One of the most recognized newspapers in the country made a major move last week. The Chicago Sun-Times laid off its entire photography department, affecting 28 employees. Every single photojournalist, including Pulitzer Prize winners, was shown the door. Their replacements will be freelancers and reporters armed with iPhones.
The Sun-Times released this statement:
"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."
The announcement was followed by a memo from Managing Editor Craig Newman to reporters laying out mandatory training on iPhone photography basics, shooting and editing video and social media use in the field and transmission of photos and videos.
The layoffs have been met with intense criticism from the masses, union officials and industry professionals, from photojournalist turned entrepreneur Peter Shankman to rival newspaper Chicago Tribune to the fired photographers themselves. One didn’t waste any time starting a new photo project called Laid Off from the Sun Times. The Tumbler tagline explains, "Rob Hart was replaced with a reporter with an iPhone, so he is documenting his new life with an iPhone, but with the eye of a photojournalist trained in storytelling."
Is this a sign of the times? Obviously, we’ve seen big cuts in traditional print journalism recently. Newspapers and magazines are downsizing options and betting on digital. Now that brands are becoming their own publishers through content marketing, the competition for your attention is even greater. And there’s no disputing the power of video. In fact, we encourage our clients to embrace video as a channel to share their brand’s story with consumers. But will a shaky iPhone video taken by someone who has been trained as a wordsmith really capture the news? Shouldn’t a professional photojournalist’s instinct and experience count for something?
This mockup of the Sun-Times front page by Chicago-based media production editor Ian Arsenault shows the situation is not a pretty picture.
If a picture is worth a 1000 words, it’s unlikely writers will be able to reciprocate with an iPhone image. What do you think?