Category Archive: industry


Defamation, Girls, and pictures through a window: recent legal news affecting photography and copyright

There’ve been a bunch of legal developments in the world of photography and copyright in the past couple weeks. Here are a few things that have been on my radar that all have relevance to freelance and staff photographers in the US:

Getty gives away 35 million photos and people don’t like it

Getty’s latest move in the stock photography market has been met with shock and horror. 35 million of Getty’s images are now free to embed, unwatermarked, for “noncommercial use,” which includes websites that run advertisements (see the image embedded above). In an interview with PDNPulse, Craig Peters, Senior Vice President of Business Development, Marketing at Content Images at Getty, says that while there is no current plan for this embed system to result in money going to photographers, at some future point, Getty might add advertising into the embedded images (as YouTube does) and photographers would get a cut of that. “This is their content, and if we generate any revenue from that content, we not only have the obligation, but we have every intent to share that revenue,” he said.

You can search the archive of embeddable images here at Getty’s site.

Here’s a collection of reactions to the news from around the photography world. Unsurprisingly, people are not excited about this development:

Regarding all of this, I’ve seen a few photographers on facebook saying they’re pulling their images from Getty’s collections. I don’t have any images available through Getty, but if the past is any indication (Hume be damned), other stock houses will likely follow Getty’s lead. Keep an eye on this. I think Todd Bigelow and John Harrington are correct that Getty’s interest in making these images out for free is the browsing data that surrounds the image. Licensing directly to blogs for small fees hasn’t really worked out, if you remember the Associated Press debacle a few years back, but getting (and selling) analytics relating to image usage is likely worth a lot.

In other Getty news, the Getty/Flickr licensing partnership started in 2008 will be terminated at the end of current content agreement. PetaPixel has the details, which makes it sound like this is just temporary as the Yahoo/Flickr and Getty work out details for a new agreement.

Debate swirls around World Press Photo (again)

John Stanmeyer / VII - World Press Photo of the Year 2013 - African migrants on the shore of Djibouti city at night, raising their phones in an attempt to capture an inexpensive signal from neighboring Somalia—a tenuous link to relatives abroad. Djibouti is a common stop-off point for migrants in transit from such countries as Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea, seeking a better life in Europe and the Middle East.

John Stanmeyer / VII – World Press Photo of the Year 2013 – African migrants on the shore of Djibouti city at night, raising their phones in an attempt to capture an inexpensive signal from neighboring Somalia—a tenuous link to relatives abroad. Djibouti is a common stop-off point for migrants in transit from such countries as Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea, seeking a better life in Europe and the Middle East.

It wouldn’t be February without debate and controversy surround the annual World Press Photo awards. In past years, the chattering classes (that includes us at dvafoto) have gone back and forth on the images or techniques given awards, this year questions have been raised about the voting process itself.

Looking through the year’s winners, I thought there wouldn’t be any debate; the categories this year were filled with strong work from many of the year’s major (and soon-to-be-major) news events. John Stanmeyer‘s winning image, one of my favorite pictures of the year, seemed like a subtle choice for the top award. It’s an image that regards marginalized people with a sense of humanity and dignity, rather than using people from the developing world as puppets for pity or handwringing. The subjects, with cell phones aloft, are people with families and histories and futures, trying to communicate in a situation beyond their control. The photo rises above the usual sex, drugs, and war tropes that dominate the major photojournalism contests.

The selection of this image has not escaped controversy. As duckrabbit first pointed out, John Stanmeyer (the winning photographer) and Gary Knight (World Press Photo jury chair) are business partners (full disclosure: I interned at VII in 2005-6). The photojournalism industry is a small one–though that can also be debated, especially if we look outside of the US and western Europe–and it’s inevitable that the judges of these major contests will know or have worked with the photographers whose work wins awards, since both tend to come from the upper echelons of the photojournalism industry. In this case, Knight and Stanmeyer’s ties are very close. In a World Press Photo video discussing the winning image (above), Knight says that he voted the story out of the competition, but the jury kept the image in the running for a single award. Speaking with the New York Times’ Lens Blog, Knight said that he tried to recuse himself from the jury when the image was considered, but that contest regulations did not allow that. Because of this, we must rely on trust that the award was reached in a fair manner. Even the appearance of unfairness in the judging process, however, undermines the award. If nothing else, there is now a strong reason for World Press Photo to amend their the contest rules and create a procedure for dealing with apparent conflicts of interest in the judging. Ironically, it was in a press release announcing Knight as jury chair that World Press Photo said they would alter the rules to increase transparency for examining digital files for ethical violations after the controversy over Paul Hansen’s winning image last year.

