue than its print edition. Since when has that been the concern of photographers and agencies? Is this now one of our responsibilities — to guarantee revenue on top of licensing images?

It shouldn’t be.

Here are 10 ways we — all of us in the industry — can fight back.

1. Stop treating “digital rights” as an add-on to a license. Maybe we should make “print rights” as an additional right. We should treat Web usage as a full-blown license of its own.

2. Stop licensing images online as “one week on home page” or “one day inside, 1/4 page.” A Web site is not a magazine; it doesn’t work that way. We should also stop making a distinction between commercial and editorial usage. Most editorial sites have a hundred times more traffic than corporate sites. We should treat the Web as an entity. It has measurable traffic — much more so than a magazine. Charge a license based on traffic; that is how sites charge advertisers, isn’t it?

3. Don’t buy into the poverty talk. Many editorial sites today have a budget bigger than their print siblings. As publications close their print editions for online only, they shift their budgets. Some with the biggest traffic charge $400,000 for a one-day banner ad.

4. Don’t buy the “it’s good publicity” argument. How many images have you ever licensed because one of your images appeared online? Would you offer your images for pennies to a print magazine because it’s “good publicity”?

5. Stop believing that because the image is of a smaller size and only 72 dpi, it has less value. That is like saying that if an image is used in B/W, although it was shot in color, it has less value. Where does that come from? The value of an image has nothing to do with the numbers of pixels it has — nothing. Does a Cartier-Bresson or Leibovitz image lose value with fewer pixels?

6. Stop waiting for others to act. Stop expecting someone else to show you the way. Google is taking your rights away, yet you turn a blind eye. Call that association to which you pay a hefty membership fee, and tell them to act. Tell your agency to stop giving away your rights and your images. And if they don’t, leave them. This is your problem, now. Not someone else’s in the future. It’s not going to go away; it’s only going to get worse.

7. Focus less on what to shoot next — and more on licensing what you already have. Unless we start dealing with the issues at hand, those magical pictures you plan to shoot in the future will only generate a fraction of what your existing images can.

8. Stop being beggars. Your images are needed. In fact, they are the core value of many publications and Web sites. These publishers are not doing you a favor by using your work; you are bringing them the value they need in order to run their business. What you do is unique. Trust me, if they could do it themselves and shut you out, they would. But they can’t.

9. Stop being technophobes. It’s not cute anymore. All the information is at your fingertips. Read, learn. Saying you don’t understand is no excuse anymore. You shoot digital, don’t you? So stop the crap about how you do not understand RSS feeds or HTML, or anything Web-related. No one buys it — and if they do, it’s only so they can squeeze more out of you.

10. Stop being afraid. Stop being afraid of losing clients, afraid of tomorrow, afraid of big corporations, afraid of your own decisions. The images you shoot or that you license have the value you give them. Bargain if necessary, until you have no breath left. And leave the table if you have to.

Your images are like your children. Don’t let them be mistreated.

You can go directly to the article here

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

More on Salgado

Following my posting yesterday on Salgado and the slide show from The New York Times, I am posting another link of an interview with Salgado from the Guardian. Salgado is such an inspiration, not only because of his outstanding work and dedication to it, but because he made a career change in his late 30's after working as an economist. There's hope for all of us fallen financial types.

Enjoy the interview:

I was in Kuwait in 1991. The first Gulf war had just finished, but the oil wells were still burning. To get into the country, I had to go to Saudi Arabia and hire a four-wheel drive the colour of the sand - because that was the colour of the US army vehicles. Then, to cross the border, someone told me to find a card in the same sort of colours as a US army ID card and wave it upside-down. Nobody stopped me, and I got through.

What was incredible inside Kuwait was the sense of being in this huge theatre the size of the planet, with these oil wells burning all around. Sometimes you would go two or three days without any sunlight getting through the vast clouds of black smoke, then suddenly the sky would open. It was also quite dangerous. There were unexploded cluster bombs in the sand. A journalist and a photographer were killed when a slick of oil ignited as they crossed it.

This photograph comes from a series of pictures I made with a group of specialist firefighters from Canada, who were trying to deal with a blazing oil well. Putting out the fire took days and days, but that wasn't the biggest problem, even though they then had to light another smaller fire, so that a lake of oil did not accumulate around them. It was capping the well, for these guys, that was hell. Saddam Hussein's men had used a large number of explosives, leaving the wellhead badly deformed. Because Kuwait is at the lowest point of a vast Middle Eastern oil field, the pressure was enormous, pushing the oil out with a noise like a 747's engines. Everything was completely black. You couldn't hear anyone speak.

It was an incredibly dangerous place to work, because the oil was very light, much like the fuel in cars - so it catches fire very quickly, and its smell is very strong. At one point, one of the Canadians got too close, inhaled too much gas, and fell down unconscious. Meanwhile, as these guys worked away with their tools and instruments, they knew that if they touched metal against metal hard enough to create a spark, a fire would have engulfed them. As I was photographing, we did sometimes have a kind of explosion, as gas burst up through the well, but it did not ignite. The firefighters were making a lot of money, of course, but the work was so tiring and so tough that a few times I saw some of them just sit down and cry.

Working in the middle of all this was extraordinary. One of my lenses got warped by the heat, so I was left with just two: a 35mm and a 60mm. This obliged me to stay very close to these guys the whole time. As a result, I was covered in oil, and felt so involved with the danger, the environment, the strange beauty and the hard work that was happening in front of me. The only way I could keep going was to carry a two-litre tank of petrol and a roll of kitchen paper inside my photo bag. I would put some petrol on the kitchen roll, clean my hands, the lens and the back of the camera, then go in again. Eventually, I felt part of the team, working with them for many days. We all became very close.

I work on stories rather than individual pictures. But for me, this one picture was special: it's an incredible shot of two guys trying to cap a well. They are completely covered in oil and one of them is standing like a statue that has become black over time. It reminds me of those images you see from the first world war, in the grey light of Verdun. The moment I took it,

I knew it would be good. At the same time, I was very afraid. My mouth was dry. That evening, when I got back to my hotel in Kuwait City, I found my jaw was tense and my gums were in pain from gritting my teeth all day long. But I had to be there to take these pictures. I knew I was witnessing powerful, extraordinary things that would not happen again.
Curriculum vitae

Born: Aimorés, Brazil, 1944.

Studied: "I am a former economist. I never went to photography school to learn photography."

Inspirations: "Bill Brandt was an incredible photographer. The many different studies he did in England - miners, nudes, life during the second world war - were important to me."

High point: "When I was starting out, when I put aside my career as an economist. I looked at every book, went to every show, did my first stories, developed my first films. A fabulous time."

Pet hate: "Photography has become a small world with so many jealous people. You do a story and then a lot of people try to do the same thing."

* guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2009

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Salgado featured in the New York Times

About a year ago I was in the offices of Contact Press, an agency in New York. The guy I was meeting with said, "this is your lucky day as Sebastião Salgado is here. He said, he's very frustrated as he simply feels like he just isn't making it in this profession any more. He just can't live off the few publications he gets each month." That sure was an omen of things to come.

So as not to lead in to a negative rant about the state of photojournalism, let's just celebrate some wonderful photography of Salgado on The New York Times site