“The Demotix ‘press pass’ is nothing of the sort”

Demotix website defends issue of press passes – guardian.co.uk

The Demotix ‘press pass’ is nothing of the sort, despite the fact that it is designed to look like a genuine journalists’ identity document.

We have worked hard over many years to establish the National Press Card as the ID for professional journalists. It is designed to assure the police and others that the holder is a professional newsgatherer, working full-time to serve the public.

– Mike Granatt, Chair, UK Press Card Authority

This is what a real UK Press Card looks like. Similar, no?

The Demotix Revolution

DemotixI got an interesting email the other day asking if Demotix is good for distributing work – the short answer: No.

If you haven’t heard of it yet, Demotix is a citizen reporting/freelance photography agency. Taking an industry standard 50% cut of image sales, they say they broker images to media buyers worldwide.

Which is great if you’re a citizen reporter (not journalists, as some call them, but more on that another time) who happens to photograph a breaking story that no-one else has got. Like Bill Carter, one of Henry Gates’ neighbours who grabbed his camera when he saw police cars outside his neighbours house. The resulting images have netted over $4,000 in sales, with half going to Carter.

This is the sort of thing Demotix thrives on. When the Iran election protests began last year images from Demotix users were featured on the frontpage of the New York Times twice in one week. But unfortunately for photographers there isn’t an uprising or other major breaking international news story every day.

I flirted with Demotix for a month or so last year, uploading a total of 12 stories, mostly of protests but also some other events, a meeting of the Metropolitan Police Authority, ministers leaving a cabinet meeting at 10 Downing Street and the opening of Banksy’s Summer show in Bristol.

Not one of the images I uploaded has sold. One was featured in the Demotix Widget, which appears on a various newspaper websites and for which I was paid a nominal amount.

It’s quite probable that the images wouldn’t of sold even if I’d distributed them myself, at most of the events I covered there were also staff photographers from large international news agencies: Getty, AFP, AP, Reuters etc. The other events I covered obviously did not fit into the news agenda that day or week so remain unsold, which is often the reality for freelance photographers working on spec.

Slightly disheartened that none of my images had sold, I reverted back to how I had distributed my images previously, uploading a web gallery of images and emailing the link, as well as a small selection of the images directly to newspaper picture desks.

Just after I had given up on Demotix I covered a breaking news story, Nick Griffin and Andrew Brons had just been elected MEPs for the British National Party and were holding a press conference outside Parliament. I found out just an hour before, grabbed my kit and jumped on the tube. I got there just in time and within minutes of the press conference starting anti-fascist protesters appeared chanting anti-fascist slogans and began throwing eggs. I and a number of photographers who were at the front of the press pack captured the moment the yolk hit Griffin as he was rushed into a car by minders.

I quickly got out my laptop and captioned and emailed the images to the newspapers, all within minutes of it happening. As I filed my images I was sat with another freelancer who was uploading his images to Demotix, he complained that the Demotix FTP upload was often slow and sometimes didn’t work at all. He also mentioned another thing I was familiar with from submitting images to Demotix, it sometimes took several hours for stories to be published on the site, as each has to be approved before appearing on the site, often longer outside office hours.

My images appeared in that days Evening Standard, the Daily Express the day after, The Telegraph website and the Sunday Telegraph that weekend. My colleagues images appeared on Demotix a few hours later and have yet to sell.

Speaking to several other Demotix contributors in London they say they have yet to make a sale through Demotix either, even those with hundreds of images and stories on the site. Most have earned the £12.50 Widget usage fee, which is paid if your work is featured on the Demotix Widget. £12.50 might cover your travel costs if you went by train or took a short car journey, it is hardly enough to make a living though. One Demotix contributor I spoke to said he’d made around £150 over a few months from widget use, which is certainly something, but he has yet to make a single sale through them.

There is no doubt that Demotix contributors have taken some excellent images, this image by Alessandro Vanucci of a Cambodian rubbish dump made the Eyewitness page of the Guardian. Other times Demotix contributors are simply the only ones there to get an image. Their coverage from Iran for example or the exclusive photograph of Ian Thomlinson lying on the pavement shortly after being assaulted by police at the G20 protests in London last summer.

But is Demotix the unique factor in these images selling? Almost certainly not. Just like other online photo agencies, Demotix is a (sometimes) convenient middleman for amateurs and semi-professionals. Images from Iran or of Ian Tomlinson lying on the pavement would of sold if they had been on Flickr, Zooomr, PhotoShelter or any of the myriad of other sites that allow users to upload their images for free.

I asked Report Digital founder John Harris his thought’s on Demotix:

Demotix is trying to make money out of low value sales of unique coverage in unusual circumstances – precisely the sort of thing that is easy to find once on the internet. It is not clear to me where they “add any value”.

As soon as photographers realise they can spend an afternoon Googling the picture desk contact details of all the media buyers (PDF) Demotix supplies they can take back the other half of their 50% cut, upload images to Flickr or wherever they want, whilst still charging a professional rate.

So is Demotix good for distributing work? Well they are, they’re just unnecessary.

Climate Camp: Give it up for the Guardian!

The Guardian has set up a Flickr group asking people who are attending the Climate Camp this week in South London to send in their pictures from inside the camp:

Please share your photographs with this groups [sic] as events unfold. We’ll feature some of our favourites on guardian.co.uk and maybe in the newspaper version of the Guardian as well. By posting your pictures in this group you agree to let this happen (though copyright remains with you at all times).

Which is a nice way of saying, please send us your pictures so we don’t have to pay photographers for theirs.

Now while getting people to send photos and video to news organisations is a old hat for broadcasters, for the Guardian to set up a Flickr group to harvest free content specifically for an event is something new.

Citizen reporting is far from the best way to gather news. Climate Camp has always instilled a strong sense of Us vs. Them when it comes to the media and for the Guardian to try and cosy up with the campers and use their content for free has serious implications for how the Guardian reports on the camp.

If they want protesters to send them pictures for free they aren’t going to want to be too critical about the camp or actions that people from the camp might be doing. To say nothing of the veracity of the pictures that might be sent in by those opposed to its aims as well as by supporters.

It is no longer news gathering when the subject of a story provides their own content – it is propaganda. Would you trust the Guardian if it took content supplied by the police in the same way?

Or maybe they should employ professional journalists and photographers to independently report what is actually happening.

In a very small way this is actually good for professional photographers as it further invalidates the restrictions Climate Camp organisers want to impose on journalists, which I wrote about yesterday.

If anyone can go on to the camp at any time and take photographs – and now thanks to the Guardian’s Flickr group send them straight to the newspaper – there’s no reason that professional photographers shouldn’t be allowed to either.

The timing of this event may be by no means coincidental. On the 1st of September (half-way through the camp) photographers will be protesting outside the Guardian because of a new contract they have issued that says that they will no longer pay photographers for reuse of photographs.

This means that the Guardian will be allowed to use photographs as many times as they like and syndicate them to other news organisations in perpetuity without having to pay the photographer any more than the original fee for the photographs. Photographers rely on reuse fees to earn a living.

Over 800 photographers have signed a petition against the new conditions and many of them, including myself, will no longer supply the Guardian with images after September the 1st until they renegotiate the terms with the NUJ.

So if you want professional, uncomprimised reporting and photography from Climate Camp this week you might want to look elsewhere than the Guardian.