I’m not sure that Stanmeyer’s and Knights close ties are the largest issue here. Knight has said that looking at the images entered in the contest, the industry lacks resources to cover the year’s important issues, though he says that is not the case with the winning images. Furthermore, 8% of images chosen for the final round of judging had to be thrown out due to ethics violations. And only 14% of entrants to the contest were women (that number is under “Data on Entries” in David Campbell’s post as secretary of the jury). We’ve written before about sexism and gender bias in the photography industry, but this is a stark statistic.

By the way, here is a video of Gary Knight talking about some of the other winning entries:
 

There have been a number of responses to the awards and analyses posted online. Here are a few that I found most interesting (some linked above):

David Guttenfelder in North Korea

“This is it. This is your country. This is what I saw.” – David Guttenfelder




David Guttenfelder, Associated Press Chief Photographer in Asia, has made 30 trips and stayed 100 days in North Korea, one of few Western photographers with regular access to the isolated country. The AP was the first news organization to open a bureau in Pyongyang, in January 2012. Guttenfelder, an American photographer who has been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize seven times and has won seven World Press Photo awards, oversees the bureau’s photography and staff.

He posts regularly on his instagram account (@dguttenfelder), including images transmitted directly from the streets of Pyongyang since he was first allowed to bring a cell phone in to the country in February 2013. Just Something magazine published a blog with 41 of his instagram images that are well worth checking out; the feeling we get with instagram and mobile photography – casual, personal, instant – is very interestingly applied in the context of the “hermit kingdom”. These are not images we’ve seen before.

Guttenfelder is in a unique position to document a country that had almost no independent photographic record for 60 years, and luckily for all of us he is doing a wonderful job and is very eloquent about what he is trying to accomplish. National Geographic, who recently sent him on assignment in North Korea, invited him to speak at a recent National Geographic Live! event, and they’ve published a video of his talk.

After earlier comparing his vision of North Korea on his first trips to the country to the movie The Truman Show he talks about his mission as “trying to interpret reality, trying to reveal what is real inside the country.”

North Koreans ride an escalator past a model of the country’s Unha-3 rocket as they enter an exhibition in #Pyongyang of #Kimjongilia flowers named after the late leader Kim Jong Il. (c) David Guttenfelder.

This is one of the more inspiring videos about photography and how it can be used that I’ve seen in recent memory.

Handout Photos as Propaganda

A week or so ago I posted this photo from Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant on dvafoto.tumblr.com, but in retrospect we wanted to feature it on the main blog as well. It is an important demonstration of what press freedom and access to power is all about and the inherent hazards in allowing government entities (or any other group) to provide their own coverage. The images may emerge from a democratic government, but they really won’t look much different than the propaganda released from a dictatorship.

Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant, December 30, 2013.

This is the essence of a debate that has been raging since the Fall about access to President Obama’s White House (and before that, honestly: Scott wrote about issues of photography in the White House days after Obama took office). Ron Fourniner’s article in The National Journal titled “Obama’s Image Machine: Monopolistic Propaganda Funded by You” has a thorough account of a meeting that took place on October 29 in the office of White House Press Secretary Jay Carney. At that meeting New York Times photographer Doug Mills laid out the complaints of the White House Press Corp about access to the President’s activities, and likened the White House’s activities to the Soviet Union’s state-run news agency TASS, whose successor ITAR-TASS, and fellow state-run media RIA-Novosti, is more recently known for supplying famously heroic images of Vladimir Putin to the international media.

Doug Mills’ meeting with Jay Carney was followed up by a letter hand delivered to the White House on November 21st (PDF), signed by a number of prominent media and media advocacy organizations, including the National Press Photographers Association, The New York Times, The White House News Photographers Association, ABC, CNN, NBC, Getty Images and the Associated Press. The AP also issued their own statement about this issue. Santiago Lyon, AP Vice President and Director of Photography, answered questions on the AP’s own blog:

The photos on that page [The White House official Flickr page] are visual press releases and are carefully vetted by administration employees before distribution. Such images are increasingly offered to the media by the White House in lieu of real journalistic access and we and other media organizations find this unacceptable. Media organizations generally do not reproduce written press releases verbatim, so why should we settle for these official images?

