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Sun-Times To Train Reporters On iPhone Photography Basics

By Chuck Sudo in News on Jun 1, 2013 6:00PM

Criticism is still being heaped on the Chicago Sun-Times after the paper laid off its photography staff Thursday.

The Sun-Times, in a statement announcing the firings, said the decision was made because its readers were seeking more “video and other multimedia elements” to complement the reporting as the paper moves further with its renewed focus on online media.

Photographers will still be used at the Sun-Times, but on a freelance basis. Reporters will also be picking up some of the slack, possibly more than expected. A memo from Managing Editor Craig Newman to reporters laid out mandatory training on iPhone photography basics, shooting and editing video, and social media use in the field and transmission of photos and video. Newman, who has a digital editing background and is a skilled photographer in his own right, is doing his best to polish this particular turd. But a reporter doesn’t have a photojournalist’s eye and will invariably miss something while out covering a story.

Chicago Tribune photographer Alex Garcia said “the idea that freelancers and reporters could replace a photo staff with iPhones is idiotic at worst, and hopelessly uninformed at best.”

”Most Sun-Times photojournalists I knew, because of their decades of experience, were unsung journalists more than photographers. They knew how things worked and what made communities tick. They found stories and passed them on. They helped to shape stories, correct misperceptions and convey understandings that have deep resonance with readers. I am sure that many of their reporter colleagues would attest to this. I would also bet that some reporters will continue to call them, hoping to get a little help here and there.

“By eliminating their deep knowledge, connection and trust to their communities, the Sun-Times has signaled to its readership that it doesn’t really care.”

One of the former Sun-Times photographers, Pulitzer Prize winner John H. White, described the meeting where they were laid off as “intimidating.”

“This is what I remember hearing: ‘As you know we are going forward into multimedia and video, and that is going to be our focus. So we are eliminating the photography department.’ Then they turned it over to HR,” recounted White, who had already been doing video at the paper.


He called the meeting “intimidating” and said “there was a toxic and unkind spirit in the office.”

This is not the first time a major American newspaper has laid off an entire photography staff. Newsday laid off its 20-person photography staff in 2008. A common denominator in each instance is Tim Knight, the former Newsday publisher who now serves as CEO of Wrapports LLC, the media company that owns all the Sun-Times Media Group holdings.

The Chicago Newspaper Guild said it intends to file a bad-faith bargaining charge with the National Labor Relations Board related to the layoffs.