Blogs > 37th Frame

Photography, notes, commentary and much more from former Reporter Online Editor Chris Stanley.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Endangered photojournalists

The once venerable Chicago Sun-Times - home to several Pulitzer-Prize winners and one-time employer of the late film critic Roger Ebert, set off a magnitude 8 journalistic earthquake Thursday by announcing that they were laying off their entire photo staff, effective immediately.

Among those now looking for a new job is legendary photographer John H. White, who has documented many aspects of city life in a way that few others can match.

According to statement from the management of the paper, "The Sun-Times business is changing rapidly and our audiences are consistently seeking more video content with their news."

Not surprisingly, the quick and rapid response from photographers and many others in the tortured business of journalism was, "B.S." It's about the money - reducing 28 salaried positions in favor of freelancers (who don't come with the burden of benefits, equipment or pensions) is a delight to any bean-counter. Let's be honest and call this what it is.

The surprise isn't that the staff was reduced - this has been going on for years at publications all across the country. The real shock is the total elimination of photography - at a time when the public appreciates good photos more than ever and photo galleries are among the most popular features on news web sites.

But - you might argue - so many photos are available for free, taken by everybody with a phone camera (which is to say - everybody). News photographers can't be everywhere, but somebody will always have photos to post and go viral on web sites, photo sharing sites, Facebook, Twitter, and a hundred other outlets.

At one time we may have been exposed to a handful of photos every day, now we can see thousands as fast as we can click a mouse. Many are bad, some are good, but few places on earth are not photographed almost daily one way or another.

Is this the fate of big-city news?
So why do we need professional photographers?

It's not about cameras or computers or Photoshop - everybody has those. It's about story-telling - like a good writer, a photojournalist wades through a sea of human activity every day and finds things worth sharing, using their vision and expertise to craft images that tell stories in a way that no other medium can. And while some amateurs are actually pretty good at doing this - the pros are out there every day, all day - sometimes even risking their lives to capture everything from the mundane to the spectacular.

Many news photographers I know are the most community-savvy individuals in the newsroom - they are the most visible, have the most contacts, and some of the best knowledge of the areas they cover. Just removing them from the newsroom is horribly short-sighted - and readers will recognize that fast.

Instead of eliminating their jobs, how about expanding them - many photographers also shoot video, put together multi-media slide shows, and *gasp* even write stories to accompany their photos. I would be naive to assume that every photo job can be saved this way, but giving weight to the importance of good photography even in the digital age should always be part of the re-thinking of how we gather news, even as newsrooms shrink and roles change.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home