Santiago Lyon also penned an op-ed for The New York Times on December 11, 2013: “Obama’s Orwellian Image Control”. If you are interested in this topic, it is a critical piece to read. He reiterates his point above:

The official photographs the White House hands out are but visual news releases. Taken by government employees (mostly former photojournalists), they are well composed, compelling and even intimate glimpses of presidential life. They also show the president in the best possible light, as you’d expect from an administration highly conscious of the power of the image at a time of instant sharing of photos and videos.

And he ends with strong and wise words:

Until the White House revisits its draconian restrictions on photojournalists’ access to the president, information-savvy citizens, too, would be wise to treat those handout photos for what they are: propaganda.

Part of this issue is the distinction between public and private events. Some editors and photographers are arguing that when the White House releases its own images from events on social media – such as Presidents Obama and Bush meeting on Air Force One en route to Nelson Mandela’s funeral, which was off-limits to the press corp pool also onboard the aircraft – they are demonstrating that the events are not private and are indeed newsworthy. BagNews’ discussion “As Press Battles WH Over Photo Access, Did Media Cross its Own Line Publishing Obama/Bush Mandela Trip Pictures?” provides many good examples of the difference between White House coverage of events and that of the free press, including the Obama/Bush pictures on Air Force One. Another post at BagNews, “Photo Ops and Staging: Beyond White House Access, the Larger Issue is What We Have Access To” by David Campbell, has more examples of the exclusive framing of events that the White House photographers have that they deny members of the press access to.

For more context, photographer David Hume Kennerly talks about his time in the White House in an interview with James Estrin of the New York Times’ Lens Blog. Time Magazine’s Lightbox blog also published an article by former White House photo editor Mike Davis: “The Backstory: Why Photographers Need More Access In The White House”.

Furthering their terrific studies of these issues, BagNews announced this week that the subject of their next salon would be The Debate over White House Photo Access. It will take place on February 9, 2014. I also want to thank Michael Shaw, Publisher of BagNews, for providing me with resources and his insight on this topic.

BagNews argues, rightly, that, “One thing we need are images that address the construction of the image, including pictures showing photographers in the photo, the set-up of the photo-op, or using particular visual strategies such as different angles, depth of field, and framing.” One important function of the press is to create transparency about how the political machine works. Being able to have an independent look at how events are set up and designed is critical in understanding what exactly the events mean.

Time magazine points this out in other ways too with another of Phil Bicker’s great edits of handout photos in a post called “Public Service or Propaganda? Top Handout Photos of 2013″. Bicker posts often on Time Lightbox under the title “Man on the Wire”, and we wrote about one of his post’s last year: “Déjà Vu in 2012″. In this post he shows off all manner of official photographs that have been published in the press.

Besides the White House, Kremlin and the North Korean official news agencies, other notable sources for handout photos include the NTSB (for photos of the crash of Asiana flight 214 in San Francisco and a train crash in New York), NASA (for photos of space research, manned space flight and an unfortunate picture of a flying frog during rocket launch), the Government Communication and Information System of South Africa for pictures of Nelson Mandela’s funeral, the U.S. Army for a photograph of Chelsea Manning.

I’ll finish this roundup with two examples of images that cross more obviously in to the sphere of possible-propaganda, images that look like they could be news photographs but are in fact handed out by political organizations: a photo of bodies of victims that Syrian rebels claim were killed in a toxic gas attack by pro-government forces in eastern Ghouta and a photograph that the Kenyan Government provided from the Westgate Mall attack in Nairobi showing the collapsed roof of a parking garage.

BagNews also provides startling examples of powerful official imagery that has, in one way or another, been made available to the press. “Ready, Aim, Backfire: Police Photographer’s “Rolling Stone Retribution” Photos” examines the photographs of Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev leaked by a Massachusetts State Police official photographer. This is an interesting example of how official photographs might actually undermine the official narrative; see BagNews for more on this argument. Another post, from January 6, 2014, “Even if the Police Report Wasn’t Buried by the Holiday, What Photo Would Make Us Understand Sandy Hook?” is a powerful anonymous essay about the police report and evidence photos taken by Connecticut State Police from their investigation into the Sandy Hook school shooting in December 2012. This post looks closely at the photographs, ponders their meaning (or lack thereof), and asks why they were buried in the Holiday news cycle and rarely published.

