If you’re paying attention to the industry, you’ll notice something very interesting. Media companies are behaving a lot like photographers.
They’re expanding beyond their core business to leverage existing talents and skill-sets.
They’re giving workshops, entering the event industry and selling ebooks. They’re soliciting marketing clients with their finessed communication abilities.
They’re slashing overhead, aligning with existing video companies or expanding their own video production abilities.
They’re outsourcing production (in photographers’ cases, post-production) to other businesses in order to focus on their core business.
They’re aligning with competitors to reduce expenses of printing newspapers, in the same way that photojournalists are collectivizing to share overhead expenses.
What next, weddings?
Don’t laugh. That could be on the horizon.
It’s all about diversification. There’s no reason for a CEO to throw out any revenue possibility when a six figure bonus is at stake. What gets spun off and thrown to the curb by CEO’s are the underperforming divisions of a media company (I shouldn’t have to explain that one).
Instead of complaining and wringing their hands about how everyone wants their product for free, news companies are like proactive photographers. They’re trying to figure out what works, what doesn’t and what’s the best way to sustained revenue.
They’re also fighting to retain copyright.
In a sense, we’re all media companies now.
So for photojournalists working at news outlets today, I would greatly urge diversification as well. Your biggest client, maybe your only client, is looking for ways to reduce their overhead.
I’m not urging you to develop a Plan B, although that would be a very good idea. A Plan B presupposes a departure. For all I know you may be a fortunate person whose company experiences a reversal of fortune and gives you a cushy retirement plan. It could happen, I guess.
In fact, I do hope experienced photojournalists stay around as long as feasible, as I’m worried about the future of our society and democracy if newsrooms become full of recent college grads with few veterans around. There are a lot of faux newsrooms in the online world like that. It shows.
What diversification will bring you is a varied source of revenue that will offset years of erosion because of rising cost-of-living, lack of sufficient raises and downward pressure on salaries. It could fill in the gap of across-the-board salary cuts, forced furloughs, or a reorganization of the newsroom that will lead to you and others reapplying for jobs at a lower salary.
Diversify and you won’t have to feel the odd twinge that comes with questioning your commitment to your industry. You’re still in, you’re just developing more sources of revenue, or as they like to say, “multiple streams of income”.
There’s no disloyalty in that and no good reason to delay.
Of course, as a (mini) media company you don’t want to find yourself competing with your main client. That was the problem that I was running into. I had to abandon a lot of projects and ideas because I had signed an ethics agreement that was essentially a non-compete clause. Before the Tribune had entered the e-book market, I was pursuing a project and a website involving e-books. Once our company started talking about its e-book initiatives at town hall meetings, I backed away.
When pursuing other freelance, I had to seek approval. In those meetings, I had the distinct feeling that my ideas were being poached by a then-editor who was under a lot of pressure to present revenue ideas to his editor. I understood what was going on.
That was where I first realized that, essentially, I was a small media company pursuing ideas that my bigger, more well-funded company could bigfoot at any point in the process. I should have just gone out and sold custom belt buckles on eBay to avoid any problems.
But your employer may not care. In fact, I have several colleagues around the country whose employers are fine with freelance. It stems the outflow of talent and the invariable loss in quality that comes with departure of experienced workers. Ultimately, publishers have to trust employees to do the right thing, whether they have a written contract with them or not.
At one point, I even applied for a Knight Fellowship for entrepreneurship and innovation, with the idea of helping photojournalists through an online platform to share, collaborate, and brainstorm business ideas and models that would allow photojournalists to make a living as storytellers. I was willing to leave the paper over it. There is a trend of deprofessionalization in our industry as photojournalists move on to other areas of photography. It’s alarming.
The project is a solid idea, in my humble opinion, and one worth pursuing if I had the time.
But I’m too busy becoming a media company.