Friday, 31 July 2009

The Guardian Still Doesn’t like Us.

After my blog piece on this new Guardian (GNM) 'rights grab', there was a mention on the British Journal of Photography web site ‘Photographers protest Guardian's rights-grabbing move

They quote a spokeswoman from the Guardian saying the following:

“We are currently operating in unprecedented trading conditions and have been compelled to look at costs across the entire organisation.

The changes announced bring us in line with other national press and our terms and conditions for freelancers remain amongst the best.

This is not a rights grab. The changes announced, in practice, will affect only a very small proportion of contributors. Stock photography and photography commissioned prior to September 1 2009 is unaffected. Furthermore, our standard syndication terms remain unchanged. We seek a non-exclusive licence to re-use new commissions, not the copyright. We have to establish a sustainable cost base for the future.”

It cannot be denied that the Guardian along with a number of other newspapers (But by no means all), is suffering in the current economic downturn – much the same as the rest of us I would imagine! I am a freelance; no one is going to be exposed to the tide of economics more than I. But did photographers cause GNMs problems? – well no. Are they such an expense that taking more from them will somehow revitalise GNMs financial position? – well no, far from it. The one thing you can say is that the freelance photographers on contract to the Guardian, (their staff compliment is very low, possibly even non-existent these days), are very much part of the newspapers strengths.

“The changes bring us in line with other national press”.

Well, who, exactly? And if indeed this was the case, how does one justify bad behaviour in a civilised society, surely not by saying the ‘other guy does it so it’s ok?' I bet Saddam Hussein was just kicking himself all the way to the gallows, that he didn't use this as a defence at his 'trial'.

The Guardian say that other papers have already imposed rights grabs, and indeed the inference is that they all do. None of those newspapers have tried it on with me - only the Guardian. Perhaps the Guardian would care to name those newspapers it is merely emulating - they haven't done so, so far?

Had such a letter gone out from other publications I am sure there would have been the same outcry. I didn't react against the Guardian out of spite; I would have reacted to this letter whoever had sent it.

I understand that the 'Herald' in Glasgow is trying to do the same thing, and I am aware that the photographers there are reacting against the demand, and bitterly resent it.

Fleet Street has changed hugely in recent times. Whereas ten years ago I would have probably supplied images on commission or request to virtually every Fleet Street publication every week, now those requests are fewer and far apart.

Even those based in London, (where I was until 1999), are getting much less work than ten years ago, and for many outside the M25 it has almost vanished except on extra special jobs which simply have to have a local professional.

I make it clear again, whenever I supply a client, whether it is on commission or whether it is from my stock files, I supply that imagery on a one-use one-fee basis. If the client requires more than one use, then this can be negotiated, but it would be commercial suicide for myself or any other professional editorial photographer to suddenly change our working models to a one (low) fee for an unlimited unspecified use. Why would we want to do this? How could we make such a system pay?

If GNM want to have the same rights to our work as they would with staff photographers, then perhaps what they should be looking at doing is starting to take on staff photographers again, and paying them the going rate. That way they would have 'all rights' - in exchange for a salary.

The Guardian representatives often tell us:

“Our terms and conditions for freelancers remain amongst the best”

Unfortunately these days that is only in their dreams. The myth that the Guardian are the good guys unfortunately has taken a huge battering over the past few years, what with enforced syndication to the direct detriment of the contributor, and now this rights grab.

It doesn’t matter how many times Guardian management staff tell us this isn’t a rights grab; it clearly is. The Guardian wants re-use rights for free. Not just re-use in the paper, but web use, use in books, and use for any other product they come up with. These are rights they had to pay for in the past, as do other publications. To now assume those rights for free, is by any definition I have come across, a rights grab.

Merely repeating the words, ‘This is not a rights grab’, doesn’t magically make it the case – far from it.

The changes, despite the assertions to the contrary will affect all future commissioned photographic contributors to GNM publications. That GNM use fewer photographers now than ever before is sad and unfortunate, but this new rights grab will affect all contributors.

If the award winners like Tom Jenkins aren’t affected then that would make it all the worse that they do this to every one else. If Tom is affected, then how must he feel? What a way for the Guardian to repay his loyal services and his most excellent photography? Didn’t Tom win four awards in PPY 2009?

