Sun-Times lays off entire photo staff

Fellow former newspaperman Burl sent me the following link yesterday, along with the message, “We got out just in time:”

Chicago Sun-Times cuts entire photography staff

The Chicago Sun-Times and its sister suburban papers have eliminated their photography staff and will ask the papers’ reporters to provide more photography and video for their stories.

Managers at Sun-Times Media Holdings LLC, the Wrapports LLC unit that owns the papers, told the photographers in a meeting this morning that it was cutting their jobs, according to people familiar with the situation. The number of full-time workers affected is about 20, but including part-time employees, it could be closer to 30, they said.

While the company, which has been trying to revive profits, still will hire professional freelance photographers for coverage, it will increasingly rely on reporters to take photos and video to accompany their stories, the sources said…

And I responded to Burl, No, actually, YOU did — you found a great job right up your alley (in an awesome location) and quit BEFORE you got laid off. Me, I got the same treatment as these photographers…

Just for the record.

There should be nothing new about reporters having to take pictures, although for some I’m sure it’s been a shock in recent years. Hey, I was usually my own photographer when I was in a rural bureau back in the late ’70s. I did a pretty good job, too. But it was always nice to have a photographer along. For one thing because, you know, some (but not all) were better photographers than I was.

But it also was helpful to double-team a source. If I was interviewing someone and needed to pause to get a picture, the person tended to tense up and look self-conscious. Whereas a photographer could get good candid shots of the subject while I was distracting him or her.

Also, it could be handy to have a partner along in a dicey, remote situation. One photog I worked with, for instance, carried a gun in his glove compartment. Just in case.

And you could learn things about people while out on assignment. Once, a photog whom I will not name but whom I had known for years and years went out with me to report on a train derailment way, way out in the boonies in West Tennessee. It had gone off a bridge over a creek a good distance from any road. We were going to have to leave the car and hike maybe half a mile over fields that had close to a foot of new snow on them.

He said we should both put on hats, since a person loses so much of his body heat through his head. I agreed — who wouldn’t? We both had knit caps. I put on mine. I didn’t realize he was building up to something. He hesitated. He said, “If you ever tell anyone about this, I’ll kill you.” About what? I started to say… and then he pulled off his hair.

I had had no idea.

Anyway, I swore I’d never tell, he put on his hat, and we set out.

Months or years later, one of the old hands in the newsroom made some casual remark about how that photographer was so sensitive about his baldness.

I said, incredulous, “You know about that?”

She was surprised at me: “Oh, everybody knows about ____’s rug.”

But I digress.

Anyway, photographers are useful (and sometimes entertaining), to have around. So I’m sorry not only for the individuals who just lost their jobs in Chicago — believe me, folks; I feel your pain — but for journalism. The craft just got even poorer.

4 thoughts on “Sun-Times lays off entire photo staff

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    Colorful stories aside, I got to work with some amazing photographers over the years.

    The best of them all was Joel Sartore, back at the Wichita paper. Super talented.

    I’ve got some of his work hanging in my home. He’d give me extra prints he had sitting around, because he would print over and over until the print was perfect. His castoffs looked perfect to me.

    I definitely could not shoot pictures like those.

    He’s been shooting for National Geographic for a lot of years now.

  2. Burl Burlingame

    Photojournalism is not mugshots. It is visual storytelling. The people running newspapers these days have no idea how to capitalize on what is unique about their product.

    I’m hot on this because my primary college degree is in photojournalism, and visual and verbal journalism are two entirely different processes, both of which are needed to serve the public. Alex Garcia gets it:

    Unsaid in Alex’ blog is the simple fact that the Sun Times has been badly mismanaged for years. Roger Ebert was about their last big draw. The current owners are maximizing their personal cash flow by squeezing their product. It is a slow suicide.

    The only time I was laid off was as a Chief Photographer for a chain of weeklies in the late ’70s, when the publisher put me “at liberty” for four weeks while he tried the experiment of printing papers without staff images. “If our readers really want pictures, they’ll bring them in themselves,” he explained. His experiment was a disaster, and he tried to get me to come back to work after a couple of weeks, but I had already moved on to another job. He was furious with me — for decades!

    BTW, in the new job, I spent several hours yesterday dismantling 180 feet of chain-link fence. It’s somewhat satisfying to actually see progress on something at the end of the day.

    On the other hand:

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