no photo staff

For the Chicago Sun Times Anyone With An iPhone Is A Professional Photographer

It is no surprise that Americans don’t turn to the newspaper to get informed anymore. It started in the 1960’s with network news coming into your home every evening. The next hit to the daily paper came from the internet, and now most people get their information from smart phone and tablet apps. Most papers in the U.S. are on borrowed time.

Take the Chicago Sun-Times. The paper, once a thriving big city operation, has just fired its whole photography staff. The paper is going to go with pictures “from the field” meaning that it will immediately train reporters on “iPhone photography basics” and reporters will now be responsible for taking pictures for their own stories.

no photo staff

Comedic mock-up of what the Chicago Sun-Times front cover could
look like with no photographers employed to add pictures.
(Image by Ian Arsenault.)

The bigger issue here is that a major U.S. metropolitan paper is telling the professional photographers that it fired that their job could be done by someone without experience as long as they have an Apple iPhone to capture an image. Just giving someone an iPhone doesn’t make them a professional photographer although Apple feeds on that image as seen with with its latest camera-centric ad.

The sad story here is that photography as a profession is in real trouble. This decision by the Sun-Times is just one of a string of many across the country proving that photography and photographers are undervalued. And while the bulk of the responsibility here lies with the Sun-Times owners and managers – professional photographers need to take note. If you aren’t proving yourself valuable every single hour of every single day, you may be declared fungible by your bosses.

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.”

John White, the Chicago Sun-Times’ Pulitzer Prize winning photojournalist, who was among the many who lost their jobs on Thursday, said in an interview with Kenneth Irby this weekend that he could never imagine that he and all his colleagues would have their careers ended as abruptly as they were.

White said: “It was as if they pushed a button and deleted a whole culture of photojournalism.” He also said: “Humanity is being robbed by people with money on their minds.”

But there is another side on this story here. The paper was negotiating with the photographers’ union and now that they canned the whole bunch, the paper could decide to hire back some of the photographers on a part time basis without healthcare or other benefits and in essence, breaking the union.

We do this to ourselves. We want the cheapest everything we can buy. We’ll take any abuse to save a buck. We’ll accept news coverage in Chicago that is devoid of the powerful, moving, photo stories that only a photojournalist can tell. We’re okay with mediocre. How do I know that? These things wouldn’t be happening if we weren’t.

When you hear me take a stand against photographers who undermine the profession by working for slave wages, or when I call out a guy who thinks he’s a pro because he bought a Canon EOS 5D Mark III, or when I say the CEO of Yahoo she’s a butt-head for saying there are no more professional photographers, you now know why I am doing these things. It’s because if I don’t stand up for my profession I can’t expect anyone else to.

Ask yourself what images you have burned in your memory from the past decade…  and then ask yourself if you can name one single “multimedia piece” by name that you recently saw on a newspaper’s website…  you probably can’t (although there are some amazing ones that have been produced.)

And that’s the point:  photography is just as important today if not more than it ever has been.  Not a time to cut yourself at the knees as an organization, let alone all the way to the marrow.  If you do:  you’re insuring your irrelevance and giving loyal readers who are holding on yet another reason to stop subscribing.

How many years does the newspaper industry have until we bury it completely?