The Sun-Times laid off its entire photo staff of about 20 employees this morning. Instead of full time photographers, the paper will go with more cost-effective freelancers and reporters armed with iPhones. The paper also cited the lure of video and multimedia as reasons for the layoffs.
“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 Sun-Times said in a statement. “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.”
Elliott Harris, a veteran sports columnist at the Windy City tab, emailed The Observer to give a perspective from Chicago. Mr. Harris worked at the Sun-Times for 32 years, from 1979 to 2011.
“Firing a photo staff is hardly the way to maintain credibility in the marketplace. With the photographers gone, how long before the reporters find themselves suffering a similar fate?” Mr. Harris wrote. “A once-proud Sun-Times is dying a death by 1,000 paper cuts. How soon before all that is left is the name and name alone?”
Mr. Harris’ full quote below:
“It’s incredibly disheartening. There is a difference between a photographer and someone with a camera/cell phone. Tremendously talented people — including Pulitzer Prize-winner John White, who had been at the paper since 1978 — were let go. Other photographers with decades of experience also were axed. Management has no commitment to the product; instead it has a commitment to the bottom line. By ridding itself of the photographers, the company further weakens the newspaper guild. At some point, the company will be able to impose just about any workplace rules it wants. Assuming the Sun-Times survives. Diminishing the paper product when it is the primary source of revenue makes little sense to someone like me not smart enough to know how the paper plans to stay afloat long enough for the Internet alone to support it. To think the photographers would not be perfect for any transition to providing more video boggles the mind. At some point, the company has to figure a way to improve the product — and the bottom line — by doing something other than cutting staff. Credible content is the foundation of any established media outlet. Firing a photo staff is hardly the way to maintain credibility in the marketplace. With the photographers gone, how long before the reporters find themselves suffering a similar fate? A once-proud Sun-Times is dying a death by 1,000 paper cuts. How soon before all that is left is the name and name alone? The sun appears as if it soon will be setting on the Sun-Times. And that will be a sad day for journalism and for Chicago.”