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Friday, 18 December 2009

Comments

"if you were interested in the issue to start with . . . "

Counts me out. I would have happily paid my own way, for a few months or even longer, to work with someone on the level of Nachtwey.

I think this raises a couple of very valid points. The main one is that photo-journalism is ceasing to be paying gig. Internet news gathering has meant that the reality is that a lot of people are now working for free in the hope that it will later turn into something.

The other issue that comes up is that there are an enormous number of people who have studied photography in a tertiary institution who have been led to believe that the world is at their feet and they should be paid for their work. Unfortunately tertiary institutions are money making organisations and they are not at all concerned with the fact that they are over supplying the labour markets. Back in the 1980's the city I used to live in had 3 papers, a morning daily, and evening daily and a sunday paper. Each of these papers would be lucky to take on 2 cadet photographers a year. Now we have 2 papers and the number of cadetships have been reduced to one every 2 or 3 years. In fact the last one got over 800 applicants. In the same time frame 3 tertiary colleges have sprung up with photography programs that are taking about 250 - 300 students a year. There is no hope for all of these students to find work. There are a lot of angry and disaffected people out there as a consequence. I wonder how many of the people who did the character assassination on Natchwey fell into that category.

Paul, you are exactly right.
My daughter finally decided in her last year of college that she wanted journalism as a career. She was very disappointed to find she was unable to get into the journalism track at her school. This was a blessing in disguise. She ended up employed by a small newspaper group in North Carolina, after doing a minimally paid internship with them. Her sharp writing and editing skills proved far more useful than a degree in journalism. When her paper needed photographs, they sent her out with a camera.

In North Carolina alone, colleges crank out hundreds of students with photojournalism degrees every year. Yet the Charlotte Observer fired 82 employees in early 2009 and cut the pay of the survivors. The overwhelming majority of photojournalism grads will never find employment in their chosen field, no matter how talented they are. The 'staff photographer' model is circling the drain due to the grim realities of the publishing business.

"...but this is not the first time that a free internship has been announced, in fact, paid internships are even a rarity."

I think Vincent Laforet is way off the mark here. I don't know him personally but admire his work. Sure it's not the first time internships have been offered for free and won't be the last. But just because everyone does it does not make it right.

Internships should offer something tangible to the intern (useful work experience, solid clips, money, whatever). If Nachtwey is willing to impart some of his wisdom with his interns, fine. But just to get people to sweep your floors for free doesn't help anyone.

I worked at a free internship at a record company back at the end of the '70s. I got College credit for it, but no pay. It was fun (I worked in the mail room) and I learned a lot and got to hang out with musicians. I wasn't intending to become a musician but was into music and made some useful contacts for photo assignments later on.

I don't know what Nachtwey's intention is with his internship. Or why he doesn't want to pay his interns. If he just wants menial labor for his studio, he should just hire a high school kid for $5 an hour. If he intends to help the intern with their photography skills, he should make that clear in the ad as a tangible benefit of the free labor.

I do agree, however, with Vincent Laforet that the attacks on Nachtwey's character are uncalled for.

To me, the problem with the particular unpaid internship in question was that it was not simply a matter of menial labor, whether that be sweeping floors or fetching coffee, or whatnot.

Instead, the ad called for someone who was trained in a number of specialized skills, capable of executing tasks that in any other context would have been appropriate for an individual in a job with salary and benefits.

What, then, is this intern going to be learning in exchange for this skilled professional labor?

That's the real question. If you look at the article linked above, it notes that requirements in the labor laws governing unpaid internships include the expectation that the intern should get real, tangible benefits from working for the employer, that the employer should not benefit materially from having the intern work for him or her, and that, in fact, the employer should expect that the intern may well be as much a burden as a help.

When you're placing an "intern" in a position that is appropriate for a paid, credentialled employee, you're opening yourself up to just this sort of attack. It's very clear what the employer gets out of this... expensive professional skills for free. What does the intern get, specifically?

Exposure to the great isn't a sufficient answer. The content and quality of that exposure needs to be specified.

If you can't answer this, then there's a problem.

Paul, as I see it, the problem really isn't in the fact that newspapers are going down the drain. It's in the fact that the Internet is not picking up the slack: advertisments are leaving papers and not appearing on the Internet in the same numbers, and consequently photographers/journalists/editors not getting paying jobs on the Internet.

That is kinda mystery. Or not. As newspapers owners use the opportunity to force people to work more for less under the guise of crisis, so probably do the advertisers use the opportunity to lower the prices of commercials. Frex, a site like this, with tens of thousands of readers/visitors, should command about the same kind of ad rates as a magazine with the same circulation. But it cannot. Hopefully, it will change.

For the record, my middle daughter interned at a MAJOR sports magazine in NYC as a journalist intern for 6months with no pay. It was the accepted standard, she enjoyed it and felt it was of value.

