Photojournalists Fired! What it tells us…

Last week, the Chicago Sun-Times abruptly fired all 28 of their photojournalists. Included amongst these professionals was Pulitzer Prize-winning Sun-Times photographer John H. White. The rationale behind this decision is economic: like most newspapers, circulation at the Sun-Times is off considerably – which means advertising revenue is too – as readers shift to digital media, and merchants follow.

But fear not, the Sun-Times is not going all-text. No, they informed their reporters that they are now responsible for photographing the events that they cover… with their iPhones. Yes, these journalists, now photojournalists, are being given a crash course by the Sun-Times on how to take photos with an iPhone, and how to send them to the home office for publication with their stories.

And this is all happening because the iPhone and other camera-equipped smartphones are everywhere! The top three most popular cameras in the Flickr community? The iPhone 4, 4S and 5. They are ahead of all the “real cameras”: the Canons, Nikons, Sony’s and so on, and by a wide margin.

Here are five things this proliferation of camera phones tells us:

#1 The bar is being lowered

For the most part, the quality of the images captured by the iPhone just aren’t as good as those from the typical high-end SLR or DSLR carried by a professional or serious hobbyist, or even the increasingly more capable advanced point and shoot and bridge cameras. Now, you probably know that I’m a big fan of the iPhone as camera, having made thousands of images with mine. And my mantra has always been that the camera you have with you is the best one. But without the ability to control shutter speed or aperture, with a miniscule lens and sensor, and poor low-light performance, the iPhone has it’s limitations. The results will be limited as well.

And putting a scalpel in my hand it doesn’t make me a surgeon. The trained eye of a seasoned photographer, who sees lights and shadows, who appreciates the subtleties of composition, and who is dedicated to capturing the image, (and in the case of the reporters, not also capturing the story), is going to bring in photos that convey the emotion, the drama, reality of the moment. I have to imagine that those reporters are nervous and not very happy.

#2 If you’re a bad guy, it’s a lot harder to get away with anything

The abundance of camera phones means that whether you’re simply scratching your, ahem, or carrying out a terrorist act, odds are great that not just one but many people will catch you in the act. Just ask the Boston Marathon bombers.

#3 It will be a lot easier to get the shot of the century

If you always have your smartphone with you, (and you know how to use it) you’re much more likely to be there when it matters most. That eagle swooping in on it’s prey, the dramatic skies and vicious tornado as it bears down, the joyous faces of a family reuniting with a loved one, and so on. Be there and be ready.

#4 It will be a lot more difficult to get the shot of the century

Of course, not only will you have your iPhone, but so will the other 10 (100?) people standing around you.

Hmmm, what to do? Be better than everyone else. Know how to compose and use the best apps. Your most important camera gear is what’s under your hat.

#5 If you are a photojournalist or if that is your intended occupation, consider a career change

I recommend nursing. Sorry.

Those are my fives ideas as to what today’s plethora of camera phones tells us, but this is by no means conclusive.

What does it mean to you? Please let us know your thoughts.

About Ed Spadoni "Thoughts and opinions, resources and experiences… for emerging photographers everywhere."
This entry was posted in Essay and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

25 Responses to Photojournalists Fired! What it tells us…

  1. Steven Tryon says:

    A big reason I shoot 6×6 film squares is simply to do something different from the vast hordes.
    The firings mostly tell me that the Chicago Sun Times is in desperate straits.
    Make money with photography? I’m in Rochester, New York, already. Even with Kodak a laughing stock, it’s still a photography town. The density of superb photographers per square inch is exceedingly high. So I enjoy my photography, try to do it well, and try not to spend too much money in the process.

  2. nutsfortreasure says:

    Love it! I want a new camera and thought I should get one of these phones for MY BACK-Up 🙂 I must SHARE THIS!

    • Ed Spadoni says:

      Good luck – let us know what you decide, and thanks. Ed

      • nutsfortreasure says:

        OF course I want a SUPER BIG outfit but it really is our EYE in the end they say that matters but I see the ad on TV about this phone and figure they are correct. Thanks for blogging about a subject near and dear to my heart. PHOTOGRAPHY 🙂

  3. Rodney says:

    Sad and scary times for true, professional photographers! What’s next…. having your cousin photograph your wedding with an I-phone? Changing with the times and adapting is important, people have been doing it for centuries. I guess photographers will have to learn to be even MORE creative now. It is only a hobby for me and I am a nurse by profession, so I feel SO FORTUNATE! I hope the folks who lose their livelihood with the changes find other ways to make their skills useful. Nursing is a great suggestion Ed! It changed my life, and even led me into photography as a hobby. I wish all the photogs out there good luck with whatever they choose!

  4. Rob says:

    It’s a sad day in the neighborhood…….

  5. Prentis says:

    Let me address the “camera you have with you is the best one” part of this thread. Definitely the case. But it need not be the miniscule lens and sensor iPhone variety. Let me explain.

    Referring back to my recent trip to Paris with the Fuji X100 reviewed here a week or so ago, I walked the city with a “man bag.” They are very popular with gentlemen in Paris and you see them everywhere. For me as a tourist it was partly to ward off pickpockets, but it also served as my camera bag. I will have to say that I really got used to using one and now use it here on a daily basis. So “the camera I have with me” has an f-2 lens and an APS-C sensor.

    As for “what’s under my hat,” If my photos don’t look good I can’t blame it on the iPhone.

  6. Peter Snare says:

    Sad about the photographers being laid off but professionals are a resourceful and creative breed. They will survive. I have recently acquires a Sony RX100. It is so compact it now goes with me everywhere, I hardly notice it hanging on my belt. The quality is amazing, better than the iPhone. I make no claims about my own pictures but I have fun with it and I’m learning all the time.

    • Ed Spadoni says:

      Good point Peter, smaller is getting better. I’m enjoying my NEX 6 and it’s so easy to carry, I forget it’s there. Thanks for the comment, Ed

  7. John says:

    It is sad that the photographers got laid off. Especially in these tough economic times. These days, everyone is a photographer, and, making a career of it gets harder and harder.

    But, at the same time …. it’s part of the price we pay for advancements in technology. You can take a pretty darn good shot with an iPhone. There are several blogs featuring photographers who do nothing but iPhone photography, and some of it is brilliant.

    If the experiment works in Chicago, I bet you see more and more papers follow suit.

  8. Ed Spadoni says:

    No doubt about it John, since virtually all newspapers are hurting. I’m sure they’re all watching Chicago closely. Thanks, Ed

  9. Pingback: Weekend inspiration: John H. White responds | 2 Guys Photo

  10. Rey says:

    Two thoughts:

    1. Quality content will always be a differentiator. The Chicago paper decided that that will not be the case in terms of visual content. Odd in that we are increasingly becoming a visually-oriented society. Youtube is the #2 search engine after Google (which is, I’m sure, why Google brought them into the family). For me (and I still think many) seeing really good images beats seeing really average images and so that will guide my purchasing and consumption decisions. We’ll see if I’m actually in a minority or majority here.

    2. Man bag. Love it. Thanks for the info, Prentis. I knew I should have been a European. I’ve taken to using messenger style bags of late and they are similar to the bags Prentis describes.


    • Ed Spadoni says:

      True Rey but for the newspaper, it was pure economics. Evidently, they don’t value the quality images any longer and aren’t willing to pay for them. Too bad, not only for the photogs but for us too. Ed

