The Chicago Sun-Times is the Windy City’s oldest paper, in print since 1844. It’s also the first major U.S. paper to fire its entire photo department, one of the most bone-headed moves in the history of American journalism.
Here’s the story, as told in three headlines.
First, from Thursday’s Chicago Tribune:
Chicago Sun-Times lays off its photo staff
Next, from a Friday posting at Poynter’s MediaWire:
Chicago Sun-Times will train reporters on ‘iPhone photography basics’
Finally, this post from today’s Gawker:
Photojournalist Replaced by iPhone Uses iPhone to Document Joblessness
With the exception of our first paid newspaper job at the weekly Winslow Mail in 1966 and out last posting at the Berkeley Daily Planet, every newspaper we’ve worked for had a photo department [and the Daily Planet had one for the first half of our stint there].
Now we happen to love photography, and we’ve got a fairly extensive kit of gear [four camera bodies, seven lenses]. We’re also modestly competent at the craft, and find it a refreshing change of pace and modes of thinking from conjuring up words to fill a blank screen.
When we started work at the Las Vegas Review-Journal in 1966, no reporters were allowed to take pictures, which were the province of a three-shooter photo staff.
The Tucson Daily American had a photo staff, and the Oceanside Blade-Tribune had one photographer — though we took the occasional shot. Both the Santa Monica Evening Outlook and the Sacramento Bee had their own photo staffs, though we did shoot some photo essays for the Outlook’s Sunday magazine supplement.
We came to appreciate the separation of functions, because writers could focus on details while the shooters could focus all their energies on finding the right angles and lighting and waiting for that fleeting instant where everything comes together and an exemplary image results.
For the sad reality is that shooting and writing rely on two different sets of skills, rarely combined in a single individual. Having to think about grabbing shots whilst taking notes is a distraction, and can lead to critically missed words and phrases — while a focus on words can lead to missed images.
The sad truth is that, in most cases, multitasking diminishes the luster of the individual tasks.
But to the bean counters at the Sun-Times Media Group, the bottom line is the bottom line. And while iPhones can take a decent image, it’s not a Nikon or a Canon, with a bag full of lenses and a powerful strobe flash. And the eye behind the iPhone isn’t a highly skilled specialist in the art of capturing powerful images.
But what the heck, with newspaper circulation plummeting and readership graying, who needs photographers, right? Besides, so many readers and freelancers are willing to part with their images for little or no money [and no worrisome benefits], right?
Here’s an episode of Lou Grant, a television series watched by every newspaper reporter back when it aired weekly from 1977 to 1982. We’re posting it bvecause unklike most episodes, the hero isn’t a reporter but photographer Dennis “Animal” Price, played by Daryl Anderson.