The prevalence of handout photos being published in news sources demonstrates the success organizations are having in shaping the narrative they prefer by controlling the photographs that are available of an event. This is something that we should all be aware of, and wary of. There are times and places – for example, the President’s private family dinners and on the launch pad during a rocket ignition – where restrictions on access are acceptable and logical. But so many other times, as clearly laid out in the photos and articles above, this power is being abused. And we the media and the people are right to resist this.

Matt Lutton: 2013 in Pictures

2013 was an interesting year for me, full of travel and new experiences. I was able to see a couple of stories I’ve been trying to produce for years turn into full pieces in major magazines. I was also thrilled to join Boreal Collective, where I will be collaborating with fantastic photographers and good friends of mine. We have a lot of exciting plans for 2014, and you can follow us on twitter or facebook. Another high moment from last year was exhibiting my work “Only Unity” in Belgrade, Serbia in November. It was the first complete solo exhibition of the project I’ve been working on for the last seven years.

It has been a year to take stock and think about how to present the work that I’ve completed in my time living in Serbia and start to plan what comes next.

Today, weeks late as is my tradition here on dvafoto, I present 25 of my favorite images from the last year, presented chronologically. Now I can’t wait to get started on new projects and new endeavors in 2014.

You can follow my work more regularly through my tumblr: onlyunity.tumblr.com and on instagram: @mattlutton. Here are some of the other major happenings in my life and work last year, some of which showed up in my slideshow above:

    I completed a story that I’ve been looking in to for the last year about segregation in Roma communities in Slovakia, which sometimes takes the form of construction of barrier walls separating Roma communities from Slovak neighborhoods. The project was commissioned by Vice Magazine and published in April as “The New Roma Ghettos: Slovakia’s Ongoing Segregation Nightmare” alongside an incredible story written by Aaron Lake Smith. More of the project can be seen on my website.

    In April I attended the first New York Photo Review organized by the New York Times and James Estrin of the NYTimes’ Lens Blog.

    I spent June traveling around Croatia and Serbia for the Dutch travel magazine Columbus. It was great to get off my normal beat in the Balkans and see some beautiful sights and eat very well, especially in Central Serbia near Uvac Canyon. The photographs from Croatia are now available in my archive.

    In July I was invited to be the first photographer to take over Burn Magazine’s Instagram Feed (@burnmagazine) for their new feature “Burn Diary”.

    While photographing for Burn I visited Istanbul, Turkey for a friend’s birthday and promptly found myself photographing street skirmishes relating to the Taksim Square / Gezi Park protests we wrote about in mid-June. It was my first real experience with tear gas and rubber bullets, giving me a new perspective on the work all of our colleagues who work in these situations regularly. It is not easy.

    In August and October I was reporting in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Hercegovina for the Chronicle of Higher Education for a piece that was published as “The Science of Hatred”. My pictures and work was published alongside Tarik Samarah’s photographs from Srebrenica.

    My exhibition at the ArtGet Gallery, part of the Belgrade Cultural Center, was a part of Raw Season organized by the collective Belgrade Raw, who I interviewed on dvafoto in 2009. The series of exhibitions this year included shows by very talented friends of mine, including Donald Weber (who was showing his project “Interrogations”) and Pete Brook (who exhibited ‘Seen But Not Heard’: Photos from US Juvenile Prisons.). It was tremendous fun to show them around Belgrade when they were in town for their openings.

    The year concluded with an opportunity to see through another story I’ve been interested in for years, and to do it alongside my friend and fellow Belgrade foreign correspondent Andrew MacDowall. The Financial Times commissioned us to produce a audio-visual slideshow in Bosnia and Hercegovina about the unique relationship between a iron ore mine in the Republika Srpska village of Omarska and a smelter in the Federation city of Zenica. The piece which was published online as “Zenica partnership helps banish ghosts of Omarska” as part of their annual Connected Europe magazine. More images from this piece are also available on my archive.

See some of the presentations of these stories in print and pictures from my exhibition on the published work section of my website.

My yearly roundups from past years: 2012, 2011, 2010 and 2009.

Thanks everyone, and see you around dvafoto this year!

Average wage for US photographers: $36,330, plus other data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics

Employment of photographers, by area, May 2012 - DOL BLS Occupational Employment Statistics

Employment of photographers, by area, May 2012 – DOL BLS Occupational Employment Statistics

We know that photojournalists have a worse job than dishwashers (and reporters are worse off than lumberjacks), but the methodology of CareerCast’s annual list of best and worst jobs always feels a little loosey-goosey to me. Having a job and making money might not be everything, but it’s worth looking at some real data.

