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this seems like a really bad idea
Jack Kurtz, Photographer
Phoenix | AZ | United States | Posted: 1:07 PM on 02.11.11
->> The San Jose Merc News and a private app developer are working on an app to allow editors to make photo assignments for readers to complete. The app sends assignments to readers' iPhones, readers complete the assignment and send it in from their phone.

Some of the bullet points:
1) A news editors or reporter makes a photo assignment that is published to the app.
2) People using the app can accept assignments and submit images via their phones. They get "karma points" for completing assignments.
3) Users can submit and share images without an assignment.

Right now it seems to be mostly for internet use. But with camera phones getting better all the time, use in the print product can't be far behind. Full story on Poynter here:

I like the idea that you're paid in "karma points." I tried to pay for dinner once with karma points. The restaurant was not impressed.
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Israel Shirk, Photographer, Assistant
Boise | ID | US | Posted: 2:42 PM on 02.11.11
->> That'll be self-eliminating no doubt...
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Butch Miller, Photographer
Lock Haven | PA | USA | Posted: 3:12 PM on 02.11.11
->> Even though they are very forward thinking firms ... I don't believe Apple, AT&T or Verizon accept "karma points" in leu of cash payment either ...
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Clark Brooks, Photo Editor, Photographer
Urbana | IL | USA | Posted: 3:34 PM on 02.11.11
->> If initiated it will be the first step toward the end of a need for staff photographers.
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Jeff Brehm, Photographer, Photo Editor
Salisbury | NC | USA | Posted: 3:47 PM on 02.11.11
->> I wonder how many "karma points" it will take to buy that new Canon 200-400....
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Jeff Stanton, Photographer
Princeton | IN | USA | Posted: 3:48 PM on 02.11.11
->> Citizen journalists are more trouble than they're worth. We are constantly having to ask people for information they fail to provide when they send in a photo for this or that. We're talking about simple information, like names, that people don't seem to think are important enough to include.
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Danny Munson, Photographer
San Dimas | Ca | United States | Posted: 4:02 PM on 02.11.11
->> I'm still trying to figure out the new currency. What is worth more, photo credits or karma points?
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Mike Burley, Photographer
Dubuque | IA | USA | Posted: 5:10 PM on 02.11.11
->> I'm still amazed at the rate I have to explain to readers that photos in the paper aren't "staged". An alarming bulk of citizen journalists have no idea what journalism actually is - Its lost somewhere in this info-tainment age. I remember a previous photo editor showing me submitted news photos, usually one every couple weeks would show up way over toned with obvious "clone tool" marks. Hopefully this app is just for novel purposes.
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Jim Colburn, Photo Editor, Photographer
McAllen | TX | USA | Posted: 5:32 PM on 02.11.11
->> "They get "karma points" for completing assignments."

That's f*****g great. Soon we (staff and freelance alike) are going to to get screwed out of "karma points" instead of real money.

"I'm sorry for the delay but we can't credit you with the karma points we promised as our metaphysical accounting software has a few glitches in it but don't worry, 60 days for sure..."
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Eugene P. Tanner, Photographer, Photo Editor
Honolulu | HI | USA | Posted: 5:33 PM on 02.11.11
->> Just another large nail pounded into the coffin of staff newspaper photographers and work for freelance photographers...
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Keith Crowley, Photographer
Hudson | WI | USA | Posted: 5:44 PM on 02.11.11
->> The beginning of the end of the end...
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Andrew Carpenean, Photographer
Laramie | WY | USA | Posted: 6:43 PM on 02.11.11
->> Amazing that the Mercury News would do such a thing given their long reputation of outstanding photojournalism. It sounds like they're cutting corners at whatever expense it may cause their photographers. A very bad idea indeed!
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N. Scott Trimble, Photographer
Lake Oswego | OR | USA | Posted: 6:52 PM on 02.11.11

And Eugene, I don't think that nail is being pounded into the COFFIN...
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N. Scott Trimble, Photographer
Lake Oswego | OR | USA | Posted: 7:19 PM on 02.11.11
->> So, looking into Karma Points on social media, they can be used for non profit programs like Humane Society, or planting a tree.