That the Guardian dare not make this retrospective is down to contract law, not I imagine some generous gift to the photographic community. To tell us that standard syndication remains unchanged is also somewhat misleading as they have only just introduced enforced syndication which specifically affects their photographic contributors, and is to the detriment, in some cases we are told, to the sum of many thousands of pounds per annum, of the freelance contributor.

Finally, after telling us that this is not a ‘rights grab’ our spokeswoman explains

“We seek a non-exclusive licence to re-use new commissions, not the copyright. “

I would be happy to consider licensing on this basis, and I am sure others would to, but there would have to be some financial compensation for this new ‘non-exclusive licence’. If there is no extra money then it remains a rights grab – there simply is no other phrase that covers it.


Pete Jenkins

Member of: The National Union of Journalists

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Why Does the Guardian Hate Us So?

This letter has just been sent out to many regular Guardian contributors, and is the culmination of months of denials, that such a decision had been made.

Dear Contributor,

Re. Change to terms and conditions for commissioned photography

You will no doubt be aware that we, like every other media outlet in the UK, are experiencing very difficult trading conditions brought about by declining circulations and falling advertising revenues.

As a result we have been compelled to review all of our costs across the company, including the terms and conditions under which we trade with news and picture agencies and freelances.

We are writing to inform you that GNM will cease paying reuse fees in respect of photography it commissions from 01 September 2009. What this means is that from this date GNM's standard terms for commissioned photography shall include a non-exclusive, perpetual licence to re-use commissioned photography in its products and services without further payment.

For your reassurance, copyright ownership of the pictures you supply to GNM
remains with you; stock photography and photography commissioned prior to
01 September 2009 are unaffected and will continue to attract our
standard space rates; and our standard syndication terms remain unchanged.

Our Freelance Charter (,,409883,00.html) and the notifications you receive from GNM when you are commissioned will be updated accordingly.

Should you have any queries regarding the change to our terms and conditions, please contact

Yours faithfully

Chris Elliott
Managing Editor
Guardian News & Media Ltd

This is the letter I have just sent in response to Chris Elliott at the Guardian. Now he won't care what I say, probably won't care if a score of us write. But if every single photographer reading this were to write, then GNM might just listen.

Just remember, selling rights to our work is what makes us Professional photographers. If our clients start eroding those rights further, along with that fact that there is simply less work around today, then more of us will find it impossible to make a living.

Today the Guardian, tomorrow everyone else. It has to stop now, and only as a group can we do this.

Please write your own letter today.

Chris Elliott
Managing Editor
Guardian News & Media Ltd

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Dear Mr Elliott,

I am most disappointed to learn of the letter that Guardian News & Media Ltd is sending to photographers advising them that GNM is now unilaterally making a rights grab on all work commissioned by the organisation.

After the loyal service that so many of GNM contributors have given, and bearing in mind the static nature of payments to freelance photographers in the industry over the past fifteen years, combined with the championing of the under-trodden that GNM prides itself on, it seems very out of character (and totally unnecessary) for GNM to deliberately rob its own suppliers in this way.

Photographers are hardly over-charging GNM, indeed the commissioned picture Day rates: £170.20 (0-4 hours); £248.75 (4 hrs +) are hardly excessive, and well below the professional rates charged by virtually every other profession, and certainly do not take into account the extensive equipment costs and general overheads that a professional editorial photographer has today (easily £90+ for most professionals).

It is not professional editorial freelance photographers who have caused the shortfall in GNM income, so why is GNM penalising its lifeblood suppliers in this way?

GNM is always priding itself on the quality of its contributors, and the high quality work they produce. With the increasing demands on suppliers that GNM is making, from syndication to this latest rights grab, GNM will make it difficult for any professional to want to supply the Observer or the Guardian in the future.

These are difficult times for us all, not just GNM. GNM should respect the rights of its contributors. If GNM needs more rights then it should pay for them. Freelance contributors want to respect GNM, but that respect has to be a two-way thing.

As per my previous correspondence, my work is available on a one-fee, one-use basis, and I do not accept the new revision of the terms.

