Covering a violent weekend in Chicago


“I found myself barefoot, ankle deep in water, holding the hand of a 17-year-old boy who had been shot during the downpour. I told him to hang in there and that the ambulance was on the way.” -Vincent D. Johnson, He was motionless with his big eyes staring up into the rain

It was a particularly violent weekend in Chicago, with some 82 shootings in 4 days. Vincent D. Johnson, a freelancer for the Sun Times, wrote a moving piece about the watching one of the weekend’s victims die while Johnson kept him company waiting for the police. The piece is well worth a read. It’s part of the Sun-Times’ Homicide Watch section.

Huffington Post has collected tweets and instagram posts of two Chicago Tribune staffers, reporter Peter Nickeas and photographer E. Jason Wambsgans, as they covered the violence, too. As you progress down the sequence of events, the victims keep filling up lines in a notebook.

In his piece, Vincent D. Johnson said he remembered advice from one of his teachers, “You’re a human first and a photojournalist second.” The Columbia Journalism Review just published an article about this very subject, which is more contentious than you might think. I was glad to see LA Times’ Clarence Williams’ toothbrush picture lead the article; before I considered myself a photographer, I attended a lecture by him at my university and the story of that image and what effect it had has always stuck with me. There was massive backlash against the phtoographer and writer for not intervening in the situation, and they won awards for the work. Williams’ work on the story won the 1998 Pulitzer for Feature Photography. The story had a real impact, though. The subjects’ lives were improved as a result of the reporting and Los Angeles and the state moved quickly to reform child protective services there.

Make sure to read CJR’s Are we journalists first? It’s a good survey of the issue.

And while you’re at it, revisit Daniel Shea’s Chicago Fire for Fader from last year.

Gawker: Vice Media staffers and freelancers work for a “pittance”

Vice Media
Vice Media

Freelancers—writers, photographers, illustrators, and otherwise—tell us the rates are low, and that Vice (like many other publications) is often slow in paying them. Salaries at Vice Media and the company’s pay rate for contract work were described to us as “a pittance,” “a fucking joke,” and “so low I couldn’t even consider it, it was offensive.” -Gawker, Working at Vice Media Is Not As Cool As It Seems

I’ve never worked with Vice, but have plenty of friends who have, and I’ve heard horror stories about their pay rates and frequent payment delays. This Gawker piece alleges that the Vice empire has been built on wages and assignment rates that freelancers and staffers describe as a “pittance,” and which they often wait months to receive. A former intern told Gawker that they were offered a full-time job at Vice in Brooklyn with an annual salary of $20,000. A high-level editor at one of Vice’s highest-trafficked sites earns under $40,000 per year. Vice has responded to Gawker’s piece: VICE to Gawker: Fuck You and Fuck Your Garbage Click-Bait ‘Journalism’ but does little to dispute the facts of Gawker’s piece beyond some ad hominem attacks and writing that “entry-level salaries range by department and are competitive with comparable emerging media companies in the digital space.” All of Gawker’s sources are anonymous.

Vice has been doing a lot of things right these days. Vice on HBO is a thought-provoking and wide-ranging series. Vice News has been impressive to watch over the last year or so; the reporters there tackle hard news with depth and wit, often on topics and regions undercovered by other outlets. Simon Ostrovsky’s Russian Roulette series on the ongoing crisis in Ukraine is not to be missed. There are creative, weird, and informative pieces periodically published by Vice, such as Mitchell Prothero’s Paintballing with Hezbollah. Vice’s Media Kit (direct pdf link) claims that Vice has over 650 million views on YouTube and the highest watch time of any YouTube channel with original content. Across television, print, and many online publishing outlets, Vice is one of the big successes of the digital media era. The Nieman Journalism Lab had an insightful article about the launch of Vice News which includes some information about the companies financials; selling a 5% equity stake to 21st Century Fox earlier this year means the market value of the company was about $1.4 billion at that time.

Since the Gawker piece came out last week, I’ve seen it posted a few times on social media, and each time have seen comments from freelancers complaining about low rates and long-delayed payments.

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: