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Sunday, February 17, 2008

News Photogs join bloggers in stands

The local media is full of consternation, the Illinois High School Association has denied newspaper photographers full media access due to a disagreement about the resale rights of the photographs taken at state association sponsored events.

My take, simply, the photographs belong to the newspapers or the artists who created them, not to the event at which the photographs were taken. The IHSA crafted an agreement with a Wisconsin company to give it exclusive control over the resale of all photographs. Now it wants to extend that agreement to third parties, requiring press photographers to release their rights to resell the photos taken, in exchange they’ll gain full access.

Almost universally, the photographers are saying “Nuts.”

Here at “Sit Down and Shut Up” and the sister blog, “PowderhornHockey.” We can sympathize with the Illinois Press as it marches up into the stands to shoot pictures from up here. As a blog we have covered the Chicago Wolves for several seasons and they have never given us anything from media kits, to access to the players and coaches to photographic access at games.

I sit in the stands. And I like to talk to other fans. I want that immediacy and embrace the fact that I am an anonymous person: I am just another fan in the crowd. Still, it hurts this blog and the readers of it that I do not have full access to the players, the coaches and their opponents.

The reader should understand we buy our own tickets to every event. We pay our own way to every event. Although PowderhornHockey has recently begun to accept advertising, I have not yet done so. So, there is no compensation. And, one of the rules of this business, we can’t ask anyone for autographs or other things of any potential value.

So, our defense of the news photogs now sitting amongst us is nuanced. I’d like to fully back the Illinois Press Association in its fight with the IHSA over this issue. But, I’m one of the people considered second class members of the fourth estate. And why is that? Because I am just another fan in the crowd: I write on-line.

Fact: you become a member of the media through recognition. In the past, it took money for presses and paper and an office and an ad sales staff and a distribution staff. That is mostly irrelevant now.

If you write a better blog than I do, you can become the new Matt Drudge. There is no cost, except time, involved.

As you, the reader, consider the major media’s defense of its full access, I’d encourage you to ask broader questions about the disagreement. The media can cover many of these events from the stands. The newspapers demonstrated that this weekend with their coverage of high school events around the state. So, there isn’t a question about the ability to cover events from the stands, currently.

However, what is to prevent a sponsoring team from broadening the ban: parents, exclusive rights to photograph your son or daughter at a high school event is reserved to the IHSA and its agents? It may seem far-fetched, but it is actually a small step further from a legal perspective. If the IHSA is to enforce its ban, that seems to be its next choice. It must stop the journalist sitting next to you from photographing your child’s soccer match if it is to execute its exclusive rights agreement. The journalist will then react by forcing the IHSA to stop you from photographing the same match. There is no difference in the eyes of the law between the two of you.

Preferential treatment is awarded to some outlets based on recognition of their work. Newspapers only make money for this public service through sales: advertising sales and newspaper sales, principally. But also reproduction rights. If they don’t make money, they go out of business. The IHSA position is an assault on this business model.

The current newspaper defense seems to be, "we have crappy pictures because the IHSA is a bad organization." They should be explaining why newspapers and fans have similar interests. And second, being in the stands is no excuse for bad photography.

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