Yours sincerely

Pete Jenkins

Freelances, contract and otherwise who have supplied the Guardian And GNM for decades in some case are at the same time flabbergasted and up in arms.

How can they do this to us?
Why are they doing this to us?
What possibly makes this a good idea?

That newspapers are having some difficulties is not questioned, that they are possibly the very agents that have accelerated their own demise is thought by many to be the case. For several years now the prophets of doom, many of them within the senior management of not just the Guardian and Observer but many other National newspapers as well have been telling us that the position of newspapers is untenable, that they can’t possibly survive.

And yet at the same time these same newspapers have been turning remarkably good profits and excellent returns to their various shareholders.

Newspapers themselves tell us that it is all falling apart, yet senior management continue to cut staff, take money out of the companies.

Now every publication has the right to cut staff, if that is what they wish to do. They have the right not to use freelance material if the so decide. But to unilaterally just assume rights that they don’t wish to pay for, which simply takes money out of the freelance pocket – pockets which are not very deep these days is unjust, unfair, and immoral.

Kind regards

Pete Jenkins

Member of: The National Union of Journalists

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

NUJ Photographers get excited again

Photographers belonging to the National Union of Journalists are getting excited about the opportunity to set up the Unions first ‘photographer’s branch'. Ok, that sounds interesting, but what does it actually mean, and what is the fuss all about?

There are (according to Pro-Shooter the online Photo Magazine) some 5,000 editorial shooters in the UK, and almost certainly at least this number, probably many more, who obtain some or part of their income from professional editorial or public relations photography. Almost half this 5,000 (2,400+) are members of the National Union of Journalists, and of these more than two thirds are Freelances. Half are probably based in or around London and the South East of England.

Photographers have traditionally been a minority amongst journalists, and in the past, until very recently, largely because of the magic of the darkroom and the mysteries of processing, not to mention the skill required to manually focus a camera and lens combination, on (frequently) moving subjects, they have been regarded as a unique and valued set of skilled workers.

What has gone wrong with our profession?
As photography as a profession has been perceived as becoming easier, first of all because of automated equipment (auto –focus), and more recently by the advances in digitisation, we have found that professional editorial photography has come under severe and sustained attack. Some will say that the real start of this was the Wapping dispute of 1986, when News International dismissed thousands of members of staff to facilitate moving to cheaper premises a few miles away. Others will suggest that the real hammer blow was the introduction of digital scanning, such as the Apple Macintosh Powerbook computers and Nikon Coolscans, which started to be used across the board by newspaper photographers allowing photographers to send (wire) images they had processed on site to their newspaper picture desks from around 1992. Others, will point out that the real damage was done when the Nikon Digital SLR, the D1, was made available in the Autumn of 1999, considered by many to be the first digital SLR that was affordable and practicable for the average working freelance professional.

Of course the truth is that the profession has been under attack for more then twenty years. Pre-Wapping each national newspaper would likely have at least 50 photographers on staff, as many again on retainer, and scores more supplying them on a regular basis around the country. The 5,000 figure mentioned earlier would back then barely have covered those working for National newspapers. Now those reliant on National newspapers for their income number less than 10% of the 1987 figure, as most papers will now have staff photographers numbered in single figures, and much the same for those on retainers. As for speculative and commissioned work around the country, this is now little and infrequent, as most papers will take material by preference from the wire services offered by agencies such as PA and Getty. Even these leviathans are using far fewer photographers than in the past.

It isn’t only the numbers of photographers that have been denuded. Payments for images used have been to all intents and purposes frozen since around 1994, expenses cut, and the photographer is now expected to do more than ever before, and use more and more expensive and complicated equipment which for the freelance means a large investment in gear and in training.

The final insult is that newspapers are now enforcing payment reductions, on those very same fees, which haven’t increased in fifteen years. News International started the latest round of cuts, and others couldn’t stop themselves from joining in, including, the Guardian, and the Glasgow Herald.

So what has this got to do with union branches?

