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Thursday, 30 May 2013


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Ah, and the whole bunch of ILM was also laid off (see Steve's site). People are the trash of the 21st century. Get used to it.

Greets, Ed.

P.S. Freelancer in this case is translated as "bloke with an iPhone, happy to see his fuzzy picture in paper for free".


And Pulitzer winner John H. White was amoung them.....sic transit gloria mundi. As Thomas à Kempis so nicely observed.

Greets, Ed.

Bad news for pro photographers everywhere. Hey why have pros when anyone can take a photo or video with their "smart" phone.

On a positive note- think of all the great gear that will show up on Ebay or Craigslist. That is surely a mixed blessing.

Maybe it is just my jadedness with modern newspapers, but I assume that most newspapers had already gone to the "freelancing" model to meet their photography needs. The local newspapers and TV channels' webpages usually have galleries of images from readers that give them images for free.

So what surprises me the most about this story is that the Chicago Sun-Times still had a photography department that large until today.

With all the problems The NY Times has had of late with some of the photographers they've featured, I hope the Sun-Times is wise enough to hire some people to check both the veracity of the photos they will now feature, as well as the ethics as to how they were produced and acquired. Don't bet on it.

It has been clear for quite some time that photojournalism is a dying profession, or at least one that is on a strict diet. The great photo magazines of the past are long gone, and newspapers--those that remain-- increasingly publish the images of freelancers. Even once mighty news magazines are shrinking and moving online. In any case, people want video nowadays. Still photography is so 20th century. I see this move by the Sun-Times as a sign of the times (no pun intended). And if the Sun-Times eventually closes its doors, that will merely be confirmation.

I worked as a stringer for a while for the (now defunct) Philadelphia Bulletin. There were some great, I mean GREAT, photojournalists there. Not only the oldest newspaper extant, but the most short sighted.
The sad thing is that the industry is changing so fast no one can make much of a living at anything photographic anymore (maybe weddings...yuck). But we are losing so much in this techno age it is almost criminal.
I am sad to see this. Could Nat Geo be next?

That's really quite sad. Might as well fire the reporters too and just rely on freelance bloggers (no offense to bloggers). Our local paper seems to be holding on to a couple photographers, but the busiest one tells me it's only 3/4 time, and he supplements it with occasional "freelance" works for the NYT when local stories turn national (unfortunately Sarah Palin no longer lives in town).

I somehow suspect that many of the Sun_Times's "new" freelancers will be unemployed former staff photographers. They'll be working just as hard as ever but will be buying their own equipment and their own health insurance. Vacations and personal time off? Forgettaboutit.

It is rather ironic that on this sad day an obituary for Bob Kotalik, the Sun-Times's retired head of photography, was posted on the paper's site. Bob had a 47 year career with the paper. Here are the lead paragraphs from his obit:

"Bob Kotalik got his first job in journalism in 1942, cleaning out the pigeon loft at the Chicago Sun, a predecessor to the Chicago Sun-Times."

"The pigeons ferried film from sporting events. Within a few years, Mr. Kotalik was shooting the film for the Sun-Times."

The saddest thing is that this is a consequence of the greed that is steadily taking over the business world. Quality is not that important, cutting costs is; employees are seen as a burden, so the CEOs manage to solve two problems in one fell swoop by firing photojournalists: they'll save money by not paying them and will save even more by not paying for the photographs they'll get from kids with iPhones who are waiting for their fame and are not in the least aware that they're being stolen.
Many people seem not to be aware of this, but in many respects it feels as if the world is going back to the 19th century, to the times Charles Dickens depicted in his novels: greedy bosses who take advantage of unemployment and need offer ever smaller salaries in exchange of longer, harder working times. If they decide they need workers, that is. In this case they decided they didn't because they can get for free what they've been paying for until now. Quality is not an issue, and neither is the fact that highly skilled professionals will be enduring hardship from now on.
It all would be a little more acceptable if it were done to save companies and jobs, but it isn't: all this cost-cutting and downsizing is meant to maximize profits. I know some will think I'm some sort of communist by writing this, but this is reality. This is actually happening. I've seen it happen in other people's lives and, to an extent, it happened in mine. It revolts me to think people are being fired not because it is inevitable, but because some members of a board determined that it would be the easiest way to get higher profits. It is profoundly disgusting, but that's the world we're living in.

What a tremendous waste! I'm so sorry that happened to those guys and gals.


I suppose the underlying cause is that people (consumers) just don't care about what they receive. This goes beyond this immediate Sun-Times story, beyond the death of newspapers, etc. In my opinion, its not much of a jump from the cheap crap peddled at big box stores, which we buy because a) it's cheap, and b) because we think we need it.

