It’s proved impossible for me to get this shot of former Philadelphia Police Cpt. Ray Lewis being arrested, published anywhere. I was adamantly rebuffed by the Philadelphia Inquirer, NYT, local NY papers, and Newsweek, before even looking at the photograph. One of the only published photos of this paradoxical and intense event is located here at the NYC Observer:
Glad this photo saw the light of day.
Adamantly rebuffed?! OK. Looks like we’re going to have to respond here.
Here’s John’s initial email to us (well, my gmail address, specifically):
As I’m sure you’ve heard, a former Philadelphia Police Cpt. Ray Lewis was arrested this morning, in his uniform, making for a unique, emotional, intense, and paradoxical moment. I’m a freelance photojournalist and was able to get a few frames of this, and after arduous hours of attempting to get this photo published, The Philadelphia Inquirer wouldn’t even consider looking at it, neither would the New York Times or a number of publications as I was told they already had photographers there, but obviously not had caught such an emotional scene. Attached is a low res sequence of the actual arrest. Would the prospect of this being published be of any interest to you?
Of course this would be of interest to us. We’ve been covering OWS all along. I thought these might be a good fit for the magazine, or the site, instead of just plopping on the Tumblr. So my response:
Great shots. I’ve sent to our photo editor, will let you know in the AM.
Earlier this morning, he writes back:
I hope this finds you well sorry for the use of a different email. Thanks for the compliments and was wondering whether your photo editor had checked in with you yet about the photos I sent over late last night. All the best!
And then what? The Observer picked one of them up, great! But somehow Newsweek, big bad Newsweek, became one of those who “adamantly rebuffed” the photos “before even looking at the photograph.” Come on man. It’s a cool photo. No need to sully folks like us in the media to get the word out. Let the images you captured speak for themselves.
I would love to clarify this as I’ve gotten some inquiry about it, so I will (If you’d like the shorter response, just scroll down to the last paragraph). Personally, none of my photographs have ever been published by any news outlet, on any level of audience, whether it be international, national, local, or even a school paper, despite some level of insistence in some way shape or form (I have had some live band photographs published in a few D.I.Y zines). After capturing the above images I had first sought to contact the Philadelphia Inquirer, as I incorrectly thought would be the logical choice of first publication. After a few emails and two voicemails I was told that someone from the photo desk would get back to me. After upping a certain level of aggressiveness, my emails somehow went through a chain of command through the Inquirer, and landed on the Director of Photography’s desk. The Inquirer was not interested in the photo, before I had even sent over a sample low resolution image (in these preliminary emails, I had only described what the images were about and had not sent any sample). From there I began to branch my way out and sent various emails out to other publications like the NY Times and the Huffington Post. I had spoken to a writer at the Huffington Post and he had informed me that he was unable to purchase photos, or he would have definitely had. I wasn’t distraught at this, as the response was quite clear and didn’t leave me hanging on to any false or imagined hope.
I had contacted a writer at Newsweek late that night, 17 November, as a last ditch effort kind of thing, sincerely thinking that I held no shot in hell (Newsweek, being as prestigious as it is and myself being up to date unpublished). After speaking with a writer for the joint Newsweek/Daily Beast publication, I was told that it would be sent to their photo editor and I would be contacted in the morning. At this point in the day after spending half of my day attempting to get, what I thought was a successful image, public, I was incredibly frustrated at the blind rejection I had received at MOST BUT NOT ALL publications. Before calling it a night I posted these two images, which I thought would be completely lost (seeing as news is quite timely and I felt the longer I waited the less impact they would have), onto my PERSONAL blog of photos. Seeing as 1) I’ve never had a published photograph, and 2) none of my photos had ever made it as viral throughout the internet, I naively assumed that nothing but a stir would occur. This was after midnight on the 18 November.