I have been a member of the NUJ since the early eighties. Initially, I was a member of the London Freelance Branch, probably the largest branch in the Union. Based in London and working largely for publications such as the Sunday Telegraph, Telegraph, Guardian, Times, Mail, Daily Express. I regularly attended branch meetings, and in those days there were sometimes less than a dozen of us attending, (todays LFB usually manages 50+). The branch was helpful in many ways and during the eighties I found myself involved in a number of disputes the first of which was Wapping, probably one of the most unpleasant disputes in living memory. I was in my twenties, and was still recovering from the glimpses I had seen of the difficulties in the Miners strike of 1984. The shutdown of the Fleet Street premises of News International actually took me by surprise, and left me in a daze. I was also involved as a freelance in the Advertiser North London dispute.

During these painful times having contact with fellow NUJ members was a godsend. Although in these two particular disputes as a contributor I lost out, there was some help for me via the union, as well as advice, and as importantly communication.

Having others around me who could offer advice in a difficult situation has always been valuable, and often under-played buy those who have not been through the experience.

In 1999, I moved to Nottingham, and due to the distances involved I chose to move from London Freelance to Nottingham. Nottingham is a little city branch with perhaps some 150 members (as opposed to 3,500+ in LFB).

Nottingham branch is more of a community than say London Freelance. Although as with most branches the majority don’t attend one meeting to the next, there is a relatively high turnout of 12% to 15% most months, sometimes far higher. The city and county have a number of publications and organisations with chapels, so most union members tend to be unionised within the chapels associated with their workplace, so that they are closer to the work they do and the problems they have. Each such chapel has a father/mother, (a chairperson) and a secretary, and other officers from the workplace fulfil the various other roles.

The chapel officers then make regular reports to the branch, and these are read out or discussed at the meetings and the branch as a whole offers assistance as required. So in Nottingham we have chapels for the Nottingham Evening Post, BBC, and ITV. All of these have had issues over the past few years and the branch has done much to support them, whether it is industrial action (not necessarily strikes), redundancies, or individual cases of bullying.

I have participated as fully as I am able, as have many other branch members, and proffered support as and when it has been required.

For me the biggest thing about Nottingham branch is the fact that it brings together freelances and staffers from the industry into one room, once a month. The chance to exchange experiences, swap stories and network, both socially and for business is a great boon. In fact the great majority of those who attend Nottingham branch are freelance in one sector or another.

If a member has a problem that they cannot deal with on their own, or needs advice there is often someone in the branch who can help, or at least knows someone who can help. Nottingham is fortunate in that for its size it is a strong branch, and often has representatives on the National Executive Committee, several of the Industrial Councils such as the Freelance, Broadcasting and New Media.

Nottingham is fortunate too in that it has a healthy photographer membership with (for instance), Alan Lodge, Rob Rathbone, others and myself. A broad range of experience, which we are able to share with our colleagues as and when required. Many other branches do not always have that good fortune.

What of activism?

This means different things to different people of course, but when talking of activism in this context, I am thinking of trade union activism, and more precisely working to make the conditions of professional photographers better. This involves many things including (but not exclusively) remuneration, expenses, copyright, rights grabs, orphan works, helping other photographers in difficult situations, responding to calls for help, dealing with poorly grafted legislation as it affects photographers and the implementing of such.

Meet ups are very important, but so is communication in general. Without the ability to communicate with hundreds, even thousands, by way of the Internet, e-mail lists and forums, I could not possible represent photographers as effectively as I have been able to. Communication is everything, and after all, the NUJ is a communications union. Forums such as EPUK (which I am not involved with), and NVJ Photo which I am allow photographers hundreds of miles away from eachother share experiences and react very quickly indeed. It was because of the speedy communication that e-mails gave us that we were able to do so much so quickly towards helping Kash in Afghanistan. If we had had to do everything by telephone I am convinced the whole campaign would have been far more difficult, and who can say, but probably less successful.

So there are many things that people can do to get involved. Be careful not to make the mistakes I have made, and lets hope that going forward, lots of other NUJ photographer members can share in future successes, in the way that I have been privileged to have been able to do.

NUJ Photographers Branch Meeting, 6.30 pm, 16th July 2009, Headland House, 308-312, Gray's Inn Road, London, WC1X 8DP

So very soon we could have ourselves our first photographers branch. That will be good news for all NUJ photojournalists. After that we should be asking for our own Industrial Council.