The Chicago Sun-Times has been without its 28 full-time photographers for roughly four months now, after announcing a shift toward more video content and an all-freelance photography department.
The day after the layoffs were made public, former Sun-Times columnist and current Time Out Chicago media columnist Robert Feder broadcasted on Facebook that the struggling paper planned to train its reporters on “iPhone photography basics” to avoid any lack of visual content. There were protests. Some readers threatened to cancel their subscriptions.
So the question is… how are things in the photography department at the paper these days? Well, over the last couple of months, two photojournalists started blogs to chronicle life after the layoffs.
Though “Laid Off from the Sun-Times” and “SunTimes/DarkTimes” have different goals, I think they both have a way of answering questions that still linger after the Windy City daily’s decision to do away with salaried photojournalists — what will come of this? Will the Sun-Times‘ move backfire?
Fired photographer Rob Hart launched “Laid Off from the Sun-Times” to detail his transition from employed to out-of-work, and his method is pretty ironic.
“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,” the blog’s front page reads.
Hart’s new project shows photos of him filling out unemployment paperwork and teaching his students at Medill, where he’s an adjunct faculty member. Hart is even soliciting $2 donations in order to develop his Tumblr “into an exploration of the real face of unemployment” (although Hart has shared that he’s doing some freelance photography for the Sun-Times‘ city rival, The Chicago Tribune, since being let go from his former employer).
The president of the Chicago Newspaper Guild, David Pollard, said organic, skilled photography is a must for engaging readers. “Journalism starts with the picture, and when the picture suffers, the product suffers,” he said. And Tribune photographer Alex Garcia wrote an exceptional piece entitled “Why Photojournalists are Essential to News Organizations” that I think really gets to the heart of the issue.
Garcia said publishers will fail if they don’t value making emotional connections with their readers. He wrote:
I picked up the Sun-Times the other day at a 7-11 and looked at it briefly. Then I put it back down. I didn’t have to compare the paper with the Tribune that day to realize one thing.
I felt nothing.
I was not moved to buy. I was not moved to feel. I was not moved to want to buy again.
The pictures? Headshots that were run too large. Bland wire service pictures. Reporter-generated pictures that betrayed the boredom of their creator.
Taylor Emrey Glascock, mastermind behind the popular “Sh*t Photojournalists Like” blog, is a freelance photojournalist with the New York Times, Dallas Morning News and other top publications as her clients, but she is blogging at SunTimes/DarkTimes (ST/DT) to display a daily side-by-side comparison of the Sun-Times‘ front pages against other local papers (usually, she puts it up next to the Tribune). It’s worth spending some time going back through old blog posts at ST/DT — you can really see the disparity in visual content that the Sun-Times is presenting. As expected, it’s a good bit of iPhone photography, some short videos and sometimes older, not-so-relevant stock photos. ST/DT also serves as a watchdog over the paper’s development, and Glascock posts news, such as the launch of the Sun-Times’ recent site devoted exclusively to video.
Glascock told a reader that her goal in creating ST/DT was just to assess how the quality of the paper would change after the layoffs, since no one else was doing it.
“I believe the effectiveness lies in keeping visual literacy alive. If this blog has changed someone’s mind about the importance or unimportance of photography, then I don’t think it was a waste of time at all,” she wrote on the site.
Will Glascock’s and Hart’s blogs change the Sun-Times‘ mind about the necessity of a full-time photography staff? Do they have the potential to keep other papers from following suit?