The US Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Employment Statistics program collects hard data on non-farm jobs semiannually. The result is picture of the American workforce unlike any other, collating average wages and employment numbers across the country in fine detail. Here is the most recent data (May 2012) for photographers in the US.

There are some interesting revelations in the data. First, the average American photographer makes an annual wage of $36,330 (median $28,490). There are 56,140 Americans employed, either part- or full-time, as photographers. However, there are only 3,860 photographers employed by Newspaper, Periodical, Book, and Directory Publishers, making an average wage of $41,150. You can also see maps that breakdown wages and employment by state and other geographical areas. The three highest paying metropolitan areas for photographers are San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Hartford, Conn. The three nonmetropolitan areas with highest employment of photographers are an area of Ohio called “Other Ohio nonmetropolitan area” (not where OU is), “Western Central North Carolina nonmetropolitan area,” and “Northeast Mississippi nonmetropolitan area.”

Importantly, these numbers do not include self-employed workers, so this data does not cover freelancers.

(via Jared Wickerham on facebook)

Worth a look: Women in Photography and the conversation about sexism in editorial photography

WomeninPhoto.com - screenshot 9 December 2013

WomeninPhoto.com – screenshot 9 December 2013

It would seem that the biggest magazines with the most hiring power hire mostly male photographers. -Daniel Shea

In September, Daniel Shea provoked quite the conversation with a post on his tumblr called “On Sexism in Editorial Photography.” We reblogged the original post on our tumblr but due to travel and assignment work never got around to a roundup on the main blog here. One great result of the conversation is Women In Photo, which collects the online conversation about these issues and presents a list of American and international women photographers that any editor shouldn’t hesitate to hire for assignment work. It’s a work in progress, with a few names I like left out (Melissa Golden, Melissa Lyttle, Alixandra Fazzina, Vivian Sassen, Sandy Kim, Ariel Zambelich, Megan Spelman, Narelle Autio, Krisanne Johnson, Carolyn Drake, Nadia Shira Cohen, Sim Chi Yin, Anastasia Taylor Lind, Jessica Dimmock, Stephanie Sinclair, Lynsey Addario), but it’s a great resource so far.

Shea pointed out that the biggest magazines have mostly female editors and hire mostly male photographers and presented a few observations and thoughts about why this situations has arisen, none of which he claims to be exhaustive or anything more than his own experience: editors say they don’t know female photographers who fit their magazine’s style; men might be more aggressive in pursuing assignment work; collectives and loose organizations of photographers don’t do a good job of including women; men have an easier time assisting due to sexism and climbing the ranks that way. The whole post is worth a read. Another particularly troubling statistic that saw recently that likely has a profound affect: 64% of women journalists responding to a survey said they had experienced “intimidation, threats, or abuse” in the field or in the office. That study was conducted by the International Women’s Media Foundation.

Women In Photography also collects much of the rest of the conversation started by Shea and discussion about the conversation. There are responses by editors, photographers, and industry publications. Here’s a few I liked:

Be sure to take a look at National Geographic’s Women of Vision exhibit and Proof’s recent post about Alexandra Boulat.

Firecracker does a great job finding and highlighting the work of European women photographers (featured on dvafoto previously), and offers an annual grant. There’s also the Women Photojournalists of Washington and their annual contest.

Buzzfeed also had a wonderful post a little while back: Women Are Covering The Hell Out Of The Syria War — So Why Haven’t You Noticed?

Also, a similar conversation went around photojournalism circles in 2011, during which we had a guest post on gender and photojournalism by Melissa Golden.

And check out the International Women’s Media Foundation.

While we’re on this subject, I imagine that we could have a very similar conversation about racial and ethnic diversity in the photo industry…

Charges dropped against Photography Is Not a Crime blogger for posting police media relations number online

This is a local story for me since it involves the Boston Police Department. I’m happy to see a positive resolution, though disappointed that it the situation even arose. At its essence, a blogger was charged with witness intimidation and faced 10 years in prison for posting the publicly-available media relations phone number and email address for the Boston Police Department in a post about police harassment of a man taking video of police activity (video above).

