This has probably happened to you. You are at some community event – a ribbon cutting, a groundbreaking, a Eagle Scout ceremony – and a representative of the hosting organization saunters up and says: “Can you send me that picture?”
What do you say?
We at the Half Moon Bay Review seem to be fielding that request more and more these days. I submit the answer is tricky. On the one hand, your professional photos belong to the news organization. They are news photos that we might run again from our file, not simply marketing materials for some business. If the host wants photos, she should pony up for a photographer to take them, right? On the other hand, sometimes it seems like the goodwill outweighs any harm.
Let me suggest some middle ground. And let me say that this isn’t the definitive word. It’s just meant to foster the conversation at your newspaper. …
I would make the distinction between for-profit and non-profit. If a for-profit business asks for one of our photos for use in its marketing, the answer is always, “I’m sorry, no.” We may relent if the business owner simply wants it for his personal Facebook page or something, but we’re very likely to decline. That’s because we make a distinction between our news photography and commercial use. If, on the other hand, some local nonprofit asks politely, we’re liable to say, “Yes.” So long as the volunteer fire department or free health clinic or Boy Scout troop simply wants the photo for its newsletter or something like that. If it intends to make the photo part of a dedicated fundraising effort, I’d probably decline.
By the way, I don’t think it makes sense to make separate rules for advertisers. (While I wouldn’t give a big account a news photo to use for commercial purposes, there is nothing wrong with the ad rep shooting that photo for her account. Make that an advertising value add or just a nice thing to do.)
It’s strange to me that this seems to be a bigger problem that it once was; after all, we all have digital cameras in our pockets now. Professional photography is expensive for a reason. If your organization puts together a side service where you sell that professionalism to clients away from news assignments, more power to you. But I wouldn’t give it away, and I wouldn’t give news photos in any case.