Thursday, May 30, 2013

Photographic Memory ...

The Chicago Sun-Times laid off its entire photography staff today.

When I first saw Romenesko posting about it, looking for confirmation from anyone who worked at the paper, I said, out loud, "What?!"

It had to be a spoof. It had to be.

A major metropolitan newspaper cutting its entire photography staff?

In an era where words have become less important – they take so long to read, the pesky things – and images have taken over?

But no. It's true. And entire department of a metro paper, wiped out.

It's gobsmacking.

The Sun-Times put out a 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."

In a word: bullshit.

As one very astute commenter commented on one of the pages I was reading, she doesn't always have time (or, I reckon, the inclination) to watch a video, she just wants to see an image or two.


So now reporters will be expected to shoot images to accompany their stories.

Funny things about reporters: They're not photographers.

Yes, they can snap a frame or two with their smartphones.

But I'm pretty sure folks expect more from a newspaper than for it to look like their Facebook feeds.

What continues to baffle me as owners of papers cut and cut and cut is how they fail to understand that the only reason anyone has to pick up any publication is the content.

Cut the content and you give readers less incentive.

Give readers less incentive, readers will go away.

Down, down, down go your ABC numbers.

Down, down, down goes your ad revenue.

Bye bye, Sun-Times.

It's sad in a historical context, too. My grandfather worked at the Sun-Times many, many years ago. I worked there for a couple of summers in college, with my dearly departed friend Jeff Zaslow.

When the building on Wabash was sold and gave way to the Trump monstrosity, I eventually adjusted to seeing the paper's name stuck on the side of the Mart Plaza building. Times change. Papers move. The New York Times has new digs.

But this, today, this sounds like the death knell of the paper.

Just yesterday, I fired off an email to Jim Kirk, the editor in chief, inquiring as to any editorial opportunities there.

I haven't heard back from him.

But I'm pretty sure I have my answer.


Anonymous Dave said...

Bullshit indeed!

Essentially all news outlets can get all the photography - or phoneography - they need completely free of charge now that almost everyone carries a phone-equipped smart phone.

Digital technology killed photography as an art - then it made music valueless - and if we start watching movies on tiny screens how long before the visual quality of those movies no longer matters?

Newspapers - which I love even though I've never worked for one - are next to go, sadly. Once the majority of people had fastest enough Internet access to enable video that was that. I still get the NY Times every morning here in New Mexico but have to admit it's old news by the time I read it.

The only chance is for newspapers to become the source for background and in depth analysis. But how many in today;s world want that?

Only thing I know for sure is there ain't no going back.

1:45 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

As one commenter wrote yesterday, on a Romenesko post, I believe:

Owning a cello does not make one a cellist. It makes you one who owns a cello.

Yes, most everyone has the capability to take a photograph with a device they carry in their pocket.

That in no way means that:

a) They have the ability to see the image in a situation that best conveys the story.

b) The talent to capture that image.

c) The ability to both report a story and do a good job on that front as well as find the shot that expresses the story and do a good job on that front. Often, that requires being in different places at the same location.

d) I could go on, but you get the idea.

The insanely stupid thing about what the Sun-Times did is that its "reason" was some palaver about multimedia, blah, blah, blah.

Well, kids, if ever photographs made sense as a storytelling medium, it's on the web. Slideshows on web sites is how sites garner a lot of clicks which translates into ad revenue.

We will always need people who can gather and disseminate news.

What we need is for the people with all the money to see the value in that, to society.

There's a reason Warren Buffett keeps buying newspapers.

Oh, look, he just bought another one. I didn't even know about this until now:

2:14 PM  
Anonymous Dave said...

Totally agree.

When I said they can get all the photos they need free of charge, I wasn't saying I agreed they should do that.

I have worked with some of the world's top photographers including David Bailey years ago in London.

It is indeed an art - one I enjoy very much.

I guess I was expressing the way the newspapers justify their actions, not my personal opinions!

6:58 PM  

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