Commentating on the race to the bottom

Yet again The BPPA finds itself responding to a piece by Professor Roy Greenslade on The Guardian’s website. Yet again Professor Greenslade adds his influential voice to the drastically mistaken notion that anyone can take a picture good enough for a newspaper these days. Seriously? Have you looked at some of the utter rubbish that gets used in some of our newspapers? To assert that anyone with a camera can take a picture isn’t only an insult to the skilled photographers who make silk purses out of sows ears on a daily basis it also invites the bean-counters who are behind the decisions to axe photographers jobs to question the need for written journalists too.

I can just imagine the conversation between the accountants and the owners with an editor sitting there listening to the conversation;

Owner: We need to save some more money. Sales are still in decline and sacking the photographers hasn’t saved us enough.

Accountant: Well, members of the public are providing all of our visual content so maybe we can get them to supply the words too.

Editor: But…

Owner: Brilliant idea. Let’s start with all of the senior reporters who really know what they are doing. Editor – we need you to sell this to the staff.

Editor: But…

Owner: They’re all scared for their jobs anyway. Accountant – you are a genius and you will be rewarded for your work with a big pay rise.

Editor: But…

Accountant: Thanks Owner, maybe we should discuss a few other money-saving ideas that I have over a drink or two. Do we NEED editors?

How long will it be before expensive columnists get their marching orders in favour of a few blokes with word processing software who “can write a bit”? Who will those people actually be? Will they be honest and concerned citizens or will they be people with an agenda and an axe to grind?

We are already at the stage where a large percentage of the ‘supplied’ images being printed in some papers are not properly checked for honesty, accuracy or ownership (not to mention quality). Beyond that, nobody seems to care whether members of the public are putting their own or other people’s lives in danger to get the pictures that they are giving away for free. Even Professor Greenslade has to agree that journalism stands or falls on its honesty and accuracy even if he has already thrown the towel in on quality.

One of the numerous responses to his Media Guardian article points out that very few people remember the words after the event compared to the number who remember the images. You might think that newspaper owners would forget this at their peril – unfortunately they have forgotten and their newspapers are in peril. Another response points out that newspaper decline could well be a chicken and egg discussion. Which did come first – the fall in sales or the loss of photographers?

This is rapidly becoming a race to the bottom and it really doesn’t help the case for quality newspapers and quality journalism when one of the highest profile commentators on the industry has given up on any notion of defending the simple idea that quality products have longevity and cheap ones don’t. We’d wonder if The Guardian’s own Picture Desk team would agree with The Professor’s odd logic or if its own sub-editors would approve of his fact checking.

Losing reporters would be the largest and most recent nail in the coffin of local and regional journalism. National newspapers, radio and television get a lot of their best people from the superb training ground that is (or maybe was) local journalism.

If I were contemplating training as a journalist right now I think that I’d have second thoughts about it. If the learned Professor is right maybe those currently on his course should consider switching to accountancy before it’s too late.

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The BPPA and The Leveson Inquiry in 34 minutes.

Three submissions, a lot of reading and an awful lot of discussion came down to a 34 minute appearance at The Leveson Inquiry today (Tuesday 7th February) afternoon. Was it worth it? Right here, right now the answer has to be a truly resounding ‘YES’. Our case has been outlined before; we wanted to impress on the world that there can be a huge difference between a professional press photographer and a bloke with a posh camera.

We wanted to make Lord Justice Leveson and his Inquiry aware that we are willing and able to be to be part of the process of finding solutions to the issues highlighted in the early evidence at the hearings. Most of all we wanted to highlight the four-pronged plan that we have developed to help ensure that photographs published in the UK news media have been checked thoroughly so that they comply with every law and ethical code that applies to that media in that situation.

Sitting there in the same chair that Paul Dacre, Editor in chief of the Daily Mail had occupied for the best part of four hours yesterday and that the familiar cast list of celebrities had sat in right back at the start of the formal hearings in November was more than a little nerve-wracking. Not so much on a personal level – but representing hundreds of honest, hard working and highly professional colleagues. If that wasn’t bad enough, the editors of The Times and The Sun were up after us!