On November 18 at 12:23pm I sent an email to the writer I was in contact with and had asked whether the photo editor had checked back in, as I had not heard back from him yet. He responded to this email with a link to the original posting on my personal blog, which had already gained some popularity, with the original comment I had made. The original comment I had made is as follows. Please keep in mind that my frustration was at its brim, and was INACCURATELY and PREMATURELY directed at Newsweek:
“It’s proved impossible for me to get this shot of former Philadelphia Police Cpt. Ray Lewis being arrested, published anywhere. I was adamantly rebuffed by the Philadelphia Inquirer, NYT, local NY papers, and Newsweek, before even looking at the photograph. One of the only published photos of this paradoxical and intense event is located here at the NYC Observer:
At the time, the New York Observer had one of the significantly few images of Capt. Ray Lewis being arrested, and in the article the author had written
“If that’s not Pulitzer-worthy photography–capturing the true insanity of today–then we don’t know our Pulitzers.”
The photograph was without doubt a great image but (understandably so?) I grew more frustrated at the ineptness of my own photographs, and while waiting to hear back from the writer at Newsweek, I was in touch with the writer at the New York Observer, sending him the same files and a similar but more concise email, pasted below:
“Your article utilizes a very great photograph of Cpt. Ray Lewis being arrested early today. I have, what seems to me, a stronger photograph that I took earlier today as well and have been scrambling around throughout the afternoon to find a way to get this photo published. The Philadelphia Inquirer wouldn’t even consider looking at it. Attached is a low res sequence of the actual arrest. Would the prospect of this being published be of any interest to you?”
I received the following response:
“I would love to publish. Can I have your name for proper credit.”
At which I proceeding to inquire about a the leeway in budget for some sort of compensation. Seeing as though I go to school for photojournalism, and seek to make it a manageable career out of it, I didn’t think it was an outrageous request. The response was adequate enough and I was told that the budget did not allow for such a thing. After some thought, and fearing that my image would be lost in the public view, I allowed the writer at the New York Observer to publish the photo (which was still only a low resolution file) with his article, gratis.
After receiving the above (wayyy above at this point) email from the writer at Newsweek about the comments on my blog, the rest of the email (which he fails to provide) goes like this, word for word (I left out personal information as a case for privacy):
That’s fine. Best of luck next time. They truly are great photographs.
I wash simply explaining that those who had told me their photo editor would contact me or review the images failed to get back to me or return phone calls as I was growing frustrated that I was politely receiving a rejection before given an opportunity. I was not attempting to accuse and did not mean for it to come off this way.
On Nov 18, 2011, at 3:02 PM, xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx <> wrote:What do you mean “fail to follow up with my phone calls”? When did you call me?
xxxxxxxxxOn Fri, Nov 18, 2011 at 2:58 PM, John <> wrote:xxxxxxxxx,I apologize about the miscommunication on my part. It was unreasonable to assume so, you just were not the only publication to inform me they would discuss with the editor, only to fail to follow up with my phone calls etc. Again I apologize about my lack of control of frustration and hope this finds you well
To conclude, in not so many words, I take responsibility for my own immature presumptuousness, as the writer had NO IDEA it could have been my first publication and certainly did not know my own limitations in dealing with such a process. As an aspiring professional journalist I should have known immediately that any photo or piece of information can turn viral instantaneously. It was unprofessional on my end, but the anxiety replaced logic. Again, I apologize to the writer about MY miscommunication and uncalled for presumption in believing I was just getting another rejection.
The idea of getting these photos paid published was priority, but as the day went on and the doors kept closing, the idea of getting these photos simply published became more of a priority.
EDIT: THOSE CLAIMING MEDIA CENSORSHIP SHOULD KEEP IN MIND THAT FREELANCE PHOTOGRAPHERS COMPETE AGAINST STAFF, REGULARLY USED FREELANCE, AND WIRE PHOTOGRAPHERS. THERE ARE A LOT TO CHOOSE FROM. DO NOT AUTOMATICALLY ASSUME CENSORSHIP (ALTHOUGH IT DOES HAPPEN). SOME MAKE IT, SOME DON’T.