Last spring, The Chicago Sun-Times laid off twenty-nine of their photographers, which essentially eliminated the entirety of their photography department. Wrapports LLC, the owner of the struggling company, was quickly put under criticism and gained contrroversy aver its actions, which were made in order to cut costs. How did they plan on compensating in absence of the department? Back then, they stated their intentions to rely on “wire services and free-lancers”, while their reporters were to be trained in photography with iPhones.
This week, according to Chicago journalist Robert Feder, four of the photographers are rejoining the newspaper, while positions in other fields are being prepared for layoffs and attrition. The changes come in as a result of a tentative contract settled between Wrapports LLC and the union that represents the editorial employees of the Sun-Times. The four photographers (Richard Chapman, Brian Jackson, Al Podgorski, and one unnamed) are set to return under that contract, which is possibly the most surprising thing about it.
The conditions of the positions were given as well; the four returning photographers were now taking up what the company defines as “multimedia jobs”. The new work guidelines stress for them to have strong video skills, which I’d imagine is probably something the Sun-Times was starting to lack when they pretty much sacked their photography team.
Back when the layoff happened, Sun-Times Media released a statement to the Associated press, stating the reasoning behind their “difficult decision” being that the business is “changing rapidly” and that their readers are looking for “more video content with their news”.
The switch to iPhone journalism for the actual reporters was said to be part of a new business strategy for the newspaper, which obviously didn’t work out too well, considering they’re still looking for videographers. Things are changing in the photography world, yes; there’s less of a demand for photojournalism as a result of the rise of social media and mobile photography in general. But the Chicago Sun-Times took this as something ready to threaten their business. Because their paid circulation was in decline, they decided that people would be fine with the sacrifice of legitimate photojournalism.
Shooting photos with an iPhone is a great thing; hell, it’s a good start at even becoming a photographer if you learn the right techniques. But that isn’t what professional photojournalism is meant to be in this day and age. Photography isn’t something that you can hand to a writer and expect him to take care of. Just like the journalist has his years of experience in developing his rhetoric and syntax, a professional photojournalist has his years of experience learning things about photography that other people simply can’t do. The Chicago Sun-Times should have recognized this, and right now they look like fools because of doing so too late.