PHOTOGRAPHY! Anyone can do it!
The guy whose office is next to mine is the head of our
visual sequence, a former news photographer and a pretty laid-back guy. During
one particularly tumultuous term, however, he ended up in my office with the
door closed, looking like he wanted to stab someone to death.
He had just come from a meeting with our chair, in which he
attempted to convince the man that visuals needed a bigger place in our
curriculum. The conversation turned from patronizing to dismissive, with the
denouement being delivered when the chair whipped out his cell phone and said
something to the effect of, “Look, I can take pictures with my phone. It’s not
a big deal.”
We both thought it was a ridiculous statement. Apparently,
the Chicago Sun-Times heard it and thought it was inspired.
The brain trust at the Sun-Times laid off its entire
photography staff on Thursday. The paper issued a statement that was clearly
written by someone who got his PR degree out of a Cracker Jack box. The
Sun-Times blamed the audience that is “seeking more video content” and noted
that “business is changing rapidly.” By the time I got to their need to “evolve
with our digitally savvy customers,” I stopped reading because I had officially
won my game of “buzzword bullshit bingo.”
The paper, of course, is not giving up on visuals, nor is it
going back to the days of paying artists to do etchings. Instead, they’ll let
reporters with phone cameras do most of the easy work and they’ll hire
freelancers to pick up the slack.Where might these professional freelancers
come from? Oh, wait… The Sun-Times just created 28 of them by FIRING THE WHOLE
The Sun-Times’ move is a brazen and obvious attempt to save
money. By canning a bunch of people, the paper saves cash. That’s a no-brainer,
which the paper clearly just proved because whoever did it has no brain.
However, this is just one instance in a string of dumb
choices my industry is making because it follows the logic of, “I’m sure
whatever they do can’t be that hard.”
Papers have fired writers because they see people on
LiveJournal typing stuff for free and think, “Hey, that’ll save money! I’m sure
writing can’t be that hard. I’m writing an email right now!”
In the case of photography, papers figure that 1 billion
people using Instagram filters can’t be wrong, so let’s give them a try!
Besides, it’s Chicago. There’s always SOMEONE who will work for almost nothing
when they have exactly nothing now. If something really scary important comes
along and the Sun-Times doesn’t want to be embarrassed (although given this
move and the reaction to it, that’s a pretty high bar to clear), they can hire
a freelancer who will work for cheap, be grateful for the cash/abuse and
require no long-term commitment. Y’know, like a hooker…
The problem with all of this is the idea of quality. Not
every writer or photographer is an artisan who has honed his or her craft over
decades of work. Every journalist isn’t out there touching the lives of people
covering political unrest in Afghanistan or insurgency in Syria.Plenty of them
are doing crap like this.
However, the Sun-Times canned a ton of good pros Thursday,
including Pulitzer-Prize winner John White. He’s not out there taking photos of
a woman whose grilled-cheese sandwich has an image of the Son of God on it (Photo Head: Cheese-us Christ!).
The ability to compose an image is an actual skill, one that not enough people
value. Add that to concerns that these homeless guys they’ll hook up with an
iPhone might not have the same ethics as the NPPA and you’re really asking for
I’d like to say that they eventually figure out that the
quality of the writing isn’t as good or that the professionals bring something
better to the table than the guy who writes in ALL CAPITALS ABOUT OBAMACARE AND
CANT SPEL ANETHING RITE!
Or that they’ll get it after the third time they send a
“freelancer” out into the field to get an in-depth expose on the conditions at
a local animal shelter and have the guy come back with a dozen “cat selfies.”
However, that usually doesn’t happen because being
reflective and evaluating your actions can only lead to “backward thinking” and
“flip flopping” so it’s best to fuck up and just keep moving right along.