Arguing that reporters and freelancers can replace a staff of nearly 30 professional photographers, the Chicago Sun-Times laid off their entire photojournalism team today. That announcement, effective immediately, came on the same day that the paper published the obituary of Bob Kotalik, their former chief photographer.
Here's the Sun-Times statement on their decision:
"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"
So, essentially, the publication will be using more video, and getting their regular reporters to shoot it for them. While many will point to the ease of capturing multimedia images on, say, a smartphone as a factor in the Sun Times decision, it's not the training on professional-grade equipment that makes the professional photograph. Photojournalist Ben Lowy famously used an iPhone to cover Libya, for instance, making something of a career out of smartphone photography. But he was already working as a professional photographer for years before picking up a smart phone. That's probably in part what National Press Photographers Association general counsel Mickey Osterreicher meant when he told Poynter that the paper will "end up getting what you pay for."
The balance of profesional freelancer and reporter with an iPhone for the Sun-Times's future coverage is as yet unknown. But based on the paper's statement, it looks like they'll rely heavily on the latter, which will make them a guinea pig for a newspaper model bound to be watched by both the business and editorial sides of the industry. As Crain's Chicago Business notes, it's pretty common for, say, magazines to rely on freelancers for photographs. But its much more unusual for newspapers to work without staff photographers on hand.
Correction: An earlier version of this post misidentified the title of Mickey Osterreicher. He is the National Press Photographers Association's general counsel, and not their president. NPAA president Mike Borland's statement on the layoffs is included here.