News Photographers Pushed-out at Chicago Sun-Times

Goodbye to News Photographers over Photo of Occupy LA SignsAbout 2 weeks ago, the Chicago Sun-Times announced it was laying-off the entire photography department. They will train reporters to take photos on iPhones instead.  Photographers are picketing the news outlet, but but for now there are no photographers on staff.

While I'm not surprised by the news that Chicago Sun-Times is eliminating it's entire photography department, I'm troubled by the news in the context of the slow meltdown of the news business.

It's not surprising, because parts of the news business are in crisis, particularly newspapers. The slow meltdown has many causes, included the decline in advertising revenues and subscribers due to competition from free providers on the internet.  The industry has been shedding journalists as well, particularly seasoned writers and editors with higher salaries.

It's troubling because the of quality news is being affected by these changes in the business.  While more content is created everyday than ever before in history, how much of it is high-value, researched news written by or photographed by trained journalists?

On one level, I expect we will see that basic photography will need to be part of a reporter's skill set.  That's sensible given the economic situation and may be ok or good enough in many cases. "Good enough" is often not very good at all, but passible.

Future news photo, reduced quality?While I know good photos can be taken with iPhones, few people know how to consistently take good photos with iPhones.  And many newsworthy photos will be missed due to limitations of iPhone camera quality, particularly the lack of optical zoom, limits of detail and limits of low-light sensitivity.

But without proper training or ability, reporters will likely deliver photos that are out of focus, poorly lit and poorly composed. The quality of news will continue to decline and people will notice.

On the other hand, part of the story is news outlets are moving to using more video online.  Video can be both compelling and can generate higher advertising rates. For now it's not clear how much of the photography will be replaced by videography.  It's also not clear what opportunities may be missed due to the differences in the way news may unfold in view of a still camera versus a video camera.

What will papers do with regard to still photos when if they find that iphone photos are not cutting it?  I suspect they will pay for more syndicated photos from photo services. Local news and smaller stories will have inconsistent or crappy photos. Hopefully they will at least see the need for continued use of freelance photographers in place of some of the missing staff.

The end result is there may be very little difference in quality between traditional news outlets and solo or small news blogs.  Upstarts may be able to differentiate if they can change the economic equation.

Disruption opportunity?  I hope so.

What to you think? Should traditional news outlets have professional photographers on staff? Will startups fill the gap?

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