BUT my favorite intern story was of one of my science heroes Physicist Richard Feynman. As it is told, long after his fame,tenure and Nobel prize, his son came home one December break from MIT and told him of a project one of his classmates was working on. A computer project where he was trying to link hundreds of small processors of the x86 variety to do parallel processing but was struggling with the code headaches. Mr Feynman both unfamiliar with microprocessors and programming instruction
sets told his son to ask his classmate if he could use an "intern" over the summer to work on the project. The story goes that with his help the team was successful with their project. may or may not be an accurate story, but it is a good one.

dale

Paul wrote:

"There are an enormous number of people who have studied photography in a tertiary institution who have been led to believe that the world is at their feet and they should be paid for their work. There is no hope for all of these students to find work. There are a lot of angry and disaffected people out there as a consequence. I wonder how many of the people who did the character assassination on Natchwey fell into that category.

I hadn't thought of it that way, but this sounds quite plausible to me. I'd be very curious to learn what the thousands of photography and PJ majors who graduate every May are taught to expect, jobwise let alone careerwise. There have to be "Reality 101" discussions during their course of study, aren't there? Any recent grads out there who can address this?

Of course, oversupply of the workforce will be an increasing problem in the future for almost all areas of specialty -- not just for photography and photojournalism -- as every aspect of life will continue to require fewer and fewer people to provide a given amount of goods and services.

Re: Erlik's comment, I too lament the change, but the days of significant ad revenue are gone forever except perhaps in celebrity-watching magazines. (Quick show of hands: how many here use ad-blockers? How many sit and wait for full-screen or overlay advertisements to disappear on their own rather when given the option of clicking a "Close" box? I rest my case.)

Printed newspapers and printed magazines aren't operating under the "guise" of crisis; they are IN crisis, at least in the US. Things are only going to get worse for them, not better, as the world changes and as their readership ages and eventually dies. I think the coming years will be marked by the death of numerous surprisingly familiar names in the publishing world as the public decides it is simply unwilling to pay for content and advertisers recognize that declining readership.

Welcome to the new economy.

Robert's and Paul's comment puts us into a new subject, which is probably too bad, because the subject deserves its own conversation. I just want to note in passing that sometimes photojournalism classes and majors are being offered in academic photography programs as a way of making those programs more (ostensibly) practical and relevant for the student's career. An irony.

I'm hazy on the details (perhaps Joe Cameron is reading and can comment), but I think my alma mater, the Corcoran College of Art + Design, now offers a photojournalism concentration--a considerable anomaly given its more than 100 years of history as a fine-art institution.

It would be interesting to report on the reasons for this and find out how it's going...to come full circle here, if this website were *really* a substitute for a newspaper (it's not), I'd assign a reporter to look into it and write an article. As it is, I don't have the resources.

Mike

how many here use ad-blockers? How many sit and wait for full-screen or overlay advertisements to disappear on their own rather when given the option of clicking a "Close" box? I rest my case.

Ah, now you're talking...

Why's that, I wonder? Because we don't like ads in general? Or because some stupid greedy marketing drone thought it a wonderful idea to ram the ads into our brains? To create advertisements that will spin and jump and blink and scream whenever you open a page? To create ads that will cover what we came to see?

I'm certain you would have ripped off the ad that covered what you wanted to read in a magazine, too.

I like seeing ads for what interests me, and I suspect other people do, too. OTOH, I don't want a flashing spinning squeaking "you're the gazillionth visitor" ad here, for instance. I would be perfectly okay with... I don't know, Olympus ad that would say, we've got a brand new lens for m4/3, come and see.

Another moment in "where is the money?" on the Internet is that everybody can now create their own advertising site. But what then? How're the people supposed to know they should come look? It's a zen-like moment, does an advertising page exist if the target group doesn't know about it?

But when companies pay for advertising their advertising page (heh :)), they mostly pay pittance, like they did when the Internet was only starting. And that's not good.

Printed newspapers and printed magazines aren't operating under the "guise" of crisis; they are IN crisis, at least in the US.

It's a part of a much bigger problem that is journalism today...

I saw the first signs of this concentration of photographer and journalist in one person ten years ago. In the US. Of course, I didn't know what I was seeing then.

And if I remember correctly, newspapers started kicking photographers out before banks started falling left and right. The reason was not because they were particularly perspicacious. No. The reason was profit.

Now they are caught in the crisis like everybody else and the spiral continues.

I think Rana's completely right, but I think the problem is more than just getting specialized labor for free: the whole job market is hurt by these unpaid internships.

I'll quote an old Baffler article* from the 90s: "Interns are restructuring the labor market. Thanks to those who can afford to win the labor auction with the lowest possible price---I'll work for free!---those without outside (read: parental) support are forced to take tremendous real-dollar losses to stay competitive. Or they are simply priced entirely out of competition. This ensures that the glamour industries remain the land of the rich and privileged, for they are the only people who can absorb a short-term loss to get an imagined long-term gain."

So yes, while it is admirable that someone would work hard to forgo the real benefits of work, i.e. money, for an experience that could help boost their career, the problem is that this has become the standard practice. With "free" the entry level wage, those who need a real paycheck are excluded. Life isn't fair, but that doesn't mean we should kick the poor while they're already down.

A few footnotes:
1. No, newspapers are not part of the glamour industry, but they sure hire as if they were.
2. No, I am not bitter/jealous. I never competed for this type of work. I graduated with degrees in Psychology and Business and worked a paid internship in college.
3. Google the Baffler. After a long hiatus, it returns this month. (!)

*article by Jim Frederick, Baffler #9, 1997

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