Don't do it for free, freelancers

Photo by Alex Irwin. See more at
Pike Place Market in Seattle.Photo by Alex Irwin. See more at

Last month, Alex Irwin, a good friend and a very hip arts blogger and Philadelphia music writer, posted that he gave over publishing rights of two of his photos to an online travel guide for Seattle, where he was visiting his girlfriend when snapped the pictures.

Wrong move, I say. Let me tell you why.

I hardly waited in posting a comment on his blog:

You should get paid, though, man, so the rest of us can.

I got an e-mail in response:

Considering I never contacted these people or had even heard of them before getting my photos selected… I don’t feel too bad about not being paid. However, I see what you’re saying…

I was with Alex at one time. I questioned whether I could market myself as a photographer considering that, like Alex, I had no real formal training. Alex is a trained journalist, a Progressive Business Publications editor and a professional arts and music blogger with a growing portfolio, which increasingly includes taking photos and video. Welcome to the new age of journalism where you need to be able to do everything, in at least a serviceable fashion.

Crowd-sourced Web sites like Schmap, the online/desktop travel guide site to which Alex gave his photos, are making money on the backs of free-content providers

After attending and taking photos at the Obama inauguration, I got a similar offer via Flickr:

I found your photo on flickr and I would love to use it for a story on We are a crowd sourced news website powered entirely by the ideas, stories, photographs and eyewitness accounts of people like you. We need your photos for our live inauguration coverage!

I declined the no-pay offer, and I hope more people, particularly anyone in the media field of any note, would, too. Alex Irwin can take a photo better than the average slob. He is a trained journalist, so I think he, like the rest of us, should be paid for it. It’s about honesty and transparency, I know I am not an exclusively trained photographer, but it comes part and parcel now with my product as a high-caliber multimedia freelance journalist. I won’t offer my work for free and think anyone who does hurts the rest of us.

As I put it in a previous post:

I think in this age of journalism, we all need to diversify our talents, but do so honestly. I am not going to make a pitch or close a deal with photography, and certainly not with Web design. But it can sweeten the deal. That is the difference.

Lead with what you know best, supplement with what you’ve learned or can manage. [Source]

So what do you think? Am I just being as stubborn as a newspaper wanting to charge for online content? Is this anti-capitalistic, or am I just hoping to set a precedent to fight the flow that content creation is a much less profitable act than content dissemination?

Talk to me.

4 thoughts on “Don't do it for free, freelancers”

  1. One of the best pieces of advice I got while in college was to never do anything for free. This was in reference to writing, but I think the same applies to photography, video and various other journalistic endeavors.

    I’d never ask one of my artist friends to create art for free, because that is their craft and their attempted livelihood. Same principle applies.

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