Category "Working"

Is There Still Hope For Newspapers? David Simon Of The Wire Thinks So

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Jonathan, sent me a link to David Simon’s blog awhile back and in the comments of the introduction he gets into a debate with someone about the future of newspapers. I know he’s right about the problem and solution, and despite the occasional idiotic moves by clueless investor/owners the industry will rise from the ashes soon. (I would not bet against Buffett on this.)

The media landscape has indeed changed and is still changing, and honestly, you’re missing it.

Yes, in the past, circulation didn’t support the paper — it was a loss leader. Advertising revenues supported the paper. Why? Because of the costs of circulation: Newsprint, presses, pressmen, trucks, gas, etc. It cost money to get a newspaper to a doorstep, regardless of how much coin you could charge for the product.

But now? Take a long breath and think about it.

Now, for the first time in the history of prose journalism, every paid subscription to a newspaper operating with a paywall is pure profit, save for the static costs of maintaining the digital website. The world has flipped and slowly, belatedly, the newspaper industry is realizing it. In fact, the reason the industry leaders failed to see it for too long was that they were wedded — as you are still wedded — to the model in which advertising with the god of revenue and circulation was the loss leader. But that isn’t true digitally. Now the future of journalism lies in paywalls and a paid circulation base. Now digital advertising can’t command sufficient rates to support first-rate journalism. (You’re wrong about that, too. Digital advertising on free webpages can only command pennies on the dollar of the print ad rates that once sustained journalism.) But digital circulation can sustain such an enterprise. And is doing so: The New York Times goes to a paywall and now has 700,000 paid subscriptions, and on the strength of that figure is being upgraded by Wall Street analysts. Next quarter they will be back in the black for the first time in many a year.

People always paid to have the paper come to their doorstep. Eventually, they’ll pay to have it available on their digital devices. As they are doing with the NYT. And the Wall Street Journal. And the FT. And even some regional papers and chains are now experimenting. Would it have been easier if they had not let the horse out of the barn for a decade or more? If they hadn’t eviscerated themselves in cost-cutting and ushered so much talent and content out of the newsrooms? Of course.

But they did and now the only road back is to nuture the paid subscription model and use revenues to reinvest in the coverage that people want and can’t get otherwise. And digital subscription revenue — which is now profit, not a loss leader as it was in the days of newsprint — will sustain the news-gathering function of a professional newsroom. The NYT at the top of the foodchain is proving it and most every other newspaper chain in the country is either following them or preparing to do so. This is the end of the beginning of a very dark and misplayed era for professional journalism.

Do the research. You’ll see that your argument is about two years behind the actual trend in the industry. Kind of embarrassing when you label people as Old Media and New Media, but then you go on to miscalculate your argument based on an Old Media model that no longer actually applies.

Then in a follow up comment

Every major newspaper chain — every single one — is now planning to eventually maintain paywalls. Again, it is end of the beginning.

You are used to a world that is unsustainable. News organizations have realized they must find a way to create a revenue stream through digitized delivery, and they are engaged in doing so. Your ability to get the best journalism for free is going to become less and less and at some point, if you want to have professional journalism, you’ll pay $10 or $15 or $20 a month for it. As readers did when it landed on their doorsteps every day.

And if the industry really gets their shit together down the road, it will get to the point where you’ll sign up with a consortium for digital access to your choice of various national, regional and local media. As with your cable bill. You want the NYT and the local regional paper and SI.com or ESPN and the WSJ, check those boxes and send the monthly bill. Sound crazy? Don’t see why it would be. We all once got television for free. Eventually, they ran the cable into our homes and now we spend $40 or $50 or $100 a month for television. And that revenue supports a multitude of programming that didn’t exist a couple generations ago. Same thing can happen with journalism. But job one is having the major papers get behind the paywall.

Read it all here: David Simon | Introduction.

Taking pictures on an offshore oil rig is serious business

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This is fascinating. I’m sure there are lots of photography jobs with very strict requirements like this one. Would be fun to do a column on all the weird photo jobs out there. If anyone has one they want to write about let me know.

For starters, due to the risk of flammable gas coming up the oil well, normal electronics are banned outside the living quarters. Smartphones are strictly forbidden and regular cameras require “hot work permits” be opened prior to use.

