This week editor Rob Alderson reflects on an American newspaper’s decision to axe its entire photography staff and asks what it means for the future of photojournalism. As ever you can add your thoughts using the discussion thread below.
Between 28 and 30 seconds. That’s how long it took for Jim Kirk, the editor of the Chicago Sun Times to inform his entire photography staff that they were losing their jobs. In a statement the media group called it “a very difficult decision” taken “as part of a multimedia staffing restructure” to tailor for digital savvy consumers “seeking more video content with their news.” Numbers vary but it appears at least 20 photographers and photo editors lost their jobs last week. They will be replaced by freelancers and reporters who will be trained up on iPhones.
Job cuts at media groups have become so commonplace over recent years that they often fail to raise an eyebrow beyond the close-knit journalism community. But I believe the Chicago Sun Times’ decision caused a real stir for two main reasons.
Firstly in the increasingly precarious world of newspaper’s budget sheets, there is an increasing trend for compromise – replacing skilled professionals with inadequate solutions. As John H White, the Pulitzer Prize winning photographer sacked by the newspaper puts it in this video interview with American TV: “You can’t take someone who fills prescription bottles and have them do your heart surgery.”
And linked to that idea, the Times’ decision not only devalues the skills involved in high-quality photojournalism, but the very art of photojournalism itself. It’s saying that we need any picture to go with this story over we need a great picture to go with this story.
John is hugely eloquent on the power of good photojournalism calling the visual element of news coverage “the universal language that everyone understands, rich, poor, educated, uneducated.” He also rightly points that years after major news events it’s more often than not a photograph that sticks in your mind. The Sun-Times is obviously right that video content is increasingly important in a multimedia world. But even going back to 9/11, an event for which there is a lot of very powerful footage, for me it’s the still photographs that most endure in my memory.
Citizen journalists will play an increasingly important role in the modern media landscape, submitting photographs and videos captured at the scene. But these should complement not replace those with the instinct and the passion to capture these moments for posterity.
The democratisation of tools – both creative and journalistic – cannot and must not spell the end of recognising real talents.
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