IS NOT YOUR ENEMY

I can hear your collective sigh already. This is not, I assure you, another rally call for the wonders of the internet and media . Love it or hate it, the internet has changed every aspect of the media, and in my work as both a lecturer at City University s Postgraduate School of Journalism and as an online journalist and videographer, itcome to my attention that photographers continue to lag behind. Fear of copyright infringement makes many of you shrink the images on your website to a size photo editors woneven bother looking at, or plaster them with watermarks so intruding itimpossible to judge how good the images are. But as Iabout to explain, I believe you will gain more from getting your work out there. I lecture students on online journalism, the area of the media they will most likely end up Online journalist Alex Wood argues that ittime for pros to give free photo sharing sites a chance working in, and it s given me a unique place to watch the future generation of journalists and editors who ll one day be commissioning your photography. But I also sit on your side of the fence. Like many of you I have had copyright on my videos, photography and words infringed on the internet. I ve also spent hours of teaching time drumming the same message to my students over and over again; images on the internet are not fair game for journalists to take for free. UNDERSTANDING A JOURNAL IS TWORKFLOW We re all under a lot of time pressure. For specialist online publications the turn around for a story can be as quick as five minutes, in order to get that elusive top-of-Google-news listing. That means if I want to spice up a news story with more than just the logo that came with the press release, I have to resort to a quick picture search on the internet. My first port of call is the Creative Commons image search www.search.creativecommons.org. If younot already acquainted, Creative Commons is a licensing system that tries to make copyright more relevant in a digital world. Essentially, Creative Commons was created to help photographers and other creatives protect their right to be attributed —and in some situations even be paid. Sharing sites such as Flickr and Picasa allow you to tag your images so they can be found via a Creative Commons search. There are hundreds of types of Creative Commons licenses available to use for free, but they all have one thing in common: the system always guarantees you will be credited for your work. There s no license that doesnrequire attribution, and there are several that prevent commercial use. a partnership with the owner of the material," in the words of media law specialist and internet commentator Marcus Gilroy-Ware. Once the journalist has found the right image, the next step is to check the rights for that image. By using the Creative Commons search facility I mentioned earlier, I ve already selected images that I can use in a commercial capacity and I can adapt, if I need to, to suit the publication I m working for. This is where it starts to get interesting for you, the photographer. BEYOND THE LITTER OF KITTEN PICTURES The beauty of the internet is its breadth. To reinforce this point I ask my journalism students to choose the most unusual and under-reported topics to report on for their assessed projects, which is a good exercise in hunting down unusual images and, more importantly, photographers who supply those images. One group of my students on a Channel 4 training course managed to find a group of window box garden photographers on Flickr. Sometimes even the weirdest news story requires illustration, and the internet is the best place to find it. This could be the start of a wonderful relationship between a journalist and a photographer, and one that is mutually beneficial. For the journalist, the photographer is not just an eye on the ground, but also an ear —linking them to a network of contacts and sources on the topic theyexploring, with possibilities for future commissions. GET YOURSELF OUT THERE The key to getting discovered by publications who need your work is to make sure you tag your work well; tagging is a way of adding extra information and identification to your image to make it easier for people to find. At a basic level you can add location and time and instantly make your work easier to find in an internet search. Another really useful thing to do is tag the exact GPS coordinates and the dates. Some editors search for the objects or amount of people they need in a picture, what the people are doing, or for images that illustrate intangible things such as emotions. Try to think like a picture editor who needs to find something specific really quickly, and tag your image so it can be found through as many different searches as possible. Think outside the box; if an editor is looking for a Jane Austen related picture, perhaps you ve taken a picture in Bath where she got married. It won t hurt to add a Jane Austen tag to it; editors who have to resort to Creative Commons searches are likely to be open to suggestions, especially if they are in a hurry to meet a deadline. It s also a good idea to be visible in groups that are relevant to your work on Flickr. Some editors monitor groups for images that are reLevant to an area they often write about, whether it be current affairs or LOL cats. BUT I NEED TO GET PAID! I hear you. Here s the good news; being discovered through Creative Commons can, and often will, lead to paid commissions. Here s just one example of how this can work. In my work as an investigations journalist at the BBC World Service I needed to find hard-hitting images to illustrate deaths on the road from across the globe. I needed some very specific and unusual shots from parts of the world which are not usually reported on. Following the same process I described earlier I found a photographer who had shared his pictures on Flickr. I knew I needed the shots and got in contact with the photographer. After making the case to my editor, we commissioned some of his images for my work and, best of all, started an ongoing relationship with the photographer. THE SHOP WINDOW FOR YOUR WORK The internet is the ultimate shop window for content producers. It s the producers who put their work out there in the public domain of the internet that get ahead. I ve watched the trend continue to grow and grow, particularly with freelancers working abroad. Back in 2007 Deborah Bonello took the leap from being a trade print journalist in London to a self-appointment foreign correspondent based in Mexico. She took a huge risk, but by taking herself and her work which includes writing, videography and photography into the public domain of the internet, she quickly built herself a reputation. After making herself easy to find, she was snapped up by the Los Angeles Times as a video reporter and then went on to work for the Financial Times. She also published her work on her own magazine website known as Mexico Reporter. After the swine flu crisis gripped the world back in 2009, the site quickly gained international fame. Traditionally, becoming a foreign correspondent is notoriously difficult and takes years of work within a mainstream media organisation. But Deborah side stepped all of this by making the internet work to her advantage. She now works as a correspondent for AP based in Mexico, but keeps her site running with all of her work as an ongoing shop window and promotional tool. What Deborah has done is build her own brand online. THE PITFALLS I ve heard from numerous photographers who are worried about having their work stolen from the internet. It s a very real threat and it applies to creatives across all disciplines. There are some services out there that can help if the inevitable happens. TinEye (www.tineye.com) is a freely available reserve image search which scans the web for places where your photos may have ended up. Photographers need to make a value judgment about their images once they re in the public domain. Newsworthy images may have a finite life in terms of value, but some images are also timeless parts of a photographers portfolio. If tagged well they may lead picture editors to spot your potential for similar commissions in the future. In any case, by putting some of your best work out there in the public domain, you are gaining promotion for your work —for free. The question is, do you want to hide away from the internet and all of the opportunities for the world to see your work? Sometimes, overexposure is a good thing.

Comments are closed.