Yesterday morning I was skimming through my Facebook News Feed and found a status update from an old friend, Paul Dymond, a Cairns-based Commercial and Editorial photographer. When I read the initial response from a photographer I respect saying “Disgraceful from Tennis Australia. An insult to all hard-working professional photographers”, it catches my attention. For the past 48 hours I watch this saga develop on social media with every man and his dog wading in on the issue. Oh yes I just love the convenience of social media and the ability to quickly escalate an issue into a veritable firestorm.
So what exactly is everyone up in arms about? “Tennis Australia are looking for enthusiastic Photographers to volunteer to work at the December Showdown. This volunteer position will provide valuable experience in the sporting industry during a busy event leading into the summer of Tennis!”
In Paul’s words “I thought slavery was abolished!” This job advertisement posted on 6 September on Seek garnered a lot of attention, all of it negative.
On face value, an organisation who hands out MILLIONS in CASH to lure world class tennis players to Melbourne every year, has implied that they are looking for qualify photographers to work for free. Oh, you have to bring your own equipment too. Given the raft of bad news for photographers this year, namely:
1. Marissa Mayer, CEO Yahoo!, “There’s no such thing as Flickr Pro today because [with so many people taking photographs] there’s really no such thing as professional photographers anymore.” (She is sorry for her misstatement after being burned for it.)
2. Chicago Sun-Times lying off the entire photography staff and putting all reporters on iPhone camera training.
3. And the on-going favourite “being not for profit, we unfortunately do not have a budget, but you would get bragging rights!” requests for free photos.
Is it any surprise that the entire photo community mobilises when a posting like this appears? Comments posted everywhere were all universally damning about Tennis Australia. VOTogs went and hit up a few photographers for their reactions, here is what they have to say.
Paul Dymond: “Always somebody willing to do it for free in our line of work. Hell, considering you have to supply all your own gear, transport etc you’re basically paying them for working for free! A great business plan if ever I heard one.”
Naomi Frost, the guest photographer on our inaugural podcast at VOTogs had this to say. “It’s a sad reflection on how little people value the professional photographer and photography in general. For way too long people have been giving away their work for free – its just a matter of time before business expect that.”
A Facebook page called “Tennis Australia, pay your photographers” sprung up on 7 September and rapidly gained a following. The job advertisement earned the wrath of William Long, the PhotoWatchDog. In fact Long was scathing in his post, his response actually extended far beyond the information provided in the Position Description, and this is where things get confusing.
In my mind, there is absolutely no doubt that Tennis Australia exposed themselves badly to the broadside fired by the photo community. How well deserved is that broadside? My opinion is that it was very well deserving.
For starters, they posted a volunteer role on the mainstream Seek paid work site rather than the volunteer site. I would assume that it is more likely to be seen on the main Seek site rather than the volunteer one, obliquely one could almost argue intention to mislead.
Secondly, the job advertisement was so poorly written that it probably could have been written by an inexperience volunteer Human Resources person. It gave a fair bit of information with regards to what Tennis Australia expects from the applicant, but absolutely nothing about what the applicant should expect from Tennis Australia. A job interview goes both ways, the candidate is interviewing the company as much as the reverse.
The PhotoWatchDog raised a number of salient points which were not mentioned in the advertisement: public liability and copyright. When I first read Long’s response and framing my thoughts for this article, I went back to the job advertisement on Seek and also on the Tennis Australia website, neither places mentioned anything about Tennis Australia’s position on public liability for volunteers, or copyright on the photographs taken as part of the volunteer role. I have watched my fair share of world class tennis games, and I have lost count of the number of times I have seen ball boys / girls and line umpires hit by tennis ball shaped rocket. I would have thought given there are so many volunteer roles in so many capacity, the legal department would have a fit if they think there is insufficient coverage in the public liabilities area.
As for the copyright issue, it would not be surprising given the general attitude of organisations (particularly not-for-profit) that bragging rights is good substitute for cold hard cash. From the information available at the time, I was none the wiser as to the ownership of photos taken by volunteers.
The original posting was made on Friday 6 September. Given the amount of bad publicity generated, it was pulled some time in the morning of Monday 9 September. It was a few hours before Tennis Australia made any public comments on the matter, I think the legal and PR teams had a rather busy morning. This is what they had to say.
We have listened to your feedback on social media re our callout for volunteer photographers and would like to respond.
Tennis Australia employs professional photographers, both agency and freelancers, nationally and internationally year-round. We value enormously their amazing work in the highly specialised field of sports photography. We also value our relationships within the industry and it has never been our intention to exploit photographers, whether they be professional, amateur or student. Rather, we wanted to provide an opportunity to new and emerging photographers, often photography students, looking to gain sports experience.
Over the years we’ve received regular approaches from up-and-coming photographers to cover our events for experience and exposure for their work. It’s partly because of this demand we put in place the volunteer program for December Showdown, a free-to-attend event which is primarily a series of national tournaments for elite juniors aged 12 to 18. It also provides new photographers with the chance to have their work seen by a national audience.
Tennis Australia, a not-for-profit organisation, uses these images on tennis.com.au, a grassroots website whose key purpose is to grow participation in the sport in Australia. Images are always fully credited and the photographers can use them in their portfolios. Tennis Australia does retain copyright of images, which are never on-sold, and takes responsibility for the privacy of the players in competition, most of whom are aged under 18. Tennis Australia fully covers photographers for all public liability. The required flexibility during this time takes into account other work and study commitments volunteers may have.
For many emerging photographers December Showdown is a step towards a career in sports photography. A number of volunteers who have worked on the event have gone on to receive paid work at Tennis Australia and/or secured roles at other organisations, including major media outlets.
The professional development opportunities offered as part of this program include exposure to the fast-paced environment of a big sporting event and the demands of a busy newsroom. The feedback we continue to receive is that the experience and opportunity is invaluable and can make a real difference when trying to break into this competitive industry.
We appreciate all the comments and feedback and look forward to working with the industry to continue to improve this program.
Call me cynical but that is some mighty fine damage control. It is so fine in fact, that if this was written as part of the original job application then there would be no showdown with the photography community. It addresses a lot of concerns and I understand William Long is in contact with Tennis Australia to discuss the finer details. Certainly the update on the PhotoWatchDog page is much toned down, he still have some concerns but he believes that “its fair to give them a little time to consider and produce something that answers the concerns raised.”
In the meantime, the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance Federal Secretary, Christopher Warren, fired his own salvo. This is his letter to Tennis Australia.
I think this saga is far from over, let’s hope that common sense prevails and an amicable and equitable solution is reached.