Having watched bloggers kick photographers around the internet last summer it seems that picture agencies are finally waking up to blogging’s potential. No less than three major agencies have ventured out into the blogosphere within the last month, all in very different ways, and with varying degrees of success.
The newest is from one of the oldest and most respected agencies. The Magnum blog launched just last week, although it has been running in secret since before Christmas. It’s everything one might expect and more: classy, largely monochromatic, and deeply…concerned. Martin Parr is on the beach again and discovers photographers are having a hard time in Chile. Paolo Pellegrin is at another Central American beach called Guantanamo Bay and is angst ridden at being unable to communicate with the locals.
But by far the scariest stuff comes from Jonas Bendiksen’s ruminations on his excessive air travel and resulting CO2 emissions. Jonas produces lots of figures to show that his single Indonesian jaunt has done more damage than a fleet of Hummers. Remember that big lump of ice that broke off from the Arctic a while back? That was Jonas’ doing. Frankly, the man’s a menace: the world needs to do something about the Bendiksen Effect, and quick.
However, Jonas does suggest a solution, of sorts: travelling photographers should purchase carbon emission offsets, and add the sum to their assignment invoice.
Now, here at EPUK Towers we’re as keen on climate change as anyone else. In fact, wind turbines now solely power the fleet of office Trabants, and staff are under strict instructions to only use the onboard computers, microwaves and refrigerated refreshment systems when the vehicles are in motion.
Nevertheless, Jonas’ proposal is one of the most alarming we’ve heard in a long while. He admits he’s having trouble getting it past editors, and let’s hope that continues: imagine the first time it gets noticed by a company bean counter. ‘So, let’s see, we’re paying this Bendiksen guy to go for a month to a place where other people pay to go on holiday, AND he admits he’s fucking up the planet en route? Screw that. No more foreign assignments. Hire a native at local rates, the company saves a packet, and we get to brag about how we’re doing our bit to save the planet.’
But at least the Magnum blog is written by the company’s own staff and photographers. Black Star, an agency as long standing as Magnum, and with a similarly illustrious history, unveiled their blog in January: and farmed the job out to a couple of spin-doctors. Black Star Rising lists six contributors, but of those only three are directly associated with the agency. A fourth, Jim Pickerell, is essentially providing summaries of longer pieces from his own site. The vast majority of material on Black Star Rising is written by Scott Baradell and Andrea Weckerle: the former is actually the blog editor. We are told that Baradell is an ‘accomplished corporate brand strategist’, and that Weckerle runs a ‘boutique’ public relations consultancy; she’s also ‘a passionate amateur photographer.’ [Isn’t everyone these days?]
Now sorry, but this just isn’t right. The whole point of a blog is to directly engage with your public. Even Reuters understands that: Editor In Chief David Schlesinger used his blog to announce recent changes in that agency’s editing procedures after last year’s Hajj fiasco, exactly the kind of job that in the past would have been delegated to a PR team. And just this week Reuters has launched yet another blog, again produced entirely in-house.
Hiring a pair of spin-doctors to write your blog sends out entirely the wrong message. For one thing, nobody actually believes anything PR people say. They know that. We know that. Reuters management does too: that’s exactly why they used Schlesinger’s blog rather than take the traditional PR route. So hasn’t anyone told Black Star? And here’s something else: Black Star boasts a network of photographers in over 100 countries. Surely a few of them can string some words together in the correct order? How be it can hard?
Well at least if this is a professional PR team they must be producing reams of elegant, well-informed copy, right? Well, no: the original content of one blog consists of not much more than a single four-letter word. Still, presumably that at least means Black Star’s PR grunts aren’t being paid by the word.