Yes. Put it into planting a tree. Then it can grow and not worry about being cut down and turned into a...newspaper. Since they will be dead in pulp form.

Win one for Karma...
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Doug Pizac, Photographer
Sandy | UT | USA | Posted: 7:32 AM on 02.12.11
->> I would like to see the freelance agreement that's tied to this. With some I've seen being 9 pages in length, how is one of those going to be incorporated into the app?

Uploading unsoliciated images to TV stations for on-air use or on reader website galleries is one thing because the supplier is doing so on his/her own accord. But to actually give out assignments is a whole new ball of wax.

What about compensation? I'm sure the IRS is going to be interested in that one as they'll want a cut in the form of income taxes. What about a business license? Suppling unsolicited photos is one thing, but does accepting an assignment require a business license in California since you're now under contract to provide a service? What about liability? A person doing something on their own is one thing versus being given an assignment by an editor, which now makes the person a representative of the paper (another clause for the 9 page contract).

Many years ago the LA Times got in trouble with the IRS for treating freelancers like staffers. And AP had to hire several stringers as staff photographers a few years later. If this paper's employees are covered by a union, then using citizens as staff replacements could run afoul of the contract terms depending on the job protection language.

And then there are the ethical and professional issues involved. Having readers act on behalf of the newspaper in doing assignments may have a negative effect on the paper's integrity should the citizen photographer not act properly.

I, as am sure others, would be very interested in seeing what document/contract will accompany this new app to legally distance the citizen photographer from the paper in terms of liability yet allow the company to use the images in any form whatsoever for perpetuity if that's part of the assignment agreement.
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Andrew Brosig, Photo Editor, Photographer
Nacogdoches | TX | United States | Posted: 8:14 AM on 02.12.11
->> Burley and Pizac both make excellent points. I'm all for involving the customer/reader in the newspaper. I believe it's going to be one of the waves of the future that help newspapers to survive. We have to get the readers invested so they have a stake in the process.

That said, what worries me most is exactly Mike and others mentioned - what about the integrity of the publication? All it takes is one schmuck to put a bad face in front of the public under the guise of "I work for the (insert publication here)" and there goes what good will we've been able to build over the years with the public. If we end up with a bunch of untrained GWC's running around, how does anyone know what they did to get the image? Or the story, if it comes to that?

I believe reader galleries can be a positive addition to a newspaper's web presence, possibly even in the print edition, as an "our readers saw . . ." idea, similar to Letter's to the Editor. But the potential liability pitfalls caused by people who, frankly, don't have a flippin' clue, are just one of the things about this idea that scare the crap out of me.
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Doug Pizac, Photographer
Sandy | UT | USA | Posted: 9:24 AM on 02.12.11
->> Yes, it may be one of the waves of the future to survive. But at what cost to the readers/contributors if the paper wants to exploit the situation for its own financial gains beyond building circulation and support?

Will the app authorize the paper to use the image(s) only in the paper and/or its website, or will the terms language allow the paper to profit from the free uploads -- whether used or not -- in any form whatsoever for any purpose worldwide for perpetuity?

We talk about the ethical behavior of citizen photographers and the impact they can make on the paper's integrity from their behavior. But what about the ethics and morality of papers, corporations, PR firms, etc. who unduly grab all rights for little or no money?

It's a two way street.
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Alan Herzberg, Photographer
Elm Grove | WI | USA | Posted: 9:47 PM on 02.12.11
->> It won't be long before we hear, "We don't have a big enough budget to pay you karma points, but we can give you a photo credit."
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Nhat V. Meyer, Photographer
San Jose | CA | USA | Posted: 3:19 AM on 02.13.11
->> uh gee this sucks, as a staff photographer for the San Jose Mercury News this is the first I have heard of this - great - I can't decide whether or not I should laugh (cause it sounds stupid - karma points?) or be freaked out.

We have had readers submit their stuff for awhile now - they rarely run in the paper but as the dumbing down of papers continues I'm sure they will run more often on the website...

beginning of the end? naw - more like the middle of the end... The Merc is already a shell of its old-self and its editoral staff will be shrinking even more in the next few months as consolidation continues (already down roughly 80% from 2000)...