Once a week I go to my brother's house for dinner and a movie and we watch the news (both local and network) and heckle the poor writing and grammar (the endless use of puns is a separate matter). The local newspaper frequently leaves in FPO 'greek' that doesn't even get corrected by the final edition. Why pay for copy editing?

I guess the problem is that not enough consumers demand a high quality product, and instead accept the lowest cost product. To bring this to cameras, etc. I suppose we must ask ourselves why we expect a retailer that competes on lowest prices to provide deeply knowledgeable sales staff?

So the Sun-Times has fired their photo staff. Undoubtedly, the quality of the photo content will suffer. Sadly, I don't think it will impact the perception of the paper amongst their readership. I think the readers just don't care about high quality to the extent they will demand it.


sun times (they don't deserve caps) isn't a newspaper, just a out of step company that can't figure out how to adapt. Reminds me very much of kodak.

27 really good wedding photojournalists just entered the business.

Professions die all the time. Know any typesetters?

But people can or at least should adapt. The fact is many local incidents are recorded by passers by, long before any photojournalist would arrive on the scene, and the rest can be downloaded from stock sites or require no skill at all (this is the picture of the house where...).

Of course, there are exceptions and I think roving freelancers can up their rates. After all if you only need one once in a while, you can afford to compete with other papers for a good exclusive.

A different way to look at this, and a more worrying way, is how this lends to the weakening of the media in general. It was somewhat interesting that after reading this blog I saw this story http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-22725502 Which to me shows a growing problem of trying to control the media even more then it already is. Not trying to be too much of a conspiracy theorist it seems to me that a guy with a cell phone will simply not get the access to a story that a press photographer would, not only as a professional but having a large corporation behind him. So not only will stories be missed or not covered but inevitably a bad picture could actually tell the wrong story.
Its a bad day for these photographers and I have great sympathy for them, but it is also a bad day for the people of Chicago.

I' m still buying the dead tree edition of my local newspaper, but the trend is that most want free news on the net. Isn't it cheaper to buy a product than pay extra taxes to make up for the unemployed?

@ Karl: "27 really good wedding photojournalists just entered the business."

You're not kidding. In 2008 when I was still doing some commercial assignments I was waiting for the right light to shoot a sculpture for Sculpture Magazine. I began chatting with a Sun-Times photographer who was waiting around for some other subject. He was very proud of the fact that he and his son had just started a wedding photography business on the side to supplement their incomes (as news shooters) and expected to leave the paper "soon".

But I think I saw the same fellow being interviewed for a tv news story on being laid-off today. So weddings might not have been the answer, either. If not, no surprise. Demographics do not paint exactly a go-go growth picture for this segment which seems already over-saturated with laid-off guys with cameras.

Arrrgh. This does make my blood boil. When I was studying (text) journalism, this was indeed the attitude: writing a story was a special, complex skill which requires talent and training, and is worth investing in.

Photography? "All photography is just pushing a button, and my iPhone does it just as well as any DSLR". That was a (near-)verbatim quote from my lecturer.

Photography isn't a valid reportage method, it seems: it's just there to provide some sort of colour for the text.

And as Ed said above, there's a disturbing trend for crowdsourced journalism: it was alarming to see the "Got a news story or photo you think we should publish? Send it to [email protected]!" Check any paper or news website; it won't be too hard to find such a link.

"Community Journalism" is often an insidious, dangerous force, because it's non-news that, to all appearances, looks like news, and many people fall for it.

There's many reasons I see for this. One, newspapers are about telling people what they want to hear, not reporting what should be known. So, why not go straight to the source - readers - and simply become a feedback loop by getting them to make the stuff they want to see in the paper?

Two, there's Apple: everyone was so in love with the iPhone's marketing. They really did drink the Kool-Aid and treat it as some sort of mystical, magical device, and sincerely believe it's as good as a DSLR for all sorts of photography. That really was the impression my lecturers gave out. The other bonus is that you get street cred for shooting with an iPhone.

Damn! When I read my copy of the LATimes every morning, none of the pictures on the paper page move! Is the Sun-Times using that new "e-paper" I heard about?

Building upon Dennis and Mike's exchange, expecting video from the reporters will not only produce poor video, but poor reporting as well. Taking a rift on the other thread ("taking pictures" vs "making photographs"), under this reordering of duties and expectations, you may end up with reporters worrying over the issue "did I get the shot", when they should be considering questions that help them to answer question "what has happened and why" (i.e. the production of a well considered and coherent explanation that correlates to a well made photo.)

I wonder if the paper, and the Chicago community as a whole, would not be better served by keeping the professional pjs, and firing "at once- without notice-effective immediately" some of the upper management, and replacing them with some more innovative thinkers.

