User-generated content is the future of newspapers, so it was only a matter of time before the L.A. Times added a flickr-linked photo feature to its web site. The decision came about as a result of the web team looking for ways to engage the readership and finding that the in-house methods they tried just didn’t catch on. The new flickr group was started in early December, and every day they’ll choose a photo to feature on L.A. Now and Southern California Moments.
It’s expected that some photographers will be upset over the idea that the L.A. Times is just one more news site to take advantage of user-generated content without compensating the contributors. Which, is a very valid position and something I agree with most of the time.
I rarely contribute to web sites that aren’t willing to pay for material, and as a group, it’s best that photographers (and all content providers really) not chum themselves to feeding sharks on a daily basis. But I am not against working pro bono and will definitely contribute work on occasion to quality websites and online social media projects.
For instance, I did a non-paid assignment for LAist.com last year, and after the subjects saw the completed photo essay I was asked if they could use my work for free in their yearly brochure. I said no for various reasons. And to prove a point, I asked if the printer who was producing the brochures was not being paid as well. I did the initial assignment for free because I was interested in the subject and I’m friends with the writer. I was also able to visit a part of California that I had never seen before, too.
Prior to that, I contributed a photo to Found Magazine because I thought that an old Polaroid I discovered in an abandoned house showing someone dressed like the bunny from Donnie Darko, pre-DONNIE DARKO!, was the most awesomest thing ever! Fans of the magazine thought so too once the photo was published on Found’s website. But around the same time, my photo of Superman and Hulk “lighting-up” appeared on a very popular website that generates revenue — without my permission or credit. I emailed the admins to remove the image from the site immediately and they did so.
And currently, I’m photographing Stephen Box’s Los Angeles City Council campaign gratis because I support his overall message and really want him to win the upcoming District 4 election in March. On the other hand, I did state that the photos cannot be used by any local media free of charge.
Finally, I would absolutely never provide cell phone video or still images of a breaking news story to any news agency (a common occurrence nowadays) without compensation because I know that the paid staff reporters who didn’t arrive on the scene early enough to get decent footage of the actual event are stuck shooting b-roll shots of police tape and cops standing around their cruisers.
Now I realize that this may seem like one big contradiction.
However, if you’re a self-taught photographer with few connections to editors and paying assignments, you have to evaluate each situation and make decisions that are best for you in order to get your work the attention it deserves. And the L.A. Times’ Southern California Moments seems like it could be a good opportunity for talented photographers who are working diligently to get their work some exposure. There’s also the slight possibility that someone will see your work featured on the site and hire you for a job. So unless you’re truly happy with just flickr’s way of “promoting” your work, then why not contribute?
Plus, it’s a great feeling to know that an L.A. Times staff member thinks your work is good enough to share with their readers. Especially when the newspaper already has Don Bartletti, Barbara Davidson, Rick Loomis, Luis Sinco, and Carolyn Cole on their staff. I mean, with a dream team like that, it’s not like they’re lacking any amazing images of So Cal moments or existing content that actually drives traffic to the site. (Have you seen Davidson’s recent photo essay Victims of Gang Violence? Awards are coming for that great piece of reporting.)
On the other end of the photographer spectrum, there are probably a lot of hobbyists who could care less about compensation, exposure, or even know who Don Bartletti or Carolyn Cole are. They’ll be happy just to see their work on a major news site like the L.A. Times because it will give them something to show to their family and friends.
But more important, after talking with Martin Beck, the paper’s reader engagement and social media editor, via email, he assured me that the L.A. Times flickr group is not intended to be a “free source of file or stock art.” Which is a good thing to hear from a working journalist, who also added that he empathizes with folks who aren’t being paid for their work. So based on that, I believe that both he and Web Producer Armand Emamdjomeh have the best intentions regarding this project, and I’m going to contribute my work — which, you might want to consider doing too.
To join the Los Angeles Times’ flickr group, go here.
Photo by Shawn Nee