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March 12th, 2009

Photo assignments from bloggers: new model or same old problems? 6

Posted by Alan Chin

“Like everybody else, we’re trying to figure out how to make money on the Internet,” says Alan Chin, who works with Michael Shaw at the BAGnewsNotes blog on original assignments. They are learning a lot about original photojournalism for the blogosphere, but what they’ve produced so far bodes well for future possibilities. Don’t miss the rest of their discussion about covering the DNC and how the interactivity of a blog audience influences image making.
©Alan Chin

An image from Obama's inauguration, which Alan published on the BAGnewsNotes blog. ©Alan Chin

The biggest continuing problem is that, although Michael has established himself as a non-profit, and  fund raises in that sense, let’s be realistic: This is a tiny, tiny amount of revenue coming in compared to traditional media. So while he has been able to pay, to support what I’ve done and what other people have done in terms of our original contributions to the site, thus far that remuneration has been more symbolic. I should say it’s more than symbolic, because when you consider how little the magazines pay these days, even to get the equivalent of a couple of day rates is actually pretty significant. But at this point I can say it still doesn’t replace getting a traditional assignment.

Like everybody else, we’re trying to figure out how to make money on the Internet. Major newspapers and magazines are going bankrupt every day; they don’t have a clue what to do. Presumably they tried their damnedest and hardest, hired the best people they could, and still they fail. So our task is exceptionally daunting. But we have the advantage, at the moment, of being lean and personal and we have the faith of idealists and revolutionaries. But will that be enough?

The reason I’ve done it is there is hope in this model. Of course right now we’re not making a lot of money, and we’re barely breaking even. For example, we spent a week at the DNC in Denver. We were able to post dozens of images. The content we published was really strong. But to field an operation like that costs money. It would cost a lot of money for Time magazine, and it cost a lot of money for us. So Michael was able to throw some money my way to pay for lodging and transportation and also a little bit of money so that my time isn’t entirely volunteer, but at the end of the day it cost thousands of dollars to do that. And of course we can’t really compete with Time magazine. But in terms of what we’re able to do on-site, the level of discourse and the level of imagery is excellent. What the blog medium allows us to do is very dynamic. I think it’s the future of our industry.

We’re doing a lot of great work, but we’re still at the very beginning. During the DNC Michael was getting, I think, one day 40,000 hits, which actually crashed the picture-hosting server for a while. So we make mistakes, which we know we have to avoid in the future. But in a way I think that was very encouraging. If you have 40,000 hits, it’s not the million people that read the New York Times or Time magazine, and in that sense it’s very humbling. But 40,000 people who are actually going to go to a website, they actually care. They are committed to seeking something, as a opposed to all those copies of magazines and newspapers that circulate, but do people really care what’s in a paper at any particular moment? Whereas the people that come to our site, we know that they care, because the Internet being what it is, you don’t go anywhere on the Internet unless you really want to see what’s there.

Be Part of the RESOLUTION: Do you see image making for blogs becoming truly profitable? And what is it about blogs that makes them a platform with potential for photographers?

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