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Doug Pizac, Photographer
Sandy | UT | USA | Posted: 11:29 AM on 02.13.11
->> Here's a Poynter story about the project and it developer. The app is also being first launched for the Media News papers in the bay area too before going national.
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Doug Pizac, Photographer
Sandy | UT | USA | Posted: 11:48 AM on 02.13.11
->> It appears that there is one paper that is paying for images through this new app -- the Spartan Daily at San Jose State. The pictures that earn the most Karma points win the photographers a donut from Psycho Donuts.

It appears our profession's new motto is going to be "Will work for donuts."

And it's rather ironically fitting that the food source matches that people will need to be a bit psycho to share their photos without real compensation or control over their images. Or is it just that our profession going (do)nuts?
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Doug Pizac, Photographer
Sandy | UT | USA | Posted: 4:22 PM on 02.13.11
->> Leave it to Mark Loundy to catch the underlying bad side in the Tackable app with its awarding "karma points" for submitting good photos.

Mark did a reply to the story's author on Poynter whereupon he pointed out that karma is associated with bad things, such as looking at yourself in a black mirror or looking back on oneself in a negative way -- according to a karma definition website he cited. A rocky or steep path is also associated with karma. These may be where/how the term "bad karma" is often used.

On the other hand, the opposite of karma is where you have a state of grace and you "choose your avenues in life because you are consciously aware of what is best...." This state of mind is called dharma.

Karma is bad. Dharma is good.

Only time will tell if this new app is karma or dharma for our profession.
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Chuck Steenburgh, Photographer
Lexington | VA | USA | Posted: 6:20 AM on 02.14.11
->> Huff Post made $315 million this way, and they didn't even have an app...
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Jack Kurtz, Photographer
Phoenix | AZ | United States | Posted: 8:26 AM on 02.14.11
->> Some writers are now waking up to the reality that photographers have been living with the last few years, namely that writers working for free are diminishing the value of the work.

David Carr, media columnist at the NY Times wrote about it this Sunday. The headline? "At Media Companies, A Nation of Serfs"

More here:
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Nhat V. Meyer, Photographer
San Jose | CA | USA | Posted: 5:36 AM on 02.20.11
->> Just as a follow up:

-No one in the photography department - including our boss - had any idea this was going on. We have no idea where/who/when it originated.

-Frankly I am very embarrassed that we have been attached to this - in any way whatsoever.

-no one knows who will be vetting these images - certainly no one in our department has time to deal with them.

As a few people brought up (including Doug and Andrew B.) we have some major issues with the ethics involved... - we have a lot of fears about this - including:
-is the image real
-has it been manipulated in any way - either digitally or verbally or set-up in any fashion - how will we know?
-who is in the picture - is there permission to run that persons image
-if someone accepts an "assignment" will they refer to themselves as from the merc?
-we won't even know when the picture was taken

so in conclusion - the photo department has absolutely no part in this operation.

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Doug Pizac, Photographer
Sandy | UT | USA | Posted: 9:41 AM on 02.20.11
->> Nhat...

You left out one other credibility issue, and a major one. How will you know if an outsourced assignment is done by a group, company, political party or individual who has a set agenda?

For example, if your editors need medical photos, how will you be able to tell if the great looking ones are done by the health care industry or dirty conditions are contrived by a person who had a bad experience? How is neutrality and objectiveness to be judged?

As to nobody in your department having a connection to this, just wait. You already are just because of the nature of the deal/experiment. And the paper is going to need somebody to vet the images; and who better suited than the photo department in some way, even if it means toning and color correcting. Whose personal/professional reputation is going to be married to this?

Please keep us informed if/when you find out if these images are to be part of a gallery like your story comments or are going to be threaded into your editorial content.

