“Who Is That On Your ID?” …oh, & I quit my job, too.
“That doesn’t look like you!” and “Who is that on your ID?” I get that a lot when people see the picture on my laniard. This image was made back in 2004 by fellow intern Deana Mitchell. I was having a hard time looking “normal” that day, so I decided to look “smarmy,” instead. Since then, I’ve gained a few pounds, had lasik surgery, and, I wish I could say my hair’s gotten better, but it hasn’t. …well, it’s had its moments. — and by the way, that is NOT a goatee. That’s a chin shadow. But it does make me look extra chotchy, no?
Sadly(-ish), Wednesday, December 15, 2010, was the last day I’d wear my weirdo laniard, — well, legitimately, anyway. I quit my staff job! I’m now a freelancer. …although, I kinda take issue with the word “freelancer.” I prefer the term “independent photographer.” I’ll discuss that in a later post, I’m sure.
Lets all be honest here — It’s not a very good “Press Badge,” is it? There’s been a few times in my six year career when this ID has raised a few eyebrows and in rare instances, denied me access.
Lets break down its faults. For one, it doesn’t actually say “Press.” hrmmm… But, for some reason, It’s kinda perfect for someone working in the business end of the newspaper. You know, the people who don’t really leave the building, work with subjects, or do any kind of reporting. The coin counters. The people pushers. Those most concerned with page clicks. …isn’t that telling? And I know you might find this hard to believe, but “Patuxent Publishing Company” doesn’t exactly sound like a newspaper organization, either.
THEM: “So, who are you with? The Sun?”
ME: hehehe. No, I’m with the red headed stepchild of the Sun, The Patuxent Publishing Company.
ME: No. I didn’t sneeze. that’s the name of the accredited news organization I work for. …what? …you haven’t heard of us?” — and then I have to rattle off all the 20 different newspapers, magazines, and PHONE BOOKS we publish. Yes. We publish phone books. (Argh! I keep doing that! They publish phone books).
Lastly, I also don’t like it when people call me “Matthew.” That name is reserved for my tax forms, social security card, and my Dad. Not strangers. It’s common courtesy people. When you meet someone, figure out how they like to be addressed. They’ll tell you right off the bat.
But I don’t hate my ID. It’s served me well. Admittedly, I look ridiculous. – that’s kinda by design. And that’s why I’ve kept it so long. How many people have laniard stories? I have a bunch — Sure, they’re all very similar, (read the first sentences) but those interactions serve an important purpose: as an ice breaker! It can help tell the subject who I am. On first glance, I’m some beardy dude walking into your house/place of business or up to you on the street — with cameras, no less! And for better or worse, my job is to put you in the public eye.
Its only natural that my subjects try to get to know me a little bit. Lets face it, they’re as curious about us as we are (supposed to be) about them. In this business, access is won with give and take, right? The same way I’ve learned to not turn down a glass of water or a cup of coffee, I’ve learned to indulge my subjects’ questions. The bottom line is, I do my job better when the subjects are comfortable with me. So, if they ask me questions, or comment on my ridiculous laniard picture, its an opportunity for a conversation. Even without the laniard, I’ll still be able to muster up conversations with subjects. That’s the kinda guy I am. As my mom says,”I’ve never met a stranger.”
And as outdated and weirdly unflattering as that picture is of me, its a pretty accurate portrait of my personality. Not that I’m a smarmy person, but that I’m easy going, and able to laugh at myself. And I think that has a relaxing effect for subjects — at least in some situations.
But beyond the picture, my ID gave me legitimate status as a member of the press. It’s amazing how fast people will wave you in to something when you hold up a laniard and say, “I’m with the press.” Well, the cameras probably helped too. I’ll be honest, losing that instantaneous legitimacy is a big worry of mine for the future. I’m still a journalist, but now I’m not tied to an organization. My association changes day to day. When I’m not shooting for a client, I worry people won’t take me as seriously without my laniard.
THEM: “So… where’s this going again?”
Me: Uh… mattrothphoto.com/blog …that’s my blog.
Them: “uh huh. No. I’m not gonna give you my name. In fact I’m gonna call the cops.”
Yikes! Does that make me a blogger?
I guess I could make my own “Press ID.” That feels kinda cheesy, though. I’ll probably pony up a few bucks and become credentialed by the Baltimore City Police Department as a member of the Press. But that doesn’t change the fact that I’m no longer tied to an accredited news organization. And while being independent is exciting, it’s also a little scary.
Like badges are to cops, Press credentials are part of a journalist’s identity. They have this amazing ability to summarize our purpose for being wherever we are, while presenting us in polemic ways. They can “get us in” just as easily as they can “keep us out.” In our subjects’ eyes, credentials make us trustworthy just as easily as they make us suspect. And depending on which organization we work for, we get treated differently.
THEM: “Now, which newspaper are you with?”
ME: “The North County News.”
THEM: “Oh good! I love that paper. hahahaha! I’d turn you around if you said you were with the Sun.”
Belonging to a news organization has its perks. But it’s also filled with heartbreak.
So… I’m ready to take the laniard off.