The idea behind the permit system is that all potentially-hazardous activities must be centrally coordinated by a responsible/accountable person, to ensure that risks are managed appropriately and ongoing operations do not interfere with each other. The permit must be signed by the rig’s on-board management and posted in a central location. The permit then expires when the approver’s shift ends. Even once the permit is approved, you still need to carry a gas detection device when taking pictures, to provide a warning if flammable gas is present. It’s kind of a pain.

So to avoid that hassle, we use explosion-proof cameras. It sounds cooler than it is.

The first time I ever heard the term “explosion-proof,” it was at a job interview for an environmental toxicity testing facility. We were doing a tour and I saw the words “EXPLOSION-PROOF” in big red lettering on the side of a refrigerator! My mind immediately went to putting bombs inside it for safety, but all it really meant was that the fridge would not act as an ignition source if flammable materials (solvents, etc) were placed inside. Kind of disappointing.

Flash forward about six years, and working with explosion-proof equipment is now a part of my job responsibilities. We use airtight seals, gas purges, current-limiting devices, and all sorts of other methods to ensure nothing ever starts a fire if there is a gas release. This is a highly regulated area of engineering with very strict design requirements. Level sensors inside gasoline tanks, blower fans for grain silos, and coal mine excavators all must be designed according to tight standards such as ATEX.

These standards are intended for heavy industrial equipment, and can result in some absurd designs when applied to consumer electronics like cameras. Here’s a picture of our $5,000 explosion-proof camera:

Big, right? For $5,000 and the size of a brick, you would expect a high quality camera, but no. My flip phone in 2002 took better pictures. You have to hold it rock-steady for 5 seconds to get a decent picture, and the auto-exposure adjustment gives you all-white or all-black pictures about 10% of the time. The rechargeable battery (that metal thing bolted to the front) dies in about 30 minutes. Zoom lens? Hah! Macro shots? Hah! It’s a terrible, god-awful camera — and it’s one of the best available. As a result of using this beast, I have gigs worth of blurry, grainy pictures from the rig. They’re good enough to put in a daily work report, but mostly not fit for publication on the internet.

Read the whole piece here: http://oilgas.quora.com/Taking-Pictures-Seriously

Photographs Push First Amendment Boundaries

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I don’t know much about Richard Prince, but I like to think that he’s in the business of operating at the edges of what’s acceptable. Whether he’s pushing the boundaries or just working in the grey area I think it’s important for art to have trouble makers. I’m more comfortable thinking about blank canvasses and drawing on top of images as important for pushing boundaries that other work can be built upon than worrying about whether this is something that will be admired centuries from now. I believe the title of this piece Jonathan Blaustein wrote for me: “You Don’t Always Get Art, But We Still Need More Of It“.

So, what about the grey area when it comes to photography and privacy. This is certainly a contentious and topical issue when it comes to paparazzi chasing celebrities or people taking pictures of slaughterhouses. Recent attempts at legislation in those areas (here, here, here) suggest people would like to limit the first amendment right to photography in public places. An exhibition at the Julie Saul Gallery in Chelsea seems to be pushing the boundary of privacy and photography. Photographer Arne Svenson shot pictures of residents in a neighboring building with a telephoto lens from his own apartment across the street. In a story for the New York Times Magazine, Photography Director Kathy Ryan contemplates the artistry vs. privacy issue:

These particular pictures are problematic, even for those, like me, who overwhelmingly side with artists and journalists when it comes to questions of freedom of expression. I support the artist’s right to make and exhibit his art and feel Svenson has the right to exhibit these pictures. But if images surfaced in a gallery of my daughter in our home, shot by a photographer using a long lens without our knowledge, I wouldn’t be happy. So the question arises, is it art when it’s a photograph of someone else, but not when it’s you or your family?

(Read the rest here)

I think in the end Arne Svenson may run into “a reasonable expectation of privacy” which is what makes street photography and making pictures in public possible and taking pictures of people in their homes illegal (Note: consult a lawyer, this is just my opinion).

But, I agree with Kathy in her conclusion that “the freedoms enjoyed by artists and journalists are worth possible breaches of privacy.” Boundary pushing is good for art, we don’t always “get it”, but it allows other artists to build upon it.

Sam Jones Launches offCamera

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Sam Jones is a go-to photographer for many magazines, studios and ad agencies when it comes to shooting actors. In over 20 years of shooting he’s noticed an unfortunate trend working for magazines. Less time; less control over wardrobe, location, heck even what side of the face you get to shoot; less choice in what to shoot with; which in his mind equals less exciting pictures. No unguarded moments or glimpses into their real lives. So, he decided to do something about it and created his own vehicle for “more” called offCamera.

