Love of running still works for entrepreneur Phil Stewart

SOURCE: | The Washington Post - April 11, 2010
By Thomas Heath
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 5, 2010

One of the coolest things about living in the Washington area is the brushes you have with history and the people who make it.

I phoned Phil Stewart, 60, because I wanted to write about the business of organizing road races for runners.

Then I learned that Stewart, a distance runner who organizes the annual Credit Union Cherry Blossom 10-Mile Run (more about that later) scheduled for this Sunday, unwittingly had a hand in the downfall of the Carter presidency.

Stewart took the 1979 photo of a collapsing Jimmy Carter being held up by his doctor and a Secret Service agent during a 10-kilometer (6.2-mile) road race on the grounds of Camp David. The photo came to be one of the defining images of what many viewed as a failing presidency.

So what does this have to do with entrepreneurship? Stewart estimates that the brief encounter has earned him $75,000 over the years -- just for snapping seven shots of the fatigued president.

"I was the only person who entered the race with a camera," said Stewart, who co-owned a magazine at the time called Running Times. "I was the only one with media and photo credentials."

Stewart's tale is a lesson for anyone who owns valuable content: Whatever you do, hold on to it.

First, Stewart sold rights to publish the photos to Sports Illustrated, which had reporters at the event but no photographers running with the president. One of Stewart's colleagues helped negotiate a deal -- literally scrawled on the back of an envelope -- that led to the magazine's processing the film and, after a brief bidding war, publishing the photos first.

In return, Sports Illustrated gave Running Times a full-page advertisement in SI (valued at about $25,000) and paid Stewart a $12,000 fee. He also sold rights to Time magazine and then to Life magazine, for a total of about $10,000.

Looking back over 30 years, the Bethesda resident said one of his smartest decisions was not to sell the photos to the Associated Press or United Press International. If he had done that, he would have lost copyright control. He still owns the copyright, and he allowed us to print the photo for this column.

Stewart had two big sales of foreign-distribution rights that added $10,000 to the pot.

When the 1980 election rolled around, Republicans came calling, but Stewart refused to sell the photo rights. He said he wanted the photos used only for legitimate news purposes. He turned down Mad magazine, but Paris Match bought the rights at one point, and Stewart's work ended up on posters in the Paris subways.

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