Something happened here in Chicago the other day and I thought a blog post was in order. I seriously doubt the volume of traffic this blog has will strike fear into the hearts of those concerned but I couldn’t let this go by without some mention. There are two main papers in Chicago. The Tribune and the Sun-Times. This week the Sun-Times laid off all of its staff photographers. Gone! In their place, the journalists are being trained to take better pictures with their phones.
I know, as a photographer, I am a bit biased here. However, I can’t be too far from the truth in thinking that is one really bloody stupid idea. I know the newspaper world is not a happy one at the moment but I am thinking this is not going to help them. Newspaper pictures have a tradition of illustrating a piece dramatically. That is because they employed people who knew what they were doing telling a visual story. I am not picking on the journalists who will pick up the slack here but will they be the ones to take on this skill as a result of a course on shooting with their phone? Will their focus be on getting a great shot or getting the information they need to write the piece. I imagine they have to get video too for the online version. Three jobs in one. Great value for money or three jobs being done half-assed (should that be third-assed)?
If you had seen a number of the positions disappear over time, you could imagine that they were cutting the slack out and working the remaining staff harder. This might even be construed as trying to maintain things on a smaller budget. however, when you just cut out the whole staff in one go, there is no way to view that as anything other than giving up on part of the story telling process. If telling stories is all you do, that really is the beginning of the end. I am sure that the paper will be more than happy to have readers send in their pictures and, if they are really lucky, get them printed for free! Hurrah! Lucky reader getting their work published for nothing and lucky rest of the readers getting someone’s free images instead of something more thought out from someone who has been doing this for a long time and knows what they are doing.
I don’t get the Sun-Times so I am not going to notice the difference. However, if the Trib follows suit, we are doomed. Someone has to maintain some standards. For a while, the Trib went downhill rapidly as some of its ownership issues got worked out. It was crap! There was virtually nothing there for a while. It has picked up again and the new owners seem to have given the team a bit more scope to make a decent paper. One wonders whether the Sun-Times will be so lucky. I do hope so. Once these institutions are gone, they won’t be back.