OK, so you’re not an AP stringer, work for Time, or breathe the rarified air of a Magnum photographer. No worries: There are new and evolving ways online to get your pictures in front of photo editors.
The Citizen Journalist revolution started to be taken seriously on the streets of Teheran. With traditional newsgathering blocked by the Iranian government, news outlets relied on grainy, low-resolution images shot with cell phones by protesters as Iranians gathered to object to the Iran election results. Images of the ensuing violence and repressive tactics of the Iranian government were picked up by everyone from CNN.com to the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.
Now there are tools online that let anyone with a camera submit their photos to be considered by major news outlets, and if you're a seasoned photojournalist, you have a distinct advantage over a snapshooter with a camera phone, which is that you will deliver better quality images, and because you know what you're doing, you'll simply deliver better-crafted images.
On the other hand, while staff photographers and freelance photojournalists struggle to capture the news, they can’t possibly be everywhere, and if an average Joe happens to stumble upon breaking news with a point-and-shoot cameras, he, too now has more ways to get those pictures in front of photo editors at major news outfits. Here are three, in diminishing order of usefulness.
One resource is Demotix.com. You join the site (it’s free) and create your photographer profile. When you post newsworthy photos and captions, Demotix acts as a broker, automatically posting images to its news feed, which is picked up by news outlets such as the Wall Street journal, the New York Times, the Huffington Post, and the London Telegraph. The company claims it has sold images that have appeared on front pages of major newspapers..
News outlets buy basic, non-exclusive rights to your photos from Demotix, and will pay anywhere from $50-$3,000, with some photos and videos of extraordinary news going for six figures. Demotix splits the payments 50/50—half goes to Demotix for being the go-between, and half goes to you as the photographer. You retain the copyright. Images can be sold by Demotix to multiple outlets simultaneously, increasing your profits.
Of the three resources described here, I’d give demotix.com the highest marks for usefulness for aspiring photojournalists as well as citizen-journalists with cameras.
AOL has jumped on the citizen journalist bandwagon, but with a twist: Rather than paying you for spot news, AOL’s Seed.Com posts assignments for projects, and they specify if it’s for photographers or writers. They give a due date and offer three license options: Exclusive AOL (for which you get the full offered price, whatever that is), limited exclusive license (AOL pays 75% of the offer price), and Non-Exclusive License (for which AOL will pay 25% of the offer price; however, they’re not offering this option yet).
Examples of recent assignments: Most Dangerous Cities – Camden, NJ ($25); Photos of Sticker-Covered Laptops at the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival ($5); school photo – Tomorrow’s builders charter school in East St. Louis, IL ($20).
The money is…low. A quick look at all current photo assignments showed a range from $5 to $25 per assignment. And remember that once you’ve claimed an assignment, there’s no guarantee that your work will be accepted, and if you accept anything less than selling all rights to AOL, you will only make a percentage of the offer price. But keep in mind that AOL has millions of subscribers, and your work will get pretty high visibility and you could get a nice clip and line on the ole’ resume. You’re not going to make a living by submitting photos to Seed, but as the name of the site implies, it might be a good way to get started.
If you have shot breaking news videos, YouTube has created a platform for news organization to solicit and verify breaking news. You can submit videos to specific media outlets and they can choose to accept or reject them. The problem? No money changes hands, which means don’t expect to get paid directly for whatever you submit. A workaround? When submitting your video for acceptance, consider just uploading truncated “teaser” footage and offering the entire video for compensation to interested parties. While this may knock you out of the running if others have similar footage, if you have an exclusive you may be able to make this a profitable venture.
Who’s participating? The Washington Post, NPR, The San Fransisco Chronicle and the Huffington post are taking advantage (in every way) of these free citizen journalist videos. Why should you participate if you aren’t going to get paid? If you submit videos via YouTube Direct, you have a chance of rising above the noise of regular YouTube and perhaps build a relationship with an editor that someday may lead to paying gigs. It’s a long shot but might be worth a try. On the other hand…If you allow your work to be used for free, you are allowing yourself (and others) to be taken advantage of.