I decided to write this post as a response to a series of tweets I noticed recently by @telegraphpictures* the photo department of The Telegraph newspaper based in London requesting images from people posted on Twitter of a news event. The Telegraph wanted to use the images and was asking permission to do so in return for a credit. The people they were asking were not professional photographers and their responses seemed to indicate that they were honoured that such an august publication should be interested in their photographs. The Telegraph has a long illustrious and established tradition with an excellent Saturday magazine that has long published excellent photography. I have been commissioned by them myself and I was always paid for my work. So, these requests for free images made me want to consider what lies behind such requests.
Of course, the idea of news organizations attempting to gain free images or as they are so dismissively referred to within management offices ‘content’. I wrote myself about the rise of the citizen journalist in my first book a few years ago and the desire to get images for free goes back to the beginning of the medium. But these are different times both within publishing and economically.
Let’s be clear, it is the accountants that control publishing agenda’s today, a situation I remember back in the early nineties with the 1991 UK recession and the development of DTP – Desk Top Publishing for those who don’t remember that particular dumbing down of the design and publishing process through the implementation of basic computers – the first time that accountants saw the benefit of cost cutting through digital functionality. This has continued through to today with the development of digital capture providing the accountants with the final piece in the jigsaw of their ‘free’ content strategy. After all, it makes the spread sheets so much easier to complete when you have less costs!
Those writing the tweets I previously mentioned are not to blame but they are complicit in the creation of a new understanding of what the word ‘credit’ actually means and it is not a meaning that the accountants would accept. Their understanding would be the dictionary definition that a credit indicates the ability of a customer to obtain goods or services before payment, based on the trust that payment will be made in the future. Of course, we all know that photographers also expect a credit on the basis of a different dictionary definition that is to publicly acknowledge a contributor’s role in the production of something.
Two types of credit both of which are appropriate when a publication or news organisation asks to use your images. Interestingly in the tweets I have seen there is no mention of which credit is being offered, the one the accountants understand which indicates payment, the second which any photographer would expect or both!
This expectation of free content is not confined to news organizations or twitter. Magazines who are also seeing dramatically reduced advertising revenue and newsstand sales are just as culpable in the free content arena. I have lost count how many times I have been contacted by photo editors praising the quality of my work, whilst asking to use a particular image. Sadly, the quality seems to fade in their eyes when I mention usage fees and reject their offer of the wrong kind of credit.
It would be naïve to think that these calls for free usage of images in return for my name appearing are going to stop, particularly as so many people are happy to provide these organisations with images. However, may I suggest that the next time you are offered a credit in return for usage that you question which type of credit you are being offered and if the person contacting you might like to offer a free service in return for you putting their name somewhere.
*Please let me know of others engaging in this practice and promote their involvement in the practice on your own social media platforms.
Grant Scott is the founder/curator of the United Nations of Photography, a Senior Lecturer in Editorial and Advertising Photography at the University of Gloucestershire, a working photographer, and the author of Professional Photography: The New Global Landscape Explained (Focal Press 2014) and The Essential Student Guide to Professional Photography (Focal Press 2015). His next book #New Ways of Seeing: The Democratic Language of Photography will be published by Bloomsbury Academic in 2018.
© Grant Scott 2017