Pomp & Circumstance: The Future for Photojournalism Grads

I’ve seen a lot of really talented, young photographers coming out of various colleges and universities in the past few years, their portfolios showcasing meaningful images of social concern such as poverty and drug use. Their slick, digital portfolios transition from classic reportage to subtle portraiture and on to sports related imagery effortlessly as soft music guides the viewer along. Such a presentation reflects the clear direction of photojournalism programs to prepare the next generation of photographers for the world that awaits them once the cap and gown come off.

Too bad that world is poised to chew them up and spit them out.

There’s no argument that students today are aptly prepared to create quality images. They take classes ranging from photojournalism to audio/video, from lighting to sports action. They learn quickly how to create beautiful presentations of their work before graduating. But that’s merely the technical side of the equation. Important, yes, but less so if the business part of the education is neglected.

Photojournalism programs need to evaluate how well prepared their students are for today’s environment because it’s drastically different from even five years ago. And the evolution is hardly complete.

Which begs the question that should be on everyone’s mind: How will the emerging class of photojournalists earn a living?

Twenty years ago it wasn’t difficult to find a staff photographer job at a local paper upon graduation. Today? Good luck. First, if a local paper still exists, it’s likely been trimmed to the point of near non-existence. Although some community papers are weathering the publishing downfall better than their big city brothers, many across the nation have disappeared. And their larger counterparts have suffered even more. Mid and large size newspapers with sizable photo staffs like the Rocky Mountain News, Seattle Post Intelligencer, Honolulu Advertiser (this week), Albuquerque Tribune, Tucson Citizen and The Christian Science Monitor are just a few named by the website http://newspaperdeathwatch.com/ that have vanished. Some have moved to online only, but the point remains crystal clear. Staff jobs, once a meaningful way to enter the photojournalism profession, have gone the way of the afternoon paperboy and the mom-and-pop hardware store. And rest assured they are not coming back.

That being indisputable, the vast majority of graduates will exchange their rented cap and gown for a career in freelancing. Mind you, the vast majority of graduating students I’ve personally taught and spoken with have absolutely no experience or knowledge about the most prevalent issues freelancers encounter on a daily basis.

Ask them about copyright, licensing, work-for-hire and other contractual issues and you’re likely to be met with stone cold silence. Inquire about their understanding of creative fees, expenses, flat fees, space over rate fees, guarantees versus day rates, and other assignment fees and you might as well be talking to a wall. Ask them about distribution arrangements and it’ll be like asking them to explain how a CMOS sensor works. “Huh,” they’ll grunt. “How do you plan to get your photos seen?”, the teacher will ask. “Oh, either Facebook or Flickr, I have accounts at both,” the student will likely respond.

Far fetched? Hardly.

The point is that a photojournalist’s education must include a thorough foray into the business world. Not a lecture or two, but an entire semester at the minimum. Doing otherwise is like graduating a mechanic with his new set of shiny, Craftsman tools but who has no idea how to start building a motor. What’s the point? You’re short-handing the student before their career even starts.

With freelancing careers by far the norm now and in the future, we owe it to our own profession to prepare them well. By doing so, we all contribute to the growth of the industry in a healthy manner. Too many of us already have seen the repercussions from photographers who don’t know the value of their copyright or who don’t understand what “use in perpetuity and in all mediums” actually means as far as dollars and cents. The institutions of higher learning owe it to their students to give them the business sense necessary to sustain themselves in today’s world. Otherwise, the majority of the graduates will face a uncertain career marked by an inability to provide for themselves, much less a family, without taking on a different career path.

And that’s no stretch at all.


Flag Day: My Eyes Have Seen………

Home school Pledge of Allegiance

I’ve worked at home and I’ve worked abroad,

Where I’ve seen the flag displayed,

I’ve watched the pride of a student’s pledge,

Vowing allegiance to the USA,

I’ve seen the bigots use old glory,

While shouting words of hate,

Members of Westboro Baptist Church

I’ve seen the flag fly upside down,

By a people in dismay,

From right and left and center too,

The flag will always fly,

An American symbol,

There’s no doubt,

Of democracy by and by

Why Steal? My Letter to a Special Forces Website

Please, people, show some common dignity and respect and don’t pilfer work off of my site to put in your newsletters, blogs, websites, or social media.

Remember, just because you can doesn’t mean you should. The digital era with it’s ease of sharing doesn’t make it right to pilfer work that takes significant time, money and effort to create on my end.

I just discovered yet another person using a copyrighted image of mine without permission. To top it off, he’s a proud member of America’s special forces and runs a website called specialforces.com. His name, according to the website, is Dave Thomas. I’ve included below my standard response to him. I spend so much time informing image thieves these days that I simply saved a formal letter and copy it into an email. Sad, but true:

Mr Dave Thomas,

It has come to my attention that you are using a copyrighted image of mine in your newsletter posted online here http://www.specialforces.com/newsletter/2010_06/index.html. The image accompanies a story titled “On a California ranch, signs of a slowdown in illegal immigration”.

I appreciate your interest in my work, but please understand that the image is copyrighted and you are in violation of the law by using it without prior, written consent. If you would like to obtain a license to publish the image, please do so either by going directly through my website (link below) or contacting me via this email account.

Further, understand that I have put a lot of time, money and effort into documenting all perspectives of the border issue and rely heavily on licensing of my work to support my documentary endeavors. Using my images without permission is tantamount to taking a photograph from a store without paying. I am certain this was not your intention, yet nonetheless it carries the same legal weight.

