Over the past year the nature of news photography in the UK has changed dramatically, and not for the better.
In the past, major breaking stories were covered by a mix of local agency photographers, the PA, and maybe a few staff guys, if the story was big enough. The nationals tended to order material from the locals, whose local nature tended to ensure that they were first on scene, and many times broke the story in the first place.
However, time moves on, and budgets are cut, and the PA and the BBC have become the dominant source of news for the nationals, which has steadily eroded the income base of the local agencies.
Recently, this has been made much worse by the spread of a new business model. The new model involves estabilishing a net of young keen photographers or journalists across the UK, and then when a national story breaks, parachuting in their peeps, and sweeping up as many of the papers as possible.
Now, nothing wrong with this on the face, but the killer is, the people they send in either are “Interns”, or “Freelances” or on “Contract”. Now the term is not really important, because the end result is the same. The young photographer is NOT a employee They are promised that if they work hard, and get lots of hits, this will somehow get them a “Foot on the Ladder”.
What they are not told, is that the ladder actually just leads to a precipice. When they get a bit further up, they fall off the other side, and are simply replaced by another young photographer at the bottom.
Better still, from the perspective of the agency, because these people are not properly employed, the cost of the photographer or journalist is virtually nil… if they dont get a result, it costs the agency nothing.
Lets make no mistake, these work practices ensure that young photographers are working to almost dickensian terms, the money will work out at less than minimum wage, they have no protection for redundancy or sickness, and they have to bear all the long term risks and costs associated with being a photographer.
Its pure exploitation, and it means that the small pie that was providing a income for many agencies, which ensured proper jobs for young photographers, were they could learn and progress in a protected enviroment, has now been sliced so thin, it is impossible to do the work profitably.
If you are unwilling to use illegal work practices to exploit young people, there simply is not the ability to earn enough money to make this sort of work viable. And dont think that these new agency practices will be successful either.. These agencies have no way of maintiaining or promoting quality, they will suffer a high level of employee disloyalty, which will lead to the agency losing contributors and income strands, and in the end these models will fail as well. But the cost of these experiments will be the demise of the local agency photographer, and the training and opportunity that these companies have provided to young photographers for many years.
What is especially disconcerting is that the national newspapers are keen to exploit this model. One picture editor has been quoted on one of these new model agencies website heaping praise… But he must also surely know that the young people who are being encouraged to work hard, take risks, spend money on cars, fuel , and gear, are probably going to be effectivley working for less than minimum wage.
One agency has in the past activley encouraged its staff to collude with it to defraud the Revenue, by only paying Overtime if the Intern/journalists, presented reciepts to the value of the shift…. ergo reciepts which could be put through as expenses, and not attracting NI contributions.
If Marks and Spencer sourced their pants from companies in Bangladash which behaved this way, the papers would have a field day, but they are quite happy to exploit young vulnerable and naive photographers and journalists right here in the UK.