Reuters Dumping North American Freelance Sports Photographers

Aug 24, 2013
The USA Today Sports Images Web site.
The USA Today Sports Images Web site.

By Donald R. Winslow

DURHAM, NC (August 23, 2013) – Freelance photographers who have been shooting sports on contract for Reuters in North America started getting phone calls Friday from Peter Jones, the North American Sports Photo Editor at Thomson Reuters, who told them that their sideline services would no longer be needed as of September 15.

That's because Thomson Reuters has entered into a new agreement with USA Today Sports Images, and USATSI will be providing Reuters with a live feed of all of their sports photographs beginning on that date. 

The contract freelancers in North America who have been shooting National Football League, Major League Baseball, National Hockey League, and National Basketball Association games and some college sports in cities like Chicago, where there are as many as five major league franchises, will no longer be shooting those teams for Reuters.

"The photographers I've been working with will no longer be providing that content," a source inside the Sports Illustrated photography department in New York told News Photographer magazine Friday night. But the Reuters photography clients have not yet been officially told of the change, the SI editor said. Instead, clients are hearing it on the grapevine tonight and confirming it with the photographers themselves at this point, he said.

USA Today Sports Images is headed by Bruce Odle, who managed the sale of the company to Gannett in August 2011. The company was founded by former Sports Illustrated photographer Bob Rosato, who is now the chief operating officer of USATSI and heads the photo operations of the USA Today Sports Media Group. Before SI, Rosato worked for various NFL media departments. It re-branded itself in December 2012 to provide sports images to all Gannett properties. Before then, the sports picture service was known as US Presswire.

Apparently any Thomson Reuters staff photographers who have been shooting sports in North America will be re-assigned to non-sports beats. But they will still be able to shoot sports outside of North America, the SI editor was told.

Since the agreement doesn't take force until September 15, contract freelances will likely still be covering the U.S. Open Tennis Championships which begin on August 26, he said.

Toronto freelancer Jon Blacker learned what was coming down on Friday during a phone call with Jones.

"I've worked for Reuters in Toronto on sports, news, politics, for a long time and I've known Peter Jones just as long, so I called him this morning," Blacker said. "I interrupted him, because he was having to spend today making those phone calls. And he confirmed that this is the case. He said it was purely a business decision, and that their business plan calls for using the money that Reuters saves on covering sports to re-invest in photo covering more news."

Blacker said that he also freelances for Canadian Press, and that he's been shooting baseball for CP and Reuters this year. "I'm in a unique position. I suspect I'll continue to pick up baseball games for CP," he told News Photographer. 

It's not known right now how many contract freelance photographers will be impacted by the Reuters switch, but based on the number of cities with major league franchises in football, basketball, hockey, and baseball, the number could range anywhere between 30 and 50 photographers, Blacker estimated.

The USA Today Media Group, which controls the USATSI division, was formerly known as the Gannett Digital Media Network, and its parent company is Gannett Company, Inc. They lay claim to being the largest network of local newspaper and television stations with 82 daily papers with combined circulation of 5.3 million and 23 television stations reaching 21 million households. 

Gannett, of course, pays Thomson Reuters large annual fees for providing news and financial content to Gannett publications and now, apparently, Reuters will be paying USATSI for its live sports photography feed.