Once again, I appreciate your interest and you are welcome to obtain proper permission to use my image. However, I am also obligated to state that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 stipulates that I inform you of your violation and instruct you to either remove the image immediately, obtain a license or face a legal challenge for copyright violation.

Show some restraint, people, and respect the work others put on the web to share. A simple link to my site is not only legal and respectful, it’s also very appreciated. If you want to put an actual  image of mine on your site, please just contact me for a license. And all of you creative professionals out there,  feel free to contact Mr Thomas on my behalf. Maybe he’ll take notice. His email is specialforces@specialforces.com


Senator McCain and his Pandering on Immigration Reform

Tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Los Angeles to protest against the new Arizona law, SB 1070, that created strict immigration laws against the undocumented.

Nothing drives me crazier than hypocrisy. Nothing makes me want to run into traffic more than a politician who blatantly flip flops on issues and then blames the “interpretation” or “the media” for “misinterpreting” remarks. Folks, when a politician introduces and/or supports legislation, the bill works it’s way through congress. It’s pretty hard to “misinterpret” the clear wording on a bill.

On this election day, consider the opportunistic king of immigration pandering, Senator John McCain. Here is a man who has served his country in war and in congress. He has my profound respect in that regard. But stand your ground, Senator. Don’t pander to the right wing “tea party” activists simply because your poll numbers are down. Sure, you’re in a reelection campaign, but wouldn’t you rather lose knowing you fought for your beliefs than win knowing you changed your stance to retain your job? Sad…….

Read the LA Times story here. If you’ve paid attention, as I have, over the years to immigration issues, you’re well aware that Senator McCain has fought long and hard on the issue. After all, Arizona is on the US/Mexico border. But you’ll also recall, as the LA Times analysis does, that Senator McCain was pushing for legalization of undocumented immigrants and that building a fence was not sufficient. He called for comprehensive immigration reform in a floor speech five years ago whereby a guest worker program, additional security, and a path to citizenship for the undocumented was unveiled. To hear him now, you’d think he always advocated standing on the border with a assault rifle and nothing else. Sure, he took political heat for it back then and alienated a few staunch Republicans, but that’s politics.

Stand for your beliefs. Don’t pander, Senator. You are well versed on the intricacies of the US/Mexico border. Your state is going in the wrong direction. Be the hero you were in war and turn it around. Do what you advocated doing five years ago and fight for true reform as opposed to fighting for your job.

One Hour with John Wooden

When you meet a legend, you don’t expect him to answer the door.

When you meet John Wooden, he’ll apologize for not having answered the door quicker.

When you meet a legend, you don’t expect to be greeted like a truly important person.

When you meet John Wooden, you discover he’s as interested in you as you are in him.

When you meet a legend, you don’t expect to find he lives in a small, unpretentious town house in the “Valley.”

When you meet John Wooden, you discover his home feels like your home, warm and comfortable.

Legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden

I only met John Wooden once, but it was one of the greatest hours in my life. I arrived to shoot a portrait of the legendary UCLA basketball coach at his home and left with the feeling that I had just learned more from listening and conversing with Mr. Wooden than at any other time in my life. His demeanor, speaking tone, genuineness and strong opinions on etiquette, sportsmanship and civility were embedded in me during that assignment.

Now, as I reflect on a man I pray will live for 20 more years (he’s 99), I am reminded of the book “The Five People You Meet in Heaven.” The novel spins a tale about how one person can impact another person so deeply, even in a passing moment, that you will meet them again in heaven. I can assure you that Mr. Wooden would not remember our hour together years ago, but I can assure him that he will be one of the five people I meet in heaven.

That’s the impact that John Wooden, small in stature but enormous in life, had on me.

NOTE: Moments after posting this Mr Wooden passed away. His life was lived in full and may he find the eternal happiness he so deserves)

My Time with US/Mexico Border Rancher Robert Maupin

Bob Maupin (r) patrols his ranch, at dusk in eastern San Diego, for undocumented immigrants.

The Los Angeles Times profiled a US/Mexico border rancher today on the top of the front page. I know the man well.

Close to 20 yrs ago I became somewhat obsessed as a photojournalist with the US/Mexico border. Much of that was because of the work done by LA Times photographer Don Bartletti, now a Pulitzer Prize winning photojournalist. After spending time along the border in San Diego I noticed a new migrant trend and followed my instinct by heading nearly 100 miles east into the rugged mountains dotted by small towns and fiercely independent people. What I subsequently discovered was a world where people like Robert Maupin, the subject of today’s LA Time’s feature, were being overwhelmed in sheer numbers by undocumented immigrants crossing their border properties. After a while, Bob Maupin let me start to document his own border patrol. The numbers have changed, but a recent trip back to do some more shooting revealed that Bob still patrols and repairs his cut fence.

I worked on this personal project for over a year and the NY Times Sunday Magazine eventually published a three page spread. After that, many media outlets contacted Bob and requested interviews to profile his personal border patrol. Is it vigilantism? .

Will the migrant trend come full circle now that Arizona is cracking down even more fiercely with controversial laws and National Guard troops? Time will tell, but one thing is for certain. Bob is always armed.

Speaking of Arizona. Their latest attempt at driving undocumented immigrants out of the state is to pursue a new law that strips American citizenship from anyone born in Arizona to undocumented immigrants. What’s the problem with such a pursuit? Simply the 14th amendment clearly states “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.

Alma Stauth, in white, at her baby shower. Alma is an undocumented immigrant who was brought here as a toddler.

Now the state of Arizona wants to go further and change the Constitution. After SB1070 which will result in a violation of civil rights and a ban on ethnic studies in the state’s schools, it should come as no surprise that Arizona want’s to rewrite the US Constitution. Good luck………