Reactions to Chicago Sun-Times photography lay-offs

Chicago Sun-Times front cover parody after photography staff lay-offs (via Romenesko)
Chicago Sun-Times front cover parody after photography staff lay-offs (via Romenesko)

“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:

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.

Worth a look: Daniel Shea’s Chicago Fire for Fader

Daniel Shea - Fader - Chicago Fire
Daniel Shea – Fader – Chicago Fire

Fader magazine has just published new work by Daniel Shea focusing on the effects of gun violence on Chicago’s youth. It’s a beautiful and sensitive approach to a difficult topic.

The essay, Chicago Fire, grew out of previous work Shea did for the magazine and is the centerpiece for Fader’s photo issue this year. As photo editor Geordie Wood explains on his tumblr, the work was shot over 4 weeks and aims to show what life is like for youth in Chicago’s South Side. The magazine will devote 16 pages to the photos in print, and more photos will be published on Fader’s website this week. There’s also an interview with longtime Chicago crime reporter Alex Kotlowitz about violence in the city over the past 20 years.

Be sure to check out Shea’s portfolio and tumblr.

Photographers watch out! You could be arrested for recording police activity at Chicago NATO events (UPDATED)

UPDATE (7 May 2012): Thanks to Kyle Hillman for writing in with news that the city of Chicago has announced that they will not enforce these eavesdropping laws during demonstrations at NATO events this month. In March of this year, too, a judge ruled that the law barring recording police activity was unconstitutional. Hopefully this law is not long for the world…

Original post: If you’re planning to cover the NATO events in Chicago in a couple of weeks, you need to be aware of Illinois laws regarding police activity (the main G8 meeting was moved to Camp David, but the NATO Summit will continue as planned). We’ve covered this issue before, but it bears repeating. Under Illinois eavesdropping laws, a number of people have been arrested and prosecuted for recording audio (some in the course of recording video) of police activity. While Massachusetts does not prosecute people for openly recording police activity, Illinois has gone after individuals for both secret and opening recording of police duties. A proposed law in Illinois, HB3944, “exempts from an eavesdropping violation the recording of a peace officer who is performing a public duty in a public place and speaking at a volume audible to the unassisted human ear.” There’s a strong argument to be made that even secret recording of police activity is vital to the public interest in fighting police abuse and corruption; it’s a frightening prospect when police work to undermine the public’s protection against their power. But, in the meantime, it remains illegal in Illinois to record audio of police in the state. If you’re planning to capture video or audio at the upcoming Chicago events, be very careful.

While we’re at it (and thinking of a photographer friends’ experiences in Seattle covering Occupy protests yesterday), get acquainted with your rights as a photographer and journalist. Time Lightbox recently published a handy list of links, many of which will be familiar to long-time readers of this blog:

Stay safe out there. None of these resources will protect you when the police or anyone else is hitting you or destroying your gear.