Sam cracked open his formidable rolodex and started calling in favors to have actors, musicians, athletes and artists come into his studio for a simple daylight portrait shoot and one on one video interview with five unmanned cameras rolling. He then turns that into a magazine, a website, a video interview, and even a podcast. His theory, that there are others like him who want to experience long form stories and documentaries, who want simple portraits, who want the photographer, director and writer to be in control again.

I believe this is one more in a trend I see where people decide it’s time to take the power back and do what they want. If the audience and client come with you great, if not you still got to make something your way again. I am actually quite confident, based on evidence of other photographers creating their own publication, that Sam will find his audience and clients who agree with him on this. They will phone up and say “can you do that offCamera thing for us”? As I mentioned to Sam when he first told me about this project, your own publication if anything is an excellent excuse to call someone up and interview them. Inevitably that leads somewhere, either through the connection you just made or the people who are watching what you are doing.

From the editor letter in the first issue:

I started Off Camera to have my own magazine, my own radio station, and my own television studio. I wanted the opportunity to have a non-agenda conversation with anyone that captivated me. I wanted the chance to photograph anyone that peaked my interest, without having an art director or a publicist looking over my shoulder.

I have a strong reaction to over-produced, over-hyped, over-stimulating pieces of short content that leave me feeling like I am learning nothing. It has taken me a lifetime to develop my attention span, and I want to use it. I like a long book. I like a long documentary. I like a 15000 word magazine profile. I created Off Camera for those of us that salivate at the prospect of a good book, a stiff drink, and an afternoon with no plans.

Does Adobe’s Sudden Shift To Subscription Only, Unnecessarily Screw Photographers

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Last week Adobe announced a sudden shift to subscription only on future releases of Photoshop. This seems inevitable as the whole software industry has moved away from major releases in favor of incremental improvements. An article in Mashable has Adobe explaining the reasoning behind the move from perpetual licensing to subscription:

With the traditional perpetual model, product updates had to happen on a certain cycle. If the Photoshop team wanted to push out a new feature or update, it had to stay on the same cadence as the updates for other apps in the suite. The product life cycle was roughly 18 months, which meant that it would take at least that long for new features to make their way to the final product.

That’s fine for some applications but it meant that Adobe couldn’t be on the cutting-edge with its support for the latest web standards and technologies. To fill in the gaps, Adobe introduced its Edge tools and services as as a way of giving users access to tools developed on a more agile basis.

What Adobe found with its Edge apps was that customers really liked getting new features in their apps more quickly. Adobe could roll out the updates to users automatically and add support for new standards and features outside of the confines of a standard product cycle.

With Adobe CS6, the company started a dual-track for its development, focusing on a core set of features at launch for the product and then adding subscriber-only features for Creative Cloud members. Some of those features — including support for high-resolution displays such as the MacBook Pro with Retina — were rolled out to all users, but the team was basically on a dual-path.

That’s not sustainable and so, moving forward, Adobe CC products will continue to see enhancements and updates throughout the year. Major releases will likely still have some general cadence but the product teams will no longer need to wait to release new features for an app.

The issue for photographers as explained in this photographyreview.com article and comments is the $20 a month you must pay to access your photoshop files. If you don’t pay, your files are “digital trash.”

Reporter Beats Out Lumberjack For Worst Job Of 2013

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CareerCast.com has an annual ranking of 200 best and worst jobs for 2013 (here) and Reporter takes the bottom spot over last years Lumberjack. Ouch. Maybe we will see Discovery and History channels making a new reality series around reporter like the other worst job staples of Lumberjack, Commercial Fisherman and Mining. Of course rounding out the bottom 20 below Dishwasher but above Corrections Officer is Photojournalist at number 188, so I guess photographers are the best in the newsroom. In the catch-all category of Photographer, which usually includes heavy weighting on positions like cruise ship and theme park photographer, the ranking is 172 just below construction worker but with a positive job growth outlook. Strangely, their description of photographer reads: “Uses shutter-operated cameras and photographic emulsions to visually portray a variety of subjects.”

Getty Announces 5 Decimal Point Payouts!

