I’ve been a professional photojournalist for 24 years and I’ve seen major changes in my industry. I’ve gone from film to digital. I’ve seen the reduction of staff, the reduction of print pages, and even the complete shut down of newspapers and magazines. And I’ve been at the forefront of the explosion of the World Wide Web and digital content.
I’ve also seen a troubling trend where publishing companies ask to use photos or video in exchange for the proverbial “photo credit throughout our platforms.”
I recently made a video of clean-up after a mudflow and posted it on my personal Facebook page. Shortly after my posting, a news producer from TIME Magazine sent me a message asking if the video was mine and if they could use it with proper credit throughout their platforms.
Well, curiosity got the best of me so I had to finally ask the question.
“What is the fee that you can offer me for the use of my exclusive video,” I asked.
The answer was apologetic and quick.
“I’m very sorry but TIME does not pay for ugc. I am sorry. Wish I could!” was the response from offices somewhere in New York. (“ugc” means “user generated content.”)
I politely responded with “No problem. I completely understand but you must realize this is how I make a living and my work, for me, is valuable.”
They contacted me and therefore my work is not “user-generated.” Furthermore, they asked to use my video on their websites, so they saw some type of value in it. But the definition of value, unfortunately, is probably not the same for me as it is for them in this case.
You might say, “but you missed an opportunity to be seen by millions throughout TIME Magazine platforms.” And yes, you are right. But, for me, my work is extremely valuable and I don’t need credit for work done. What I do need is to pay my bills and feed my children plus keep a roof over my family. And the only way I can do that is through my work and getting paid for that work.
I don’t think there is any other industry where they will give you valuable work for simply giving them “exposure.”
But it’s not entirely the fault of those asking to use our work for free. The problem also lies with those photographers and videographers who will give their work away for access, or exposure or a free meal. If no one said yes to giving their work away, these types of requests would be few and far between.
So, in an industry where paid work is harder and harder to find, we have to realize that our visual work is still a crucial foundation, a needed component of any story. Be it for print or digital, photos and video from the scene will always be needed. We have to stand up and come together to create a collective voice and let publishers know our work is worth more than a simple credit line.
That’s where each one of us comes in. We all have put in countless hours at school, in workshops, in the field, money into our equipment and time honing our skills so that we can create great work.
We must value our work enough to say no, even to TIME Magazine.
About the author: Raul Roa is staff photographer at the LA Times Community News and covers parts of LA and Orange Counties. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. Find him on Instagram and Twitter on @RaulRoa and the video in question is up on his Facebook.