Everybody is going to be watching your paper.
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Mike Anzaldi, Photographer
Oak Park | IL | USA | Posted: 11:09 AM on 02.20.11
->> this seems like a problem in a not-at-all sort of way. why the concern?

seems to me that if you are on a staff, the paper can afford to have your talent to fill their photography needs. as soon as your employer can no longer afford to pay someone who's sole responsibility is to complete photo assignments, then you're going to be fired. plain and simple. photography is a gigantic part of the publication and in no possible way can be satisfied by some jack wagon with a camera phone. forget about ethics and credibility. taking a good picture is hard- no matter what the content. newspapers are made of writing and pictures. the third element is the folks editing the writing and pictures. if you replace the staff- any of the staff- with amateurs, why read it? i don't click on the new york times site because i like the title of the publication. i'm expecting quality content. when the NYT is no longer posting quality content, i won't click there. there are more than enough quality writers and photogs operating informative and entertaining websites and blogs. newspapers must maintain the best possible content, or it's over.

give them a chance to find a way to make it work. we are changing the way we consume news pretty quickly. newspapers are still trying to deal with massively expensive overhead and equipment. they are buried under dated and useless equipment like: printing presses and delivery trucks.

the iphone is not going to kill the news photographer. the iphone should (and is going to) kill the delivery truck driver and press operators.

writers and shooters aren't fired because someone is willing to do the job for free. they are fired because there is no money to pay them. this is precisely why i can not get into bashing photo hobbyists, or worry that they are devaluing the industry. good photography costs a lot of money. bad photography costs less, and sometimes nothing. if you get fired, don't blame the amateur with the camera, blame the fleet of fuel-sucking trucks waiting at the print facility to deliver a periodical filled with content most people read electronically 12 hours ago.
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Doug Pizac, Photographer
Sandy | UT | USA | Posted: 12:03 PM on 02.20.11
->> Mike...

While you make your point regarding out-dated delivery systems, I strongly disagree with you about photography vs hobbyists and management who want to save money any way they can.

A lot of the photo contests going on nowadays have all rights grabbing language not just for the winners, but for every entry submitted. Two years ago I asked the sponsor of a "photograph your city" contest on why the language. He said that they considered hiring a professional, but found it far cheaper to run the contest. Instead of paying a fair rate for a set number of images, the city got thousands of entries whereupon they found many usable images for a token prize. The admitted reason for the contest wasn't to award its good hearted citizens, but to create a royalty free collection of photographs for use years down the line. And by the nature of the rights-grabbing language being permeated, that appears to be the underlying reason in other contests too.

I teach and use the old saying that if you gave a typewriter to a chimp, eventually he/she will write a novel as an example. In the photographer's case, a pro delivers quality, consistency and a high percentage rate of success while a prosumer may get a few keepers out of a thousand shot. Ff you're looking for a few "good enough" images, then prosumer is cheaper and therefore is a threat to pros in these types of scenarios. Unfortunately, our industry in many cases has lowered itself to good enough when judging quality.

A year or two ago the lone staff photographer at a small paper got married and went on an extended honeymoon. Instead of hiring an intern or freelancer to fill in, the paper advertised for local hobbyists. They found two -- a mom and an outdoor enthusiast who didn't get a penny in pay; just a photo credit.

And there was a recent thread that referred to a Poynter story where a newspaper publisher openly admitted he just wanted good enough when referring to AP's service.

As to staff replacement, that is already going on. I know of one long-time very good staff photographer who came into work on a Friday last year to be told to turn in his gear because his job was eliminated. The reason was downsizing. But the work he performed still had to be done. He was replaced with three freelancers using his salary to pay them.

And on another SS thread there is a new app being tested with newspapers where the general public will be able to accept assignments from editors needing art.

Innovation is great and it's a necessity. But at what price? At what point do you draw the quality and integrity line?

Do you allow companies to pollute streams because the mercury levels that reach your dining room table are within acceptable limits? How about having NO trace amounts?

