Yesterday I spoke to a photographer colleague. He was moved by "what happened at Gruner und Jahr". He means: a long list of magazines is being discontinued or sold. The media group RTL bought the entire media company Gruner+Jahr at the beginning of 2022: the flagship of the clients for freelance photographers. Anyone who took the famous portfolio tour for self-promotion could not get past this building on the Außenalster in Hamburg. If one had an appointment with a picturedesk, it could happen that one was also sent to other picture editors: Geo and Stern, Capital and Brigitte gathered here.
Protests against sale
Now, in the media, we see the magazine covers being held aloft as protest posters in front of Hamburg City Hall. Permanent and freelance employees are protesting in front of the Hamburg Senate. They are protesting against an economic decision: Their salaries are being rationalized away and the inefficiency of their daily work thus attested.
The colleague I'm talking to has been holding his own in the market as a freelance photographer for many years now, mixing in prestigious (lower-paid) magazine jobs, PR assignments and has another mainstay by teaching at a school. He too has now been turned down for jobs that he actually already was booked for. But "safe" seems to be less in the industry now than ever before. As we talk we are increasing each other's sympathy for the other freelancers: For the picture editors, for the writers, for the photographers who don't have a broader base for their income.
No practical, stable solution
I try to think of comforting words: There are great grants and scholarships in Hamburg - it won't be so bad. And with the thought of the high rents in Hamburg and how many jobs will now be unavailable, I'm sure it won't be enough for everyone, and most importantly, it won't be a workable, stable solution for everyone.
Next anchor of hope: the better paid jobs in the PR world. Those magazines that are already financed by companies and that like to hire (former) journalists. This makes the advertising messages look like trustworthy news and well-researched journalism. Here, too, portraits of B-list celebrities and people in suits are commissioned. But here one gets instead of 150 to 450€ gladly the double fee and on top the bad conscience its idealism to the commerce to have sold.
Saving tip: These magazines are free of charge!
Nostalgia print journalism
To be honest, I wasn't at all surprised by the news of the job cuts and the discontinuation of the magazines: When I look at my own purchases of print media and thus at a part of the development of the media landscape, I see printed magazines more like vinyl records - which some people treat themselves to for the special enjoyment, for the authentic sound and feel. But otherwise, everyone just listens to Spotify, knowing full well that the artists get much less money here, but that it's much more practical - with the music on the smartphone.
Did we believe that journalism as we knew it was not a sinking flagship? Had we applied for jobs at magazines and ever believed it would be a safe bet until retirement? I don't think so! We were all too aware of how much sales figures had been declining for years for that. And how, on the other hand, the number of well-trained, eager competitors was increasing; how many hundreds of e-mails were received daily by the few picture editors; how quickly a contact was worthless again because the call was answered once too late. All those who weren't a little worried might just have been to busy making a living.
What did we as young photojournalists actually stand up for back then? For a better world, for the myth of the globetrotting photographer, or just to become contemporary witnesses. We and all the others whose jobs and salaries are tied to the media industry have undoubtedly and involuntarily become the latter. We just would have hoped for different images than magazine covers symbolically held aloft in front of City Hall. And we wouldn't have thought before that photographers wouldn't be regarding the pain of Others, but at their own.