Ok, so it’s not Shakespeare, or even Spillane, but at least they know what they’re talking about? Ahem…
Black Star Rising’s biggest faux pas is an interview with one Thomas Hawk, described as the ‘reigning blog guru of digital photography’. Hawk, whose day job is as an investment consultant, is actually the CEO of a company with a groundbreaking new concept called photo sharing. It’s called Flickr, er, sorry, Zooomr. In a wide-ranging interview Baradell seeks Hawk’s advice on many things, but in particular the issue of photographic rights online.
Hawk responds: ‘Personally all my stuff is licensed Creative Commons non-commercial use only. This allows me to let people enjoy my work legally, and allows me to gain broad exposure, while reserving my right to profit economically from my work in other contexts. I believe that this can be done within a less restrictive Creative Commons world than in an all rights reserved world. Some people will always steal images. But by and large I think that the Creative Commons license represents the best way for someone who wants to promote their work and still profit from it.’
Except that since the interview Hawk has found himself in an embarrassing position with regard to one of Black Star’s regular clients. A few days ago Forbes.com published The Web Celeb 25, their ‘first annual listing of the biggest stars on the internet’. Naturally they needed pictures of these stars. Some were contributed by the subjects themselves, some were licensed from picture agencies or photographers; and some were, er, y’know, just taken from wherever they could be found. As Hawk himself said in his Black Star Rising interview: ‘some people will always steal images’. But unfortunately one of the images Forbes helped themselves to is by – you guessed it – Hawk.
Of course Hawk was not best pleased by this turn of events: by his own admission he’d been ripped off. But what could he do? Nothing much, it turned out. As he admits, if it had happened to Getty – or indeed presumably Black Star – the agency would have sued ‘because that’s what they do’. The best Hawk managed to get out of Forbes was…a byline.
So Black Star, an agency with 70 years of history, that counts Forbes among its many regular clients, takes copyright advice from an amateur photographer whose grasp of copyright issues is so inadequate that his pictures get ripped off by Forbes – and all he can do is shrug his shoulders. Really, you couldn’t make it up.
Breaking Rank: Alamy contributors discuss their ranking ©Andrew Wiard
Alamy’s new blog is the oddest of the lot. Ostensibly a replacement for the agency’s monthly contributor bulletins, it resembles not so much a conventional blog – can there be such a thing already? – as yet another Alamy contributors’ forum. It’s certainly written by photographers – all of ‘em. Unfortunately Alamy forgot to provide a key for the floodgates, so anyone – anyone at all – can contribute: which means that some mornings the blog looks like the AlamyPorn list. It’s ironic that Alamy are the agency who set more store by technology than any other, yet are the only one unable to keep the spammers out.
As for the legitimate posts, it’s all very Alamy: many of the writers have as much trouble editing their thoughts as they do their pictures. But one can hardly blame Alamy photographers for drifting off topic when the only post so far from CEO James West is a Bendiksen-style confession of global warming guilt. Not surprising really: the amount of hot air produced on the Alamy blog and related lists can’t be doing any good. Two replies to West suggested that the solution was for photographers to eat less meat. Clearly the writers have never seen a pack of Her Majesty’s Paparazzi on the prowl. Do those people look like vegetarians?
Perhaps the blog should be renamed Alamy Grouch, for no matter how the agency tries to talk things up, there are always contributors with a bleaker viewpoint. Alamy announces their biggest day’s sales ever? ‘I haven’t had a sale for several months’ comes the response. Alamy informs contributors on online uploading? Either it’s too slow coming or people don’t want it anyway. Or something.
Or how about Alamy Squabble? Or Alamy Bareknuckle? When the contributors aren’t lobbing compliments at West and Co many spend time settling scores amongst themselves. It’s an equal opportunity brawl: anyone can join in, and the subject doesn’t have to be anything to do with Alamy. Even us nice folk at EPUK get used for target practice – we had to hide in the basement for a couple of hours last week. Given that the most active participants also post regularly elsewhere it’s amazing they find time to indulge in any photography: after all, many also have day jobs to attend to.
If you ask us, what the Alamy blog needs is a good PR team to sort it out. Here you go, James.