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No Country For Freelancers

No Country For Freelancers

All along the years I’ve spent at the paper there’s been a constant in the photojournalism market around these parts: this is not a country for freelancing.

I’ve said it time after time to the interns we’ve had over the years. And I’ve seen their careers stall when they are forced to pick the freelancing way.

Newspapers and news magazines have always relied on staff photographers and, up to a few years ago, freelancing was close to non-existent in the country. Photographers were employed by the media organisations, and left their jobs for another publication. Most news outlets have contracts with international agencies (Reuters, AP and AFP) for their world news needs and there’s also a national news agency that has an extensive network of correspondents, both in the country and abroad.

There were a couple (really, I guess the number is actually around two) established freelance photojournalists, but they struggled. Rates in the country are just too low. And most newspapers and magazines had enough people on staff to cover all the news they needed anyway. And then things changed. People started getting fired, newsrooms were slimming down, rapidly. Pages still needed photos, websites more so, the newspapers started hiring freelancers (sometimes the ones they’d just fired) for those times when the shrinking photo desks couldn’t handle the workload anymore.

The budget for these freelancers, however, is still very low. Day rates are miserable in most places, as I’ve said, and the ones that still pay a normal fee are forced to cut down on assignments outsourced to freelancers even further. Most photographers have to do other stuff as well. A lot have gone into wedding photography and are responsible for the amazing quality we now have on that particular field. Others have found different ways to support themselves while trying to be photojournalists. Some teach, some organise workshops, some do stuff that is in no way related to photojournalism.

This is the playing field I’m joining. Let the games begin.