As long as we continue to compromise and lower our standards, we will also continue to decline as a work force -- whether it be photography, writing, making cars, etc.
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Mike Anzaldi, Photographer
Oak Park | IL | USA | Posted: 2:28 PM on 02.20.11
->> doug-

you make good points, but i think overall, "good enough" is a temporary thing. a hobbyist can't sustain a 'good enough' performance for any period of time for a proper newsroom to keep tapping that source. the firing of your friend, only to be replaced by three others, doesn't make a great deal of sense to me. if they are getting three freelancers for half of his salary, then that's how it goes, i guess. "good enough" is temporary. when the dust settles and newspapers figure out how to operate their business in this new digital environment, the demand for quality everything will return, including writing. currently, the trash that makes it online is remarkable. even some of the biggest and most respected newspapers have sites that are all over the map. totally disorganized, no continuity, consistent changes to layout. nobody is comfortable with anything for more than 5 minutes, while sometimes totally insignificant stories stay front and center for days. it's chaos.

my point is, when the dust settles, useless/unnecessary costs will be trimmed and department budgets will be restored. quality will win.
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Doug Pizac, Photographer
Sandy | UT | USA | Posted: 2:49 PM on 02.20.11
->> Mike...

While "good enough" may be temporary, it will be milked for as long as possible -- years if it can be -- as long as it is profitable.

A prime example of the new standard is the Huffington Post which just sold for over $300 million based on free good enoughs from contributors. The whole concept is based on the generosity and/or stupidity of people who work for free. If those people start asking for compensation, then the whole empire may very well collapse like a house of cards. And who will suffer? The employees of AOL because that is where the budget cuts will come from to make up for the losses. Pure profits from free content is what executives dream of -- and all of us for that matter. But we still need to maintain a reality check.

What pains me is seeing a chain cut jobs because its profit margin dipped below a threshold that any business would crave to have. It was reported last year that one executive got a handsome six-figure bonus for cutting jobs at many of its newspapers to boost profits and meet stock market expectations. That's just wrong.

Trimming the fat is healthy whether it be personal or with a company. But when the industry keeps cutting and cutting and cutting, it will never get back to its prime once anorexia sets in.
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Nhat V. Meyer, Photographer
San Jose | CA | USA | Posted: 9:30 PM on 02.20.11
->> Hi Doug -

regarding our connection to this… I think that is why we are so pissed about this whole thing - the fact that we were not informed that it was being created and that someone will have to edit all the crap that comes in. Yes, eventually our department will probably be roped into dealing with it in some form or another - though we're so short staffed I'm not sure who that would be.

Whether we like it or not, the perception is that our department is involved in this "project" - that what bothers me - I just want to make it clear that we have absolutely nothing to do with it's inception.

And to your point about agenda's - I agree with you 100% - I kinda alluded to that in our fear about manipulating images - our boss actually brought up your exact concern - someone with an agenda or someone pissed off about something will submit images which influence or harm some one else.

Mike - unfortunately I think "good enough" is perfectly fine for many management folks as long as they make more moolah...

they've already trimmed all of the fat here - they're working on the bones and muscles now...
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Radu Rosca, Photographer
Tirgu Mures | MS | Romania | Posted: 7:18 AM on 02.21.11
->> Karma points? I know people who don't believe in karma and they might see this payment type as a discrimination towards them.

Can we just all agree on using green paper with portraits of former presidents instead?
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Mark Loundy, Photo Editor
San Jose | CA | USA | Posted: 10:39 AM on 02.21.11
->> "Good enough" is good enough for newspapers because they are in survival mode. Smaller newspaper with independent ownership still have a chance, but corporate-owned papers are pretty-much doomed.

We all really need to be looking to other media to continue our careers.

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Nhat V. Meyer, Photographer
San Jose | CA | USA | Posted: 12:43 AM on 02.22.11
->> Mark I agree with you 100% - corporations are the worst newspaper owners - some a lot worse than others... at least some pretend to care about their employees and journalism... but most only care about profit margins. - sucks.
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Sam Morris, Photographer
Henderson (Las Vegas) | NV | USA | Posted: 1:29 AM on 02.22.11
->> With all the wailing, here is an article worth thinking about:
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Nhat V. Meyer, Photographer
San Jose | CA | USA | Posted: 2:52 AM on 02.22.11
->> Thanks Sam - great article - guess who wrote it? A columnist at the Merc! (Chris O'Brien)
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Thread Title: this seems like a really bad idea
Thread Started By: Jack Kurtz
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