Trade associations in almost every industry have suffered drastic membership loss in the past decade, and photography is no exception. As users moved online and “precious” information became freely available, many photographers have questioned why they should pony up money for an occasional happy hour and conference in an outdated hotel. I’ve personally maintained my membership for years more out of a sense of obligation than any perceived benefit.
But as NPPA President Melissa Lyttle points out in an essay entitled “The Increasing Cost of Truth,” there is one very significant change in professional photojournalism circles that is forcing re-examination: the shift of full-time employment into independent contractors.
Photographers formerly employed by news organizations often had membership fees paid for by their employer, so maintaining status within the NPPA was a no-brainer. Their employment also provided benefits like health insurance, retirement plans, and legal protection from false arrest, imprisonment, search and seizure, etc. This is no longer the case.
And for many photojournalists (whether freelance or not), work environments are becoming increasingly hostile. Thus the advocacy work of the NPPA for everything from press freedoms to copyright legislation has also become more directly relevant. It’s a level of protection that can’t be gleaned from watching a YouTube video or downloading a PhotoShelter guide.
Don’t like police confiscating your cameras? Want to be able to photograph concerts at public parks? Think your next DSLR should have encryption features? The issues aren’t abstract. They are real-life and directly impact the way visual journalists make a living.
Membership won’t eliminate the need to hire your own lawyer, but it does mean that an organization is proactively looking out for the collective legal rights of visual journalists. And at a $145 per year, it’s still a bargain.
[Disclosure: PhotoShelter provides an annual discount to NPPA members]