Crowd Sourced Photojournalism

Posted on 7/22/2013 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

We are moving rapidly toward a time when a large portion of the news photographs we see will be crowd sourced. There may be no way to slow this trend, but it raises some serious questions for those trying to earn a living as news photographers, or those who hope to take up this career in the future.


We’ve written about Scoopshot which has over 283,000 contributing shooters. Launched in Finland in 2010 this company has seen increasing use of its services in the past year, particularly in the European market. Photographers can easily upload photos of situations they stumble upon (lots of auto accident and weather pics are submitted) or respond to requests (called tasks) from publications.

Despite that fact that Scoopshot contributors are notified instantly on their mobile phones as soon as a task is posted, most of the tasks are for feature pics that don’t rely on the photographer being at exactly the right place to take the picture at the moment the task is announced.

While Scoopshot has a U.S. office so far there have been very tasks targeted at U.S. shooters. However, just last week USA Today posted the following task.
    USA TODAY High School Sports ( is looking for exciting Scoopshots of prep athletes in the summer – at practices, neighborhood games or grueling workouts. Athletes are preparing for the upcoming school year and we want to see them in action through your most creative and captivating photos. We may show off the gallery on our site, purchase photos or invite the best budding photographers into future contests. Share your most exciting shots with us now!
The task is open for 7 days (three days left) and pays $2.50 per photo used. So far the submissions are very weak and nothing has been purchased. Scoopshot contributors can see all the images submitted for a particular task and the ones purchased. The poor showing in response to this request is probably due to the limited number of U.S. amateur photographers currently using the Scoopshot app. That will change. With companies like USA Today putting out requests the number of submitters is likely to grow rapidly.

It is easy to see how this method of image acquisition works for a company like USA Today. High school sports are a big deal for USA Today. In the paper they might use 2 or 3 pictures, but online they can easily show a much broader spectrum of images (20, 30, or 40) on the subject – provided they have them. Thus, while they need many more images their budget for photography is no larger than it was before. Often it is even less.

Someone trying to earn a living taking pictures will never be able to earn enough at $2.50 per image to make it worthwhile producing such images, but the amateur who is going to be taking pictures of the event anyway will be happy to show his picture to others even if little or no money is involved. This method of acquiring photos also helps generate community and consumer interest. They are not just being fed what the editor thinks they want or should know. They are being asked to get involved.

This brings us to which has developed a system to comb through 150 million photos a day that are shared on Twitter and Instagram and indentify the .03 percent that have some newsworthy value based primarily on the GPS coordinates where the photos were taken.

Once they have identified a photo that might be of interest to news organizations they contact the image creator and clear the rights. They have had an amazing 23 percent response rate so far when they ask is a photographer wants to sell a picture.

CrowdMedia is still in private pre-beta with a small group of media outlets. On June 7, 2013, less than a month after launch the system proved itself when there was a shooting incident at Santa Monica College, near where President Obama was speaking. CrowdMedia found the only online photos from inside the locked-down Santa Monica college, cleared the rights with the student who took them, and sold the images to publishers.

Media organizations pay a flat $20 for non-exclusive rights to a photo that is less than 48 hours old. The photographer receives 50 percent of the fees. Photos still requested 48 hours after they were shot sell for $5 each.

According to cofounder and CEO Martin Roldan, “We’re not interested in exclusivity.  You can sell exclusivity for a couple thousand dollars, very rarely. But we know that we can sell a good shot a thousand times, and that’s more money than you can get by selling the rights exclusively … and wasting two days for the negotiations.”

“Our vision is automated event detection technology that detect levels of noise everywhere, analyzes relevancy of photos automatically, get the rights from photographers, and then sends them to the right media where they are most relevant, all automated without any human touch,” Roldan continued.

About 75 percent of that is already built.  One of the things that’s left is fraud identification — knowing when images are authentic. After Hurricane Sandy a number of fake pictures of sharks in building lobbies were circulating around the Internet. CrowdMedia will need to avoid this kind of thing if it expects to retain credibility with news media.


FOAP, launched in Sweden last year, is focused on collecting images from tourists and selling them to media for $10 each.

One of the advantages of this site is that the creators name appears on every image and by clicking on it you can see other images of the same photographer. A disadvantage is that the keywording seems to be very spotty. Often you get a lot of inappropriate images with a search. On the other hand it seems to have attracted a lot of people with images on other microstock sites and the image quality is generally better than that found on Scoopshot.

Declining Photography Jobs

The Internet may have spawned a greater need to tell stories with photos, but it has also forced those whose job it is to deliver information to find ways to acquire photos at dramatically reduced costs. Crowd sourced photography is a clear answer to this problem.
The recent elimination of the Chicago Sun Times photo staff is only the latest example of this trend. Reductions at newspapers and magazines have been happening for several years and will continue.

Photographers will enjoy Taylor Glascock’s Tumblr posts that compare recent Sun-Times’ photography with that of its competitor the Chicago Tribune, which still uses staff photographers. (Also see the Wired magazine article.) When reporters not only have to gather information for their stories, but also take pictures something will suffer – usually the photos.

Some photographers will continue to work for their publications on a freelance basis, but their earnings as a freelancer will not approach what they were earning in salary. And all their benefits will be gone.

Complaining about the decline in quality will have no effect. Economics drive this decision. Editorial photography as a career is destined to decline significantly. A few jobs will remain, but they will be very hard to come by, or hang onto. Some argue that all a young person needs to do is work hard and “be the best” at what they do. But getting to that “best” level usually requires a lot of practice – trial and error. It is not a natural skill that someone has the first day they pick up a camera, any more than you can be an NFL quarterback the first day you throw a pass. The question is who supports you until you can achieve that level of “best” at what you do. Publications will be looking for reporters who can write well and take pictures, not just focus the photography. Most people will need to find some other way to support themselves and devote what time they can to photography for the simple joy of it.

Copyright © 2013 Jim Pickerell. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz

Jim Pickerell is founder of, an online newsletter that publishes daily. He is also available for personal telephone consultations on pricing and other matters related to stock photography. He occasionally acts as an expert witness on matters related to stock photography. For his current curriculum vitae go to:  


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