Chicago Sun-Times Fires the Entire Photography Department-What’s Next?

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I was stunned yesterday upon hearing the news that the Chicago Sun-Times took the drastic step of firing their ENTIRE photography department staff, effective immediately.

Many emotions ran through my mind.. After all, these were my friends, colleagues, fellow professional photographers, a few that I have known for as long as I have been in this business (28 years now).  First and foremost, I felt sadness for those directly affected.  Then I felt anger, fueled by the fact that the editorial integrity and professional qualities each photographer on the Sun-Times staff provided on a daily basis were unceremoniously terminated, paying the ultimate price for working at the wrong place at the wrong time.

Why? How? Everyone?  What could the thinking be by those in charge of a major metropolitan newspaper to fire everyone associated with photography on their staff?  Layoffs happen, unfortunately all too often, in the world of publishing. These aren’t the first friends/colleagues of mine to have lost their jobs.  But I’m having a hard time digesting this decision, and I’m still searching for answers.

Obviously, the age old saying of “a picture is worth a thousand words” has lost its meaning at this once proud newspaper.

From what I read and have been told, the Chicago Sun-Times plans to begin “mandatory iPhone photography basics” for their editorial staff.   A Poynter.org story delves into the details.

Apparently, the Sun-Times will be comfortable in filling their pages (print and web) with iPhone generated images via their editorial staff, freelance submissions, wire service supplied subscription images and PR handouts.  The unique vision, as seen through the eyes of their talented (Pulitzer Prize winning) staff, will be no more.

What happened yesterday is a stark reminder to all photographers (particularly young, aspiring photographers looking to make photography a career, while simultaneously pursuing their passion)… that there are organizations (not everyone, thank goodness) that feel that making pictures (they probably refer to it “taking” pictures) requires little talent, and that anyone can quickly be trained and/or hired at minimal cost to take pictures that, in their mind, are adequate enough to fill the hole and provide an acceptable visual.

The key words are adequate, fill the hole and acceptable.  Signs of the times?  I hope not.

What if they had flipped the story and fired all of the writers and had the photographers write the stories?  Of course, this would never be an option.. Photography, as we know, is easy.  Anyone can do it.

I saw the writing on the wall a year ago.  Last spring, the photo desk contacted most if not all of the major sports teams in the area and asked, rather innocently (or so it seemed at the time) if the teams could “supply select images should the Sun-Times be caught shorthanded and been unable to assign a staff photographer to the event, or if the staff photographer was on another assignment and might be late in showing up to the event”.

I immediately sensed trouble with this request.  If I provided these images (which my sports team and I would normally be happy to do on a occasional basis) on a regular basis, what incentive would the Sun-Times have in sending their staff photographer at all?  After agreeing, of course, that yes, we would help, the requests then quickly grew into “can you get us these images the same day/night”.  In other words, could I transmit the requested images on deadline.  More indications of trouble.  Transmit on deadline?  Who was I working for, the Sun-Times or my team?

I expressed my concerns to my team and they agreed with my provision that yes, I would be happy to transmit the images as my time permitted, OR, if  sending on deadline was truly necessary, I would charge the Sun-Times for this service, since in essence I would be working for them.

The Sun-Times also asked the club to provide other misc photos, even though they had a staff photographer assigned to the event already!  It was like I was being put on assignment for them, but at no expense to them. Needless to say, the Sun-Times backed off the idea of paying me for deadline transmissions, but other organizations did supply images, on deadline, as requested.

I feel that this was the beginning of a test program to see how much photo content they could come up with without utilizing their staff.  I made it a point to let my colleagues on the Sun-Times photo staff know what was going on….   Looking back, this may very well have been the beginning of the end.

My heart goes out to everyone affected by this unfortunate turn of events.  Tom Cruze, Al Podgorski, Scott Stewart, Rich Chapman, Brian Jackson, Andrew Nelles and Brett Roseman are only a few that I knew personally and worked with over the years.

We are partners in this business, and if there is anything I can do to help, please reach out to me.

A few other worthwhile reads on this subject can also be found at:  Scott Strazzante’s blogAllen Murabayashi’s PhotoShelter Blog, The Peoria Journal Star, Alex Garcia’s Blog just to highlight a few.

 

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