We really cannot talk about today in terms of winning and losing but it seems that we have made our point and we know that Lord Justice Leveson himself said that

“Mr Turner, thank you very much indeed. Responsible photographers, like responsible journalists, are not part of the problem and they do need to be part of the solution. Thank you very much.”

If, after today, the industry takes us more seriously and if, after today, we are allowed a voice on issues that directly affect the lives, careers and reputations of professional press photographers then maybe, just maybe we can think in terms of a (small) victory.

Of course the 34 minute white knuckle ride was made a lot easier by the quality of our argument and the sentiments in our submissions.

The BPPA’s Board worked hard on this and there are a lot of people to say ‘thank you’ to. So to everyone who contributed, everyone who tweeted and re-tweeted about our submissions and liked our Facebook page. Thank you. It turns out that it was a pleasure to be your representative!

Links to the content of our appearance: TRANSCRIPT VIDEO

The BPPA gets its say at The Leveson Inquiry

Here’s a date for your diary: Tuesday the 7th of February. “Why?” I hear you ask, well it is the day when The BPPA will finally get to appear before the Leveson Inquiry into the culture, practice & ethics of the press.

In our main submission to Lord Justice Leveson’s Inquiry we proposed a four-pronged solution to the issues raised in connection to photography at the hearings to date:

  • Make the publishers of websites, blogs, magazines and newspapers and their editors financially and professionally responsible for any lack of due diligence in checking how, where and why pictures that they are publishing were taken. Photographs acquired from citizen journalists, CCTV systems and inexperienced photographers should have a clear and strict series of tests applied before publication to verify their provenance
  • Images purchased from holders of UK Press Cards or from reputable agencies that are members of a United Kingdom Press Card Authority member body would require a lower standard of checking and proof because the photographer holding the press card would, according to the new ethical code, already have performed tests as they were shot. Should the images turn out to have been acquired irresponsibly, that would constitute a breach of the code of ethics that they sign up to when receiving their new UK Press Card
  • Strengthening of the UK Press Card scheme with an enforceable code of conduct including the suspensions and cancellations of cards. This obviously will not stop the cowboys who don’t have genuine press cards but it will provide a framework within which to work
  • Agree a simple outline about exactly which laws apply to photographers when they are going about their legitimate business: trespass, assault, intimidation, harassment and so on. It would also be advisable to clarify where and when the various elements of the Human Rights Act and the UN Convention on the Rights of The Child become applicable without allowing rich and powerful vested interests to slip a de-facto privacy law in by the back door

We started the ball rolling back in November when the association’s AGM took place and we started to discuss what we could do about the beating that press photographers were taking during the first couple of weeks worth of evidence at The Inquiry. Like most people, we had thought that the early stages of Lord Justice Leveson’s hearings would be about phone hacking but time-after-time the actions of photographers seemed to get more coverage than those of private detectives and over-zealous reporters.

Within days we had made our first submission in the form of an open letter to The Inquiry where we outlined our objections and sought to be awarded “core participant” status for the proceedings. The legal team behind the Leveson hearings took a couple of weeks to get back to us to let us know that we would not be offered that status they invited us to make a second and much more detailed submission by the beginning of January. We put the 18 page document in on time and following a few emails back and forth asking for clarification of one of our points we finally learned this week that it is all systems go for Tuesday, the 7th of February.

The BPPA wants to be there at the table when solutions are discussed and when decisions are made. The BPPA wants the voices of press photographers to be heard. Most importantly, The BPPA wants to make sure that the profession comes out of this process with its reputation enhanced, with its future as secure as it can be and with improved media and public perceptions of who we are and what we do.

These are simultaneously worrying and exciting times for press photographers. As a profession we have worked hard to create some momentum towards those goals and it is our aim to keep that momentum going on February 7th.

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