“Being in the room with John White when we got laid off was a highlight of my career. About 30 of us got the axe. As soon as [Sun-Times editor] Jim Kirk said they were going to have the reporters produce multimedia for their rapidly changing platforms, I just had to walk out.” -Rob Hart, former Sun-Times Media photojournalist, speaking to News Photographer
We’ve covered lay-offs before (the Paper Cuts website is a good primer on recent history), but this week the Chicago Sun-Times took the unprecedented move of laying off their entire photo staff. Twenty-eight full-time staffers, including photographers and photo editors, were given the ax, and now there’s a major metro newspaper in the US without a photo staff. Among those laid off was the great John H. White, 1982 Pulitzer Prize winner and elder statesman of news photography, who’d worked at the paper for 44 years. Read Scott Strazzante’s ode to the photographer, The Great John H. White. Now, here’s a photo of White and others receiving their walking papers.
The Sun-Times says the reason for the lay-offs was a general move toward video and multimedia, and that still photo needs would be filled by freelancers and reporters who will be trained in “iPhone photography basics.” I always find it curious that newspapers expect reporters to fill the roles of photographers and newspapers after lay-offs; I’ve never heard of photographers being asked to take on the writers’ roles after a round of cuts. Here’s a May 30 story published by the Sun-Times featuring an awful photo taken by the writer of the article to give you an idea of what the paper’s visual coverage might look like going forward.
Here are a few reactions to the news that are well worth a read:
- Poynter: John White on Sun-Times layoffs: ‘It was as if they pushed a button and deleted a whole culture’
- Alex Garcia: The Idiocy of Eliminating a Photo Staff
- Vincent Laforet: How to ensure your extinction: look at what newspapers are doing
- Jeff Jarvis: To the Dauntless Lensmen
- Allen Murabayashi: How the Internet Killed Photojournalism
- Black Chicago in the 1970s, through the lens of John H. White
- An open letter to the Sun-Times owners, by Jerry Burnes, news editor at the Williston Herald
- New York Times: Do Newspapers Need Photographers?
- Fake craigslist soliciting iReporters for the Sun-Times (mirror)
- some photos of Sun-Times photo staffers after receiving the news
And for anyone who’s been laid-off (in news local to me, Boston University just laid-off their entire photo staff), know that things will get better. Here are resources from the NPPA for laid-off visual journalists. And here’s Chip Litherland’s open letter to newspaper photographers.