Media is the plural of mediocrity.
- Jimmy Breslin

As a near-the-end-of-my-career newspaper reporter, I'm looking forward to the day I'll be asked to draw little pictures to illustrate the stories I write.

There might not be a newspaper to work for, in a few years.

One of the things that really stood out to me in your brief article was the statement " Management apparently wants to use freelancers on an as-needed basis, and reporters are going to shoot video."

For me, video will never, ever hold even a tenth of the power of a good photo. Part of the magic of what we do is telling a story by capturing a moment in time. Video is clumsy in comparison. I just can't believe that news organizations don't find that valuable. Has the world changed that much?

Also, [rant] I can't stand it when news agencies link a headline to a video rather than text. With text and maybe a photo, I can find the meat of the story in seconds. I don't want to watch some talking head spoon feed it to me. Usually it winds up being two or three minutes of my life that I'll never get back![/rant]

We have to see!


I tried to post the link to facebook (and forget the Facebook link). Strange that it is the joyful ... as the thumbnail, luckily catch it and turn it off.

Outsourcing. Redundancy. A "globalization" trend gone local.

When will it all end? Rob offers an answer: "if the Sun-Times [and other printed newspapers/magazines] eventually closes its doors..."

Will most pjs working for print media be replaced by freelance "editorial photographers"? (Before I googled the latter, I thought an "editorial" photograph was a heavily-photoshopped one.)

My guess is that the preference for video rather than stills for outsourced material, is motivated in part by the fact that there are far fewer freelancers who have mastered video-editing, compared to the millions who are savvy with Photoshop. Thereby mitigating the chance of photo-editors/art directors being fooled by outsourced pictures made in ways other than as found (as pointed out by Stan B.)

In any case, this is yet another manifestation of the "race to the bottom" in a bid to cut costs, as print media struggles to survive.

(I'm a subscriber to The Economist (in print) who economizes on the cost of its "editorial photographs" by publishing stock photos almost exclusively or using illustrations, mostly the latter. They're a print-heavy and editor-centric "journal" who doesn't give by-lines to their reporters, let alone photo credits. Their graphs are superb and so is their reportage. This 170 yr-old "newspaper" is in no danger of closing shop; they also have a burgeoning online edition. I wish though that they were photographer-friendly. TOP had featured the furor when The Economist did use a pj's photo of Obama on its cover during the BP Gulf oil spill in which the POTUS' interlocutor had been "edited" out, in-house.)


Great comparison to Dickens, one slight problem though, in the 19th century we had resources to spare, now we don't, and believe me that will make a big difference.

Greets, Ed

This is just a small part of the 'Blair Witch' phenomena invading TV's and other media. It takes the look and feel of the ground breaking film as being intriguing and exciting, but omits the film makers craft in putting it all together in a compelling way. The result being shaky iPhone and amateur video footage being used to create a sense of excitement, but failing to accurately record history and events because the 'supplier' (I wouldn't call them photographers or film makers)is not trained as a journalist.

There is only so much that readers and viewers will put up with because sooner or later this 'freelance' footage and stills will create a sense of distrust in the news. News will start to become a vague expression of something that happened, not a coherent record of an event. I think already the amateur footage of the Arizona tornado is looking like a filmic dream sequence (a bad dream for people involved), but this was pragmatic footage because few news crews were around, it shouldn't be how history is expected to look in the future.

The times they are a changin' Disturbing and sad new. We're in the middle of a news revolution. Firt came the Internet, then digital photography, then smartphones and tablets.

For those of you that haven't seen it, there is a great documentary film on the New York Times out called "Page One: Inside the New York Times". It discusses many of the challenges a traditional newspaper faces in the digital age.

Nine years ago I pulled the pin on a 'secure' 24 year-long newspaper career. I did it on my own terms so had some options. It was tough. Still is, but nowhere near as tough as being made redundant en masse into a flooded market.
I remember at my leaving gig having a protracted discussion with a reporter who insisted that the way technology is going, photographers won't exist in the near future because news organisations would just frame-grab from video.
That future is nearly here, but for anyone who might be seduced by such a notion, check out this clip by Pierre Bourgault, a clearly talented photographer, shooting stills on a DSLR and with a GoPro in the hotshoe videoing in synch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=t-7ZydytGGc

He proves that merely pointing a video at something that is interesting does not necessarily make for captivating imagery.

But Pierre Bourgault has photographed his stills with intent, understanding and the skill to know where to shoot from, what to frame and focus on, and when to press the shutter.

Great photographs, rubbish video.

Watched the video of reactions on the TRibune website, "things are changing" someone said. Money is allegedly being saved and the surviving management will no doubt award themselves a substantial chunk of that as bonuses for their efforts, so on, nothing is really changing. And you have to log into facebook to comment on the story!!!