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You heard it right, not five figure, five decimal points. Getty recently announced a rounding error on contributor statements where photographers who should have gotten a fraction of a penny in royalties got zero instead. So, to solve this problem going forward all the payouts will include tenths, hundredths and thousandths of a cent. Here’s the email you may have received:

$0 transactions on your January 2013 Connect statement

Many of you noticed $0 royalty transactions on your first Connect statement (January 2013) where we should have shown the micro-royalties (fractions of a cent).  This was a processing error where some royalties earned under $0.00500 which were inadvertently rounded to $0.  Going forward you can expect to see the royalty amount (out to five decimal points) for each image earned, even if it is under one penny.  All fractional-cent royalties are then summed on the statement and rounded up or down to the nearest cent for payment.

We have calculated any additional micro-royalties due to you for those zero transactions (which were fractions of a cent).  If you are due an adjustment, we will add this adjustment amount to your payment on April 25th, however no royalty statement for this adjustment will be available.  If applicable, you may see a description for that additional amount in your payment remittance advice as “Jan2013 Connect zero adj”.

NOTE: Sorry, this is not an April Fools joke, but it reads like one so you may be fooled.

Who Pays Photographers

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In response to the tumblr “Who Pays Writers” someone created an anonymous version for photographers: Who Pays Photographers?

You can anonymously submit (here) what you were paid to shoot for a magazine along with some of the terms and conditions. There’s a spreadsheet of all the results on the blog and (here). If you’ve been in this business for awhile it’s mostly what you already knew or thought someone paid. If you’re new to photography you might be a bit shocked.

The #1 Rated Super Bowl Commercial Shot By 10 Photographers

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Photographers Andy AndersonWilliam AllardJim ArndtDaniel BeltraMark GoochAndy MahrKurt MarkusDavid SpielmanMatt Turley and Olaf Veltman got the call of a lifetime when veteran adman Jimmy Bonner of The Richard’s Group phoned with simple instructions and a mantra from Paul Harvey. He asked them to go spend time with farmers and ranchers and take pictures to be shown in a 2 minute spot for Ram during the Super Bowl. No AD’s or clients or craft service; just photographers and their subjects.

AdWeek is calling it the #1 spot from the Super Bowl and love or hate the sentimental message you’ve got see this as a clear referendum on the power of photography. At nearly $3,800,000 per 30 seconds of air time, Ram and The Richards Group made a huge bet and came up aces. According to Andy Anderson and his blog Rob Baker, and Deb Grisham we’re also involved in the production.

Getting Us Closer To The Truth In Photography

Harry Fisch organizes Travel Photography trips with Nomad Photo Expeditions and recently won the places category in the 2012 National Geographic Photo Contest. 72 hours later he had lost it. The winning image was disqualified because he had removed a plastic bag in post. A blog post about what happened (read it here) has an email from the editor telling him that cropping the bag out or simply leaving it in would have had no impact, but digitally removing it violates the rules. Ouch. Harry is a good sport about it and concludes that had he been on the jury, he would have done the same saying, “rules are rules.”

Many people will argue that photography can never tell the truth. That the lens, image processing, where you stand, and what you chose to include in an image all alter the facts. This misses the point entirely. The point of truth telling in photography is for the photographer to make an image that gets us as close to the truth as they can. That is the goal. Now that the mechanical limitations of photography (film and printing) are gone we are less reliant on the camera to tell the truth, so that obligation falls on the photographer. You must build trust with your viewers and editors so they believe what you are saying.

This is an unusual position to be in, because photographers often relied on the camera and film to do this. Inherent imitations of the medium prevented them from doing too much to alter what happened (although many pushed it as far as it would go). Limitations may be returning to cameras. A new software development by the the human rights organization Witness aims to make it easiter to verify the authenticity of video, photos, or audio created and shared from mobile devices (story on Nieman Journalism Lab). “The app collects metadata that it will bundle and encrypt with your photo or video — including generating an encryption key based on the camera’s pattern of sensor noise, which is unique to each camera.”

The current practice of submitting RAW files for verification (to magazines and contests) may soon be assumed by software that does the verification for us. I expect this will be taken to the next logical step and any work that’s done in post will be recorded and encrypted by the software as well. Eventually news organizations and contests could set a “score” that’s some percentage of allowed manipulation to the pixels of an image that they consider ok. Maybe the software will disable certain tools used in post processing (this is Hal, I’ve disabled the clone tool). Regardless, the goal will be the same. Getting us closer to the truth. And the burden will return to the limitations of the software and not the photographer. That will be a good thing.

Update: the contest was incorrect [corrected], it was not Traveler’s but National Geographic magazine’s, which is officially called the National Geographic Photo Contest. And Harry Fisch was the Places Category Winner not the Grand Prize Winner of the overall contest [corrected].