Thoughts on Chicago Sun Times Layoff

Feature Photo courtesy of Huffington Post

With my graduation date looming ahead this Fall, I can’t say that I felt too good about the future of my career when reading about the layoff of 28 photojournalists by the Chicago-Sun times.

John White on Sun-Times layoffs: ‘It was as if they pushed a button and deleted a whole culture’

White — who has seen the paper go through many owners and changes — says he never imagined that his and his colleagues’ careers would end so abruptly.In a phone interview, the 1982 Pulitzer prize-winning photojournalist and teacher recalled a day that he is still “trying to make sense of.” (Poynter)

For those of you who live in a lightless, soundless black box and haven’t heard about this, let me fill you in:

Basically, the Sun-Times have found ways to get their visual content without having to pay a price for it. On one lovely morning, they abruptly fired 28 of their photography staff, including Pulitzer Prize winners. Reader submitted photos are now the main source of visual journalism. They are also arming their reporters with iPhones and training them in “iPhone photography basics” so they can take photos while reporting, putting them on double duty without double pay.

The Chicago Sun-Times has laid off its entire photography staff, and plans to use freelance photographers and reporters to shoot photos and video going forward, the newspaper said.The newspaper released a statement suggesting the move reflected the increasing importance of video in news reporting: 

“The Sun-Times business is changing rapidly and our audiences are consistently seeking more video content with their news. We have made great progress in meeting this demand and are focused on bolstering our reporting capabilities with video and other multimedia elements. The Chicago Sun-Times continues to evolve with our digitally savvy customers, and as a result, we have had to restructure the way we manage multimedia, including photography, across the network.”

The company is also preparing to supplement its freelance staff with reporters to shoot more video and photos, according to sources.Among those laid off was longtime Sun-Times photographer John H. White, who won a Pulitzer Prize for feature photography in 1982. In winning the award, White was praised for his “consistently excellent work on a variety of subjects.”

photo courtesy of Huffington Post

photo courtesy of Huffington Post

Don’t get me wrong, reporters work hard and are needed to provide us with crucial information and facts. In journalism college, you are put through tedious news editing classes, feature writing classes, news writing classes, reporting classes, etc so when you come out you are a writing machine, ready to report to the world. As great as this all sounds, all of these classes don’t translate the reporting skill from paper to photo. Photojournalism is a different sector all of its own. You learn through experience, through trial and error, through thousands and thousands of photos. Your first photo is never your best. A photographer photographs because they have a unique way of seeing, a special point of view. It’s more than just clicking and documenting. Photojournalism is more than just “F8 and be there.”

In a story published by Poynter:

Former Sun-Times managing editor Gregory Favre was disturbed and perplexed by the news. Favre said by phone that he “can’t imagine not having a devoted staff that is focused on accurately portraying the city. … I cannot think of how you capture the culture and essence of such a vibrant city without a photographic staff. There is no substitute for professionalism in the craft.”

Favre added that “with freelancers and independent photographers, there is a loss of loyalty. … Most reporters will deliver point-and-shoot snapshots, not penetrating and revealing coverage. Skilled professionals bring a unique eye and feel to their craft.”

Favre compared the loss of a paper’s in-house staff to “cutting the eyes out of the body. … John White was the eye that was always looking for the soul of Chicago.”

I have known many many great reporters who still cut the heads and feet off of people because, let’s face it, not everyone can take a GOOD, TELLING photo. I am still learning how to tell a story in the best way possible through photography and every time I think I finally have it, there’s always something that I could have done better.

Another point is the photojournalism is a story told with light. Light changes the mood and emotion of any situation. Depending upon how something is lit, it can change the entire feel of a photo. Now, how does the iPhone do with all that light manipulation? Oh, what’s that? Right, you can’t do a damn thing with light and an iPhone.

I just think that our news audience isn’t as stupid as they are targeted to be. They will realize that the photo quality isn’t top notch. People are visual and the first thing they look for when searching for the news online are photos and video. What’s the point of having photo and video if they aren’t telling or done in a way that a trained professional knows how to tell a story visually?

One positive thing that stemmed from this is the blog by Rob Hart. Rob Hart was replaced with a reporter with an iPhone, so he is documenting his new life with an iPhone, but with the eye of a photojournalist trained in storytelling. He is a Freelance Photojournalist and Adjunct Faculty of Photojournalism at the Medill School of Journalism. Check out his blog:

As a college student about to graduate with a degree in journalism and new media, I can’t even begin to state how disheartening this news is. At my university we are trained in “new media” which just means reporting, writing, blogging, video blogging, video, audio, basically everything. Coming out with a degree in journalism nowadays means that you are a jack of all journalism trades with a focus on one or two points. This layoff makes me sad and angry that talented, hard working photojournalists are given the boot of greed and money in exchange for cheap iPhone photos. They think you can’t differentiate between a powerful photo and a quick snapshot. This decision’s success banks on the ignorance of the public reader aka YOU.

What’s next? Is Siri going to start writing articles too?

2 thoughts on “Thoughts on Chicago Sun Times Layoff

  1. Technology, although at times a blessing can be a curse. People are getting lazy and along with that comes sub standard products, in this case newsworthy photos, that was a well thought out process now just a click of a camera phone. Where has the pride gone? As a society we have accepted this and now it is turning into a monster of a sub-standard product. Another very sad day….

    • There is simply no respect for the craft of photography anymore. It’s apparent with film, has been for awhile, and now it’s even moved onto the digital world; the resolution and quality of an image becoming trumped by convenience and cutting corners. So sad. There’s so much more to photojournalism then a click and be there photo. :/ It’s even more sad the fact that the newspapers are doubting the intelligence and eye of their readers.

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