Chicago Sun-Times fires photographers, gives reporters iPhone camera training

The Chicago Sun-Times has laid off its entire 28 person photography staff.

In its place, reporters are being given mandatory training in how to use their iPhone to take pictures.

The paper tries to put a forward looking spin on the situation:

“The Sun-Times business is changing rapidly and our audiences are consistently seeking more video content with their news. We have made great progress in meeting this demand and are focused on bolstering our reporting capabilities with video and other multimedia elements. The Chicago Sun-Times continues to evolve with our digitally savvy customers, and as a result, we have had to restructure the way we manage multimedia, including photography, across the network.”

Learning how to make best use of iPhone and iPad cameras is a useful skill for journalists to have.

But as astonishingly good as the iPhone camera is, for a device crammed into a cube less than a quarter inch on the side, it is still a camera built around the constraints of its tiny size. My iPhone camera is no match for even a dedicated point and shoot camera, let alone a DSLR.

And here’s a bigger problem. It is a faint hope to expect journalists to take pictures that are as attention grabbing as those taken by professional photographers.

Photographer via Shutterstock

Photographer via Shutterstock

The Sun Times has been on a downward spiral for many years now and not just because of competition from new media. (Former owner Conrad Black was accused of looting the company while he owned it and eventually convicted on three counts of fraud (two of which were overturned on appeal).)

But it is hard to believe that the Sun Times will be the last newspaper taking such desperate measures to stay afloat. The business model for online news reporting is broken and nobody seems to know how to fix it.

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NOTE FROM JOHN: I wanted to jump in for a moment, since photography is a hobby, and semi-profession, near to my heart.  No one can contest that the ubiquitousness of cell phone cameras has certainly been a boon for photography generally – and it’s made far more people amateur photographers than ever before.

But as Myrrdin point out, owning a camera doesn’t per se make you a good, or even decent, photographer.  Photography is a skill, and at its best, an art.  Just because you’re a great reporter does not mean that you’ll be an even passable photographer.

I’m still amazed when I give someone a camera, ask them to take my photo with someone, and they center the photo on our heads, cutting off out bodies, and then making half the photo sky empty sky. Or the flip-side, the person who thinks that every photo must contain the entire person, head to toe.

Now, the article noted that part of the motivation here is the increasing switch over to video instead of photos on the web.  Videography is no less a skill than photography.  Imagine the numbers of vertical videos we’re now going to have from reporters.

I absolutely appreciate the hard economic climate newspapers are in.  We, online media, are in the same boat.  I’ve written before about how difficult it is to make any online media venture sustainable economically in this new new-economy (and just because you see lots of ads on any one site, doesn’t mean they’re necessarily very expensive ads).  But getting rid of professional photographers doesn’t feel like simply “modernizing with the times.”  It feels like the media industry is dying.  And as big a fan as I am of citizen journalism, some guy with a Web site, or an iPhone, is never going to be a suitable replacement for a professional journalist, photo or otherwise.

I heard you on the wireless back in 52
lying awake intent a tuning in on you
if I was young it didn’t stop you coming through

They took the credit for your second symphony
re-written by machine and new technology
and now I understand the problems you can see

Oh oh — I met your children
oh oh — what did you tell them
video killed the radio star
video killed the radio star
pictures came and broke your heart
we can’t rewind we’ve gone too far…

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