Carlos Miller is the very active blogger behind the Photography Is Not a Crime site, which catalogs instances of photographers and videographers being arrested, detained, harassed, or otherwise interfered with by authorities while taking pictures or video. The blog is a valuable resource in the fight against increased limitations placed on visual media, especially regarding police activity. Miller frequently writes about intimidation and harassment of photographers by police, and entreats readers to write to police departments and lawmakers to fight against these injustices. We’ve covered laws preventing recording police activity before, in addition to other parts of the war on cameras.

In August 2013, Miller published a blog post about a video in which a Boston Police sergeant shoved and harassed a man taking video of police action on a public sidewalk. At the end of that post, Miller told readers to call the Boston Police Department and listed the Public Service Desk customer service number available on BPD’s own website. One reader did just that, recording a short conversation with Boston police spokeswoman Angelene Richardson, who found the recording online and filed a charge against Taylor Hardy for illegal wiretapping (Hardy maintains that permission was granted to record the call; the charge was later dropped). In a post discussing these wiretapping charges, Miller again asked readers to call a publicly available number to ask that charges be dropped. In a later post, Miller said he posted the number to “[allow] readers to contact them to show [BPD] we are paying attention.” After numerous readers called in about the charges, Boston Police Detective Nick Moore filed witness intimidation charges against Carlos Miller and threatened similar charges for anyone who called in.

Miller launched an indiegogo campaign to help with legal fees, ultimately raising $4300 to hire a lawyer. Readers continued to call in to the Boston Police Department, the lawyer mounted legal challenges to the charges, and the case started to draw some media attention. The Boston Police Department eventually folded and agreed to drop all charges against Miller and Hardy. You can read other summaries of the case by PBS and the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Of particular note related to the BPD’s actions that started this whole chain of events, in 2011 a federal appeals court ruled against (pdf) Boston police arresting a man for using his cell phone to record police activity in public without permission. The court noted that “changes in technology and society have made the lines between private citizen and journalist exceedingly difficult to draw.”

Manipulative headlines and listicles: Upworthy and Buzzfeed are reshaping the internet

Upworthy Generator parody site - Before You Say Africa Is Getting Better, Listen To This One Verb From An Eight Year-Old

Upworthy Generator parody site – Before You Say Africa Is Getting Better, Listen To This One Verb From An Eight Year-Old

“Upworthy rankles some journalists partly because, even as it innocently coos Web readers with tender headlines, the repetitiveness of its style suggests a rather cynical ploy to lasso cheap attention rather than fully engage an audience hunting anything more than a dopamine rush.” -The Atlantic, Upworthy: I Thought This Website Was Crazy, but What Happened Next Changed Everything

For the past year, Upworthy-hosted videos and Buzzfeed listicles have been taking over my facebook feed. It’s been interesting to watch how these sites, and others like them, have come to dominate our news culture. Their headlines are manipulative, almost guaranteed to make you click, but rarely are the informative. You already know the style, and it’s creeping into other news outlets. Here are a few examples from a USA Today story about the emotionally charged headlines employed by Upworthy, Huffington Post, and Buzzfeed:

  • A sexist reporter tried to box her in, but she took everything and threw it right back in his face.” -Upworthy
  • Come on! Homeless man who returned $850 loses benefits after doing good deed.” -Huffington Post
  • JPMorgan shows exactly how to not use Twitter.” -Buzzfeed
  • Coming from journalism, I hate these headlines, and so do others. They editorialize, tell the reader very little about what I’m about to see, and make the reader feel guilty if one doesn’t click them. But it’s been enormously successful for these companies. Upworthy is the fastest growing news site in history, with 30 million unique viewers in May 2013. While at first glance, the site seems like it only repackages videos hosted and created elsewhere, it’s making money through sponsored content and partnerships with organizations such as the Gates Foundation.

    Marketing companies now offer advice on how to apply this viral-style headline writing to your small business. And it’s invading the internet. There are a ton of sites trying to clone Upworthy and Buzzfeed’s success, such as ViralNova. They use focus groups and a/b headline testing to find the most clickable headlines. There’s Godvine, a Christian site with headlines such as “See Why These Dogs Are Singing… It’s Way More Important Than You Think” and “He Has Strength, Faith in Jesus and Cerebral Palsy – This Video Will Make You Cry.

