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Chicago Sun-Times Fires Entire Photo Staff
By: Shawn Paul Wood
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Google images. iPhones. Stock photography. Your mom's Kodak. For years, we've been able to get pictures from a variety of places, but the one constant in professional photography has been the newspaper. Some of the world's best photographers have been employed at the local paper, and now, thanks to the hack job by the Chicago Sun-Times, a few more of those photographers are out on their collective keister sifting through their former employer's classified ads. Oddly enough, the story was reported by down-the-block rival, Chicago TribuneThis is the lede from the Sun-Times release: 

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.

I freely admit "good-ol' days syndrome" but what's happening to the newspaper is heart-wrenching. This move by the once-bankrupt paper is proof positive that this has little to do with images of news and more to do with the images of dead presidents. Allow me to translate this statement: 

Most of our newspaper subscribers are dying — literally. To that end, hipsters pay our salaries and most of them love to tweet and archive video. This is why we are firing most of our prehistoric staff and replacing them with used iPhones that we plan on giving each cub reporter. The rest of the images we collect for our readers will come from royalty-free images on Google, Bing, and Ask, which ironically is what we typed in our search engine to make this cataclysmic decision: "What do we do to make a profit?" 

This is terrible and a real blow to the publishing community. It's no secret that newspapers must evolve, but there is a need for a visual illustration of a story. There is a reason photographers are up for the Pulitzer prize. Hell, there is a reason broadcast television uses B-roll during 90 percent of its stories. People crave a look within the discussion, and pictures do that for a story. These photographers have a trained eye, a skill set, and a backbone to get the image that can't be captured with the 2" screen in your back pocket. 

An even worse part of this story is the Sun-Times' admission that they will begin using freelancers moving forward. Stay Classy, Sun-Times. Any more obvious about keeping cash flow? I understand you have to make challenging decisions to keep a paper afloat, but is this really the way? More importantly, is this an isolated incident or the beginning of the end for all photo staffs across the country? I hope not. 

So get ready, Chi-Town. Those quality videos are coming right up from writers whose only experience shooting video is the work they rocked at his or her kid's bat mitzvah last year. You know the type: muffled audio, bad lighting, and no storytelling unless it is off-camera "Honey, where in the hell are my keys?" Meanwhile, it is the reporter's responsibility to write riveting copy and a stellar composition while trying to secure said video. To that, I've only one thing to say, "Mazel. Mazel. Good times."

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About the Author
Shawn Paul Wood is a hack-turned-flack with more than 20 years of collective journalism, copywriting and marketing communications experience. Shawn Paul is founder of Woodworks Communications in Dallas, Texas. If you need him, ping him here or follow him on Twitter @ShawnPaulWood
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