There was a time, many years ago, when a newspaper reader could call an editor and request a photograph that had been published in the paper and be relatively certain to receive it free of charge. It was viewed as a courtesy. What is good for the read is good for the paper, right?
Well, things have changed. Today, it's all about money, not public relations.
A few years ago, when I was writing my first book, "Sweet Charlie, Dike, Cazzie, and Bobby Joe: High School Basketball In Illinois," I received permission from the then Sun-Times sports editor Bill Adee to go into the library and gather old pictures that could be used to illustrate my book.
The pictures were stacked in mounds. They weren't classified or categorized according to date or even sport. There wasn't even an identification on them. Some were 30 to 40 years old. They had never been used and there was no intention of ever publishing them. I was the only one who had a clue as to who and what they were and when the pictures were taken. In many cases, I was there.
But there was a backlash. When I returned a year later to gather pictures for my second book, "Legends of Illinois High School Basketball," I was informed that I had to pay $40 per print.
"Hey, remember me?" I said. "I worked for this paper for 33 years. And the last time I asked for pictures, I didn't have to do anything but give the paper proper credit."
It didn't matter. What used to be public relations had turned into business. Pay $40 a print, please.
I responded "thanks, but no thanks" and proceeded to gather photographs for my second and third books--and for my fourth book on high school football in Illinois that I currently am writing--from the sources themselves, pictures they have saved in their scrapbooks.
All of this comes to mind as I read Monday's lead editorial in the Chicago Tribune about the controversy between the Illinois High School Assocation and newspapers over the use of photographs taken at IHSA events. Other newspapers also have editorialized against the IHSA.
I think they are dead wrong. From my understanding of what the IHSA is doing, I see no reason why they can't conduct business in their own way--just as the newspapers do. They ask for money to resell images that their photographers take. Why can't the IHSA?
In the past, newspapers covering IHSA events took pictures for their editions and also resold those pictures and others that weren't printed in the paper to the public for a price. Now the IHSA wants to prohibit the newspapers from reselling the pictures, not from taking them for tomorrow's paper.
The IHSA has entered into an exclusive contact with a Milwaukee-based company, VIP, to take pictures at all of their events and then resell them to the public upon request. VIP also provides pictures to the IHSA to use in its programs and for other promotions.
This isn't a First Amendment issue, as some critics have argued. The IHSA isn't restricting newspapers from attending events and taking pictures and publishing as much pictures as they want in the paper.
The issue is secondary use and what happens to the photograph after it has been taken. The IHSA believes it has the right to control the contract for selling images from its own event.
My first question to an IHSA official was: "Who's taking the pictures that you are selling?" When I learned it was a private company, not the newspapers, I said the newspapers have no reason to complain.
Clearly, this is a money issue. I don't think the Illinois legislators who are sponsoring bills to prohibit the IHSA from restricting the newspapers from selling their pictures understand it at all. They've been cutting deals for years. Surely, they know a deal when they see it.
But the newspapers think they can do as they please while waving the U.S. Constitution in somebody's face. A VIP photographer recently attended the IHSA's state chess tournament and took pictures of every participant. Not a single newspaper showed up.
It seems to me, as a retired sportswriter for the Chicago Sun-Times, that newspapers have more serious issues to deal with these days.