Chicago Sun-Times Newspaper Lays Off Entire Photography Staff, With Reactions

In a broad and shocking move, the Chicago-based newspaper conglomerate Sun-Times Media Group laid off every one of their staff photographers and photojournalists this week, laying the path for their new reliance on freelance contractors and smartphone snaps to make the news. This applies to dozens of Illinois newspapers that fall under the Chicago Sun-Times umbrella, most notably the flagship paper of the same name. In this video, CNN’s Howard Kurtz interviews John H. White, a 35-year veteran of the Sun-Times and winner of the 1982 Pulitzer Prize for Photojournalism:

White frames the situation in an inspiring and positive light, musing over the deep cultural need for talented and trained image creators to connect people visually with the world around them.

There are two types of photographs that can change the world: early, rough images from a historic event (think World Trade Center videos or the first images of the Arab Spring), and carefully crafted compositions that tell an ongoing story, such as the 1930 LIFE photo of two black men being lynched in Indiana. While hasty snapshots may suffice to deliver the breaking news of the day, the paper may suffer in the long term for a lack of visual staying power; without professional photographers to frame the day’s events in a way that resonates with the viewer using an intricate understanding of colour, form, and timing, the Sun-Times may struggle to have a real impact on their dwindling readers in an increasingly visual-centric age.

chicago photojournalism

Pulitzer Prize Winner John H. White was also laid off

The Sun-Times made this decision based on their assessment of how the times they are a-changing – they see a much heavier online presence as compared to print, not to mention lower revenue and increasing competition from any blogger with a few thousand Twitter followers. For all these reasons, they want to cut photography costs by arming their regular journalists with iPhones, trying to get twice the work from half the staff. Many critics are condemning the choice, calling it short-sighted, but only time will tell what new strategies will be effective in the rapidly evolving world of professional newsmaking.

This is certainly a blow for any of us trying to convince ourselves that there is a future in photojournalism, but it’s hardly the industry’s death knell. It is, however, a very large experiment which can act as a barometer for the survival of news photography; if it’s successful, we may dismay to see other companies follow suit.

But, if the art of photojournalism is as intrinsic to our understanding of the world as John White believes it to be, that fact may prove these layoffs to be a grave misstep.

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6 responses to “Chicago Sun-Times Newspaper Lays Off Entire Photography Staff, With Reactions”

  1. Dale Scherfling says:

    May the publishers and all their money burn in hell!

  2. PeterK says:

    Cheap digital cameras first made accidental fine art photographers, now it…and the iPhone…are making accidental photojournalists. A pig rutting around in the garbage is sure to find a mushroom sometime.

  3. The old adage, a photo is worth a thousand words, if the reporters are average in getting a photo it will take away from the story. to many cameras just a few good shots.

  4. SteveM says:

    WOW! Having worked in media for over 30 years now, I am every day blown away by what is left. When I got into this field, (mid 70’s) this was a specialized and respected field. It had values, standards and ethics involved. I loved what I did. I felt proud of the outstanding product produced at all the outlets I worked. This is just the ultimate in how little respect is left in this industry. Free Lance workers are valuable, I am not knocking them… “The Professional Ones”. It has come down to, “Photo Courtesy of: Betty’s iPhone on South shore…. What a joke! I personally HATE what has become our professional media outlets. They are nothing more than “Amateur Hour, / Save a Buck”. I cringe every time I hear a student say they are studying Journalism… SAVE YOUR MONEY! I paid dues, climbed ranks, worked with prestige and knowledge…. to Betty with her cell phone, good luck, you’ll go far.

  5. This is awesome. Now we don’t have to waste our time on Flikr and Instagram to see loads of blurry, poorly exposed, grainy iPhone images taken by the aunt Maggie without regard to light, composition or other boring photography concepts. Who needs eyes when two dark holes in the middle of the face will do. I can’t wait to see all the Pulitzer prize-winning stuff this once-significant media empire (and all those who follow suit) will churn out now.

  6. Tomislav says:

    Whose fault is this? It’s a thing called the Internet!

    You just have to roll with the punches……

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