NGOs Fund Photojournalism: Slippery Slope?

Posted on 4/22/2010 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

As newspapers and magazines fold, or at the very least tighten their belts, it is becoming harder and harder for freelance editorial photographers used to traveling the world to produce major enterprise stories or get financial backing for such coverage.

Most picture stories now appear on newspaper and magazine Web sites, rather than in the printed publications. There are two advantages to this shift. First, it is possible to show more images and provide a more comprehensive look at the subject matter. In addition, it appears that a large number of readers are willing to spend time looking at these stories.

VII’s Mayes Comments on Partisan Reporting: “It’s not a new issue. The question of who pays the photographer has always been crucial in selecting partners to work with and applies equally to news organizations and to NGOs.” Read more.

However, the question of how photographers are to be funded to produce these stories becomes a major issue. Ian Ginsberg—director of projects and partnerships at VII Photo, possibly the most prestigious editorial production agency in the world—says that VII is increasingly looking to non-profit and non-governmental organizations for funding.

VII has created VII Magazine, entering into an arrangement with the Herald Scotland to feature some of its stories on its Web site on a regular basis. VII hopes to license the same stories to many other publication Web sites. However, it seems unlikely that the fees paid by publications will ever be sufficient to cover the cost of many of these productions.

One question that arises is whether the reader can trust that the reporting not to be biased when projects are funded in this manner. Will these NGOs fund projects that do not present their point of view in a totally favorable light? Even if the photographer totally agrees with the organization’s point of view, is the story an unbiased report? On the other hand, is there such a thing as an unbiased report?

Some have suggested that NGO participation should be credited, such as: “photographer name, agency name, sponsored by: NGO name.” Is that sufficient? How does this differ from an advertorial?

If editorial photographers are willing to accept funding from NGOs, what about corporate funding? Is there something that makes all NGOs more ethical and unbiased than corporations? 

The next question to consider is how preparing a report with such financial backing differs from cleaning up or slightly manipulating a digital file of an image to give it more impact. Is choosing which aspects of a story to cover, which images to show, or which subjects to avoid photographing any more honest and ethical than accepting funding from an interested party to cover the costs of producing a story?

As the business of editorial photography changes, all these issues must be addressed.

Copyright © 2010 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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