Monday, September 05, 2011

Why I left Demotix

As of last Friday I no longer contribute to the Demotix website. For those who do not know them, Demotix bills itself as an;

"award-winning newswire where YOU tell the stories. We put photos and video from ordinary people and freelance photographers into the international news media."

When I started to upload photographs and news stories I was hoping that the site would be a serious replacement for other citizen journalism news hubs I had previously worked with. I was hoping that unlike these others Demotix would not degenerate into a centre for crack pot ideas and conspiracy theorists desperately trying to convince us that Hitler's brain was living on Mars.

In that respect Demotix has suceeded by retaining editorial control over content and judicious choice of what stories it promotes. So why am I leaving? The first and most obvious reason is the seemingly endless list of technical difficulties that mean uploading photographs (forget video,where problems grew exponentially) and stories can take hours and many repeated attempts.

If you're sitting in the comfort of your own home, an hour of two wasted now and then may not mean much but when uploading  more often or you're outside in difficult conditions, such delays are infuriating.I remember cursing the site with every swear word I possess in both English and Greek when trying to upload a story from the Athens riots which was written on a rapidly dying laptop in an arcade filling up with tear gas.

Despite recent attempts to improve. every upgrade simply changes the nature of the bugs rather than their frequency, it seems. The last straw was on Friday when an entire story just disappeared from before my very eyes never to be seen again. With my main job about to start again I do not have the time to spend two, three hours nursing a story through defective software.

The other problem I have with Demotix is over payment or rather the lack of transparency over what is being sold, where and for how much. By chance I happened to come across some of my images that had been licenced to the Wall Street Journal and some Danish news sites yet no mention was made of this either via my account on Demotix or email. Later a member of the Demotix staff assured me that all the details of these transaction would be made available to me within the following days. That was over a month ago and still no update of my sales has appeared in my account data in Demotix.

As you can imagine this lack of feedback is both disappointing and frustrating and has confirmed my decision that Demotix is not the place for me.

1 comment:

Tom Barfield said...

Hi there teacherdude, I hope you don't object to my leaving a reply to the issues you raise here. Some of what we've said to you was in private channels via email, so I hope you'll allow us to make a public response to your points.

Firstly, I'm glad that you think we've done a good job of keeping the nutters away from Demotix. We're proud of our verification and publishing processes, and I think that the reporting on the site generally represents a balanced and impartial view of events.

On the second point you raise, technical difficulties, your complaints are justified. There is no excuse for the difficulties you've had uploading stories to a site which relies on user contributions to survive. These are not, however, problems that can be solved overnight, especially with the relatively small size of our full-time tech team. We are in the middle of a serious long-term overhaul of our infrastructure, which will result in a much improved and streamlined experience for users in time.

I realise that you have probably heard this from myself and others, but I would hate for you to leave, never to return, with no expectation of our improving or being able to offer you a better service in future.

Your second complaint, about our sales reporting, is also totally fair, but again reflects Demotix as it has been up until now. As we speak, the deal we have recently struck with Corbis Images means that our sales teams will be receiving massively increased support from theirs; this will mean a lot more manpower and influence available for chasing down usage of our contributors' images. We will soon be implementing further improvements to our sales process which will result in payment reaching you much faster than it has done in the past.

Unfortunately, the nature of the photography and news industries (described in detail by another of our contributors here)means that there is little prospect of being able to pay photographers on a timescale shorter than several weeks. The improvements we have planned will mean that you are more certain about which of your images have been purchased and when you will be paid for them.

I don't expect that to convince you to come back; we need to produce evidence of our service having improved in order for that to happen. I'd just like you to know that we're not sitting on our hands, we're very aware of the problems some contributors are experiencing and we're working flat out to fix them.