Good, quick, or cheap; choose any two. (Hint: they haven't chosen good)

I can imagine the board meeting in a few months, where they can't understand why their sales are dropping and profits are down.

Photo journalists will be fine. Lousy newspaper became a blog, like many others, thanks to poor management. In 10 years time perhaps the whole nation will wake up and realise they need quality editorial and storytelling driven by foremost professionalism.

Time for photojournalists and quality editors to join together and establish their own new news, and leave old establishments and their managers where they belong.

Time for new breed of thinking when thinking news and coverage.

I think the actual saddest thing about this, is that it's all cyclical. 12-15 years from now, editorial outlets will see the error of their ways, and start hiring professionals again, but it will be too late for the generation that's getting fired, and the few after it...eventually someone will wake up, look around, and say: "...hey, how come I can't get these photo done...". But no one will be there...seen it happening with in-house/out-source corporate photo studios for the last 40 years: in/out, out/in, make up your mind...

...there are too few companies with the type of brilliant management that knows how to keep a staff and get things done. It doesn't take a mental giant to lay off people to make (read save) money, and as we used to say in the big corporate world, "you can't save yourself into profitability".

BTW, the Sun Times is a 'dead man walking' anyway, this is just one of the last gasps. It's not coming back, and most two or more newspapers towns are turning into one newspapers towns any way. Every time I go to San Francisco, I see no one reading the "paper" paper at all, it's just me walking down the street with the paper under my arm, not worrying if it's gonna run out of batteries before I can read it all....

Also, everyone on here reading this blog that makes their real money (and benefits, and retirement) not doing professional photography, and then gives away photos to people that want to use them commercially, or does photos for far less than "going rate": this is what happens, if you've ever dreamed about becoming a "real" photographer, every time you work for nothing or little, your "dream" gets farther and farther away...

Gee my newspaper never seems to have video. Oh, yeah, I'm supposed to download my newspaper now. Sorry print industry. If they paid the 28 photographers $100,000 per year (they don't) it would cost them 2.8 million. The Sun Times "can't afford" that but look at the salaries of the CEOs. I'm cancelling my subscription.

I find this immensely depressing for all of the reasons mentioned above. Having been in the corporate (publishing) world for many years, I think I have a pretty good idea of the thinking behind this; I won't comment on that. Besides the human toll, what's really unfortunate about this is the indication of the level of garbage that the management thinks the readers will accept. I guess that the new paradigm for publishing the news is something that can be viewed on a cell phone for a split second, in between posting the vastly more important "news" of your latest life event (lunch, etc.) on Facebook.

I sympathize with the people who were laid off but this has been happening in every corner of photography for the last six or so years. Clients are relentless substituting crap for real photographs, pushing interns to shoot or endless collaging stock photographs into something usable. It's a bad time to be a traditional photographer.

At least the Sun-Times didn't fire their movie critic (Roger Ebert).

A random guy with a cell phone won't get "journalist" access -- but everybody already at the event has a cell phone. It's a complete inversion of thinking, is what it is; denying the concept of "journalist".

Personally I think we still need journalists, "photo" and other, in addition to getting lots of info from people already there with their cell phones.

What an awful occurrence. Shocking. Chicago Tonight, the nightly news program of local PBS station WTTW, devoted nearly 9 minutes to the story last night (imagine that happening on the typical nightly news). They interview David Pollard, President of the Chicago Newspaper Guild, and Scott Stewart, a (now former) photographer at the Sun-Times. (Scott comes in about half-way through the segment).

The video can be found on WTTW's site: http://chicagotonight.wttw.com/2013/05/30/union-reacts-sun-times-layoffs


regards, HaJe

Perhaps the mos humorous comment: The Day after the Sun-Times layoff



I was raised in a newspaper household - my Dad worked for the local daily and we subscribed to 4 or 5 at a time. I still gladly send a $300 check to the New York Times each year because of the high quality and in-depth coverage. Go back and look at their cover photo on the Moore, OK tornado and I dare you not to be moved.
Strangely,for a town so strong in everything else, I always felt the Chicago papers were weak compared to even some regional rags like the Cleveland Plain Dealer or Louisville Courier Journal.Many of the papers are in a death spiral now and reducing original content even more, including good photography will probably kill them off.

...and the media wonders why we don't trust our news. To me this is one more example of diluting the work of serious journalism. The claim is always that of cost cutting, but when you look at how many shooters are sent to cover the latest celebrity scandal you realize just how spurious the argument is.
My heart goes out to all of them.
When called they always did their best.

@Manuel, how is cutting staff to lose less money this year than lost last year greed?

I've seen the financial statements of public companies in the newspaper biz, and many of them would be better off liquidating the company and investing whatever cash remains elsewhere...

The Sun-Times's management: people who know the price of everything and the value of nothing.

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