They don’t get why someone would care about old photos.
April 16, 2015 8:40 AM   Subscribe

The strange saga of John Rogers, the man who bought the Star Tribune's vintage photo archive
The thought that big-city newspapers like the Star Tribune and Pioneer Press here in Minnesota — and others in Chicago, Detroit and Denver (and 72 New Zealand newspapers) — were willing to hand over (for a nice price) one of their (and their community’s) most valuable historical archives to a character like Rogers is startling in itself, and may explain why so little has been said about the deal.
posted by jillithd (15 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Never sell the negatives!

I wish there was more information about this guy, and why the lawsuits? What are the claims against him?
posted by suelac at 9:11 AM on April 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

FTFA: "Significantly, Sweeney also said the Strib never parted with its vast trove of negatives. "

So: lazy, but not completely stupid. It's progress, dear old "Red Star"!
posted by wenestvedt at 9:15 AM on April 16, 2015

Yes! Why the lawsuits? And why the FBI raids?

And just think of how valuable those old sports photos are! Can you imagine?!
posted by jillithd at 9:17 AM on April 16, 2015

Wow that's a fascinating story. I hope more comes out about it as time goes on and people involved can speak more about it. His business idea makes the tiniest bit of sense but I can't imagine how it would have ever worked out well for anybody involved.

Nice post - and you reminded me to start reading MinnPost regularly again.
posted by Clinging to the Wreckage at 9:21 AM on April 16, 2015

So... Why the FBI raid?
posted by Sys Rq at 9:24 AM on April 16, 2015

FTFA: "Significantly, Sweeney also said the Strib never parted with its vast trove of negatives

I DID read TFA, and a bunch of the other papers did part with their negatives.

It's so fucking stupid.

(I may be particularly sensitive to this: about ten years ago, my father scanned two thousand old family photos, going back to the 1880s, and then threw away the originals. ARGH.)
posted by suelac at 9:24 AM on April 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

Paging sonascope, sonascope to the Blue courtesy post....
posted by wenestvedt at 9:58 AM on April 16, 2015

This article is weird. It talks about the newspapers being naïve and not understanding why anyone would pay them for these useless old photos. But it also states very clearly the deals "gave Rogers the photographs and shared rights to the images." Rogers himself says it: “We're at liberty to do whatever we want to with those (original photos and negatives)".

It seems like a really simple transaction. The newspapers sell their archives and get cash, a digital copy, and a license to re-sell the digital copies. Rogers gets the original media and his own license to use the images. It's not complicated. It may be a bad deal for the newspapers, or it might be a good one. Depends entirely on the value and price of the archive. Certainly newspapers don't do a good job monetizing their archives in general.

The problem seems to be he doesn't have the money. Or at least isn't willing to pay what he owes. But that's not complicated either, is it? Or maybe the real problem is the alleged fraud in his earlier business, sports memorabilia.

I wish this post had more context. Here's an Oct 2012 profile of Rogers photo collection from the Arkansas Times. Here's a Nov 2014 article about an investigation into sales of fake memorabilia; it sounds like that alleged fraud is the start of his troubles. Arkansas Business also has a lot of stories but their archives are paywalled. And here's an overview of the Rogers collection on the company's own site.
posted by Nelson at 10:03 AM on April 16, 2015 [6 favorites]

From the Chicago Tribune Rogers interview:

So Rogers shrugs off those who would say he doesn’t respect what he has acquired.

“The people that get up in arms are the people that don’t have the money to buy it,” Rogers said.

That's nice. It also suggests he bought the Sun-Times images (including photos and negatives) for several million in "cash and services". There was nobody in Chicago who had a problem with this? Enjoy paying to access your history FOR THE REST OF ETERNITY.

I mean really, that's about 1/8th the cost of that Cloud Gate silver bean thing.
posted by Esteemed Offendi at 10:16 AM on April 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

The correct place for this stuff to be is at "the library", wherever that is in your community.

Older Star Tribune morgue files used to be at the Minneapolis Public Library. I'm assuming they're still there after the merge with Hennepin County, but that's only an assumption. I've dug through them back in the day: lots of 1940s-vintage car accidents and things.
posted by gimonca at 10:44 AM on April 16, 2015 [4 favorites]

The FBI raids are supposedly related to Rogers dealings with another sports memorabilia dealer who is being investigated by the FBI for dealing fake items.

The FBI has not said publicly what the raids are about. The guess is that Rogers is either going to be some sort of informant for the FBI against the other dealer or he is suspected of conspiring with him.
posted by Justin Case at 10:49 AM on April 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

This is quite the scandal in the cultural world in New Zealand. Some cannot understand how our Ministry of Culture and Heritage allowed this to happen (local laws could have forbidden the sale of the archive had the ministry chosen to use them). But as the linked article notes, we're not hearing much about it, because Fairfax owns most NZ newspapers.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:07 PM on April 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

As a former news librarian (that is, archivist at a newspaper, aka morgue tender), I can tell you that a major problem with preservation is the current state of newspapers generally. We had a long stretch of two full-time librarians at my paper. I was the last. As newspapers around the country strip themselves of their living resources, consolidate, and bring in corporate managers instead of worked-their-way-up news editors, fewer folks with any power remain to defend the value of the history in the newspapers' possessions. That includes the photo hard copy and negatives as well as the print archives. What used to be meticulously tagged with metadata, with care, by actual humans at a particular paper is now loaded mindlessly into a big database by outsourced companies with no personal attachment to that local paper. Are corrections getting loaded and tagged with original stories? Probably not! Can you do keyword searches? Kind of! But at least we've trimmed the budget. /rant
posted by Occula at 1:42 PM on April 16, 2015 [9 favorites]

I've dug through them back in the day: lots of 1940s-vintage car accidents and things.

Yes, and a lot more - anyone who wants to get a feel for the richness of the Pioneer Press photos should have a look at Larry Millett's Strange Days, Dangerous Nights: Photos From the Speed Graphic Era and Murder Has a Public Face: Crime and Punishment in the Speed Graphic Era, both compiled from its morgue. Up-all-night type reading, at least for me.
posted by ryanshepard at 2:20 PM on April 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

This is no surprise to me, when the corporate bean counters start looking at archived master tapes & neg they see nothing but a pile of money on fire.

No long term strategy, no strategy but the bottom line right now.
posted by djseafood at 3:59 PM on April 16, 2015

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