CHICAGO—Chicago Sun-Times has fired its entire full-time photography staff, including a Pulitzer Prize winner, in the latest blow to the long-struggling US newspaper industry.
According to various sources familiar with the situation, the layoffs announced last week resulted from the newspaper’s need to shift toward more online video. In line with the move, Chicago Sun-Times has begun training its print journalists in “iPhone photography basics.”
“In the coming days and weeks, we’ll be working with all editorial employees to train and outfit you as much as possible to produce the content we need,” Robert Feder, a Chicago media critic, quoted the newspaper’s managing editor Craig Newsman as telling staffers in a memo.
The newspaper’s parent firm, Sun Times-Media, will ask its print reporters to shoot photos and videos to accompany their articles and plans to also hire freelancer photographers for major stories, a source told Agence France-Presse.
In addition, the parent firm will increase its reliance on newswires and eliminate staff photographers at its suburban newspapers.
The layoffs came as the US newspaper industry is struggling to cope with years of sharp declines in advertising revenues and dramatic changes in the media environment.
Major dailies have folded or slashed their print editions to a few times a week while a growing number are seeking more revenue from readers by establishing online “paywalls” that require a subscription.
28 jobs axed
Chicago Sun-Times and its suburban papers called 28 people into a morning meeting on Thursday and told them their jobs would be eliminated immediately, the source said, declining to confirm whether severance packages were provided.
The union representing Sun-Times journalists said it was “stunned” and “appalled” that any newspaper would consider photojournalists to be “expendable” and planned to fight the layoffs.
“This is offensive and wrong on so many levels,” said Bernie Lunzer, president of the Newspaper Guild-CWA.
“I have learned time and again how the eye of a professional photographer can see and express things that I can’t,” Lunzer said in a statement. “Apparently, some accountant/manager can see and express things that I can’t understand. Because this makes no sense.”
Pulitzer Prize winner John White, a Chicago legend who is nearing retirement age, was among those who lost their jobs.
Billy Goat Tavern
A group of the photographers gathered to commiserate at Billy Goat Tavern, a regular hangout for Chicago journalists.
“I survived 16 layoffs and now I don’t have to worry about losing my job anymore,” Matt Marton told Chicago Business magazine.
Rob Hart, a photographer with the group’s suburban Pioneer Press, said “this wasn’t about product, it’s about the investors.”
Photographer Thomas Delany posted pictures of some of the shocked photographers hugging each other on his Facebook page. “I worked with great people at Sun-Times and took part in great community stories. It was always fun,” he wrote.
No mention of layoffs
There was no mention of the layoffs on the Sun-Times website, which ironically displayed a brief obituary for former chief photographer Bob Kotalik. The newspaper also offered few details as to its strategy or reasoning in a brief statement released upon request.
“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 newspaper said.
“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.”
Sun-Times Media, which was driven into bankruptcy after press baron Conrad Black was caught raiding the coffers, publishes 42 suburban papers along with its flagship Chicago Sun-Times.
The Chicago newspaper is the nation’s eighth-largest daily, using a measure of print and digital subscribers, according to a survey from the industry’s Alliance for Audited Media. Print circulation was 184,000 and total circulation 470,000.