    Mainstream news outlets are taking note. The Atlantic recently published “The Case Against Cars in 1 Utterly Entrancing GIF“; Time, always one for Top # lists, has a Viral section with stories such as “The Absolute Grossest Way to Have Your Fortune Read;” Slate’s headlines are starting to change into writing like “This Awesome Ad, Set to the Beastie Boys, Is How to Get Girls to Become Engineers.”

    Buzzfeed has been able to do the same thing with photos and gifs. Slate interviewed Buzzfeed founder (and Huffington Post co-founder) Jonah Peretti about how they make photos go viral. As of this writing, “21 Pictures That Will Restore Your Faith In Humanity.” And while not every post there is a hit–”84 Things That Aren’t On An Everything Bagel” didn’t post quite the same numbers (~41,000 as of this writing)–the site has figured a way to reliably draw traffic to photography. Of course, it’s not the sort of photography that we often write about at dvafoto. But just as Kony2012 showed that it’s possible to get the public interested obscure international issues, there might be something for the photojournalism community to learn from Buzzfeed.

    Not all is well at Buzzfeed, though. The provenance of many of Buzzfeed’s images is often a bit questionable. They frequently lift images or whole lists from other sites without attribution or concern for copyright. The 21 Images That Will Restore Your Faith in Humanity came from a combination of Ned Hardy posts and Reddit. The site often steals images without asking for permission, particularly troubling when the copyright infringement is used in a sponsored story. One photographer fired back at Buzzfeed, and got them to pay $500 to a charity of his choice, for stealing his photo: “10 Good Reasons BuzzFeed Is Going to Pay My Invoice for Copyright Theft“.

    While Upworthy’s sole positive is drawing eyeballs to some worthy stories (here’s a story from my hometown which aired on Rock Center, which I wouldn’t have seen had it not been for Upworthy), I have been impressed by Buzzfeed’s longform journalism section, BuzzReads. Though the headlines can be sensational, the content is good and original. Here are a few stories which have caught my eye recently: I Was Drugged By A Stranger, William Suess Thought He Was An American Until The Day He Was Deported, Was An American College Student Kidnapped By North Korea?, Wildcatting: A Stripper’s Guide to the Modern American Boomtown. Poynter has a nice article about what Buzzfeed’s push into longform reporting might mean.

    “What would a Snopes for ViralNova or Upworthy even look like? It could question the sources of the stories and the details of the anecdotes, or provide context for their claims. But could it correct sentiments like, ‘man is fundamentally good’ or ‘we should do better?’ A site specific to this purpose would be more un-viral than anti-viral. Correcting a post like this is like fact checking Chicken Soup for the Soul, or refuting a prayer.” -Buzzfeed, “How Internet Chain Letters Took Over The Media

    Buzzfeed itself has one of the best pieces on how and why this emotionally-charged or nostalgia-infused content is taking over Facebook and the rest of the web. The article argues Upworthy, Buzzfeed, and their ilk substantially resemble chain letters and email forwards (what one MetaFilter commenter called “‘Jesus and kittens love you’ fwd-mails for twentysomething liberals.”).

    Snopes.com arose to fact-check viral chain letters, but that doesn’t quite work with Upworthy and the like. Their posts are factual but packaged and reframed in an inspirational or otherwise emotional way. One can’t correct the sentiments in Upworthy headlines such as ‘man is fundamentally good’ or ‘person is brave for confront adversity.’ The best you can do is satirize the style, and thankfully a few people have:

  • Upworthy Generator randomly creates pitch-perfect Upworthy headlines, probably using Markov Chains.
  • Up Worth It‘s twitter feed regularly publishes spot-on parody headlines such as, “This Brave Young Woman Proves In Spectacular Fashion That She’s Allergic To Gluten, Not Life.
  • XKCD reimagines 20th Century Headlines Rewritten to Get More Clicks
  • McSweeney’s Internet Tendency‘s Suggested Buzzfeed Articles (and Buzzfeed actually made a few of the lists)
  • Make your own lists with the Buzzfeed Article Creator.
  • FeedBuzz
  • By the way, here are two fantastic satirical exploitations of the Buzzfeed style on Buzzfeed itself: 22 Amazing Things Only a 90s Kid Would Understand, and 7 Fantastic Ways To Distinguish Between Sense And Nonsense. The first was created by what seems to be a Buzzfeed performance artist under the name Spacedog Escargot.

    Also, if you use chrome, you can install an extension called Rather to filter Upworthy links, baby pictures, tv spoilers, and anything else you don’t want to see.