Chicago Sun-Times Replaces Photographers with iPhones

No, this isn’t an April Fool’s joke, although it certainly sounds like one. The venerable Chicago Sun-Times (which has been in print, under one name or another, since 1844), has fired its entire staff of photographers, and plans to train reporters to take photos with their iPhones.

Here’s the original source for this information: a Facebook post by former Sun-Times writer Robert Feder.

chicago iphone fb post

It reads:

Sun-Times reporters begin mandatory training today on “iPhone photography basics” following elimination of the paper’s entire photography staff. “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,” managing editor Craig Newman tells staffers in a memo.

What a tragic, short-sighted decision this is.

For a picture to be worth printing, it has to be a good picture. One taken with attention to composition, lighting, timing, and the thousand ineffable attributes that are intuitively considered by an experienced photographer. Photojournalism isn’t about simply capturing an accurate image of a person, place or thing, it’s about identifying and seizing a moment in time – a moment that tells an entire story with a single frame. That’s what a photographer does.

A photographer communicates with images; a reporter communicates with words. Expecting an iPhone-wielding reporter to take a press-quality photograph is a mistake, but since the Sun-Times got rid of the photo editors as well as the photographers, who’s going to object?

More broadly, this move by the Sun-Times reflects a growing misapprehension in the media industry that high-quality, low-cost imaging tools have reduced photography and video to commodities that can competently be harvested by anyone.

I’ve lost track of the number of “in-house” video projects that I’ve been called in to salvage in post-production. A company doesn’t want to pay for the services of a professional, so they send out a marketing person (or, my personal favorite, an intern) with a FLIP Cam or a DSLR to shoot footage for a client. They are then surprised when they are unable to make anything presentable out of the resulting morass of shaky, blurry, three-second clips, and are forced to call in a pro to fix their mess. Nobody is ever happy with the final product, and invariably they blame the quality of the camera, as though the only difference between a professional and an amateur is the depth of their toolbox.

Here’s what I suggest to the newly-unemployed photographers of the Chicago Sun-Times. Go shoot a bunch of news stories with your iPhones. Send those photos in to managing editor Craig Newman, and let him see the difference between what you can do with an iPhone, and what his reporters are doing with their iPhones. Let the newspaper’s owners see that it’s not the camera that determines the quality of an image, it’s the photographer. Let them see that photography does matter, and that training, experience and talent are important.

If the management of the Chicago Sun-Times aren’t convinced; if they are willing to accept “good enough” for their publication; if they believe that their readers are too stupid to notice that excellence is being replaced with mediocrity, then I am absolutely certain that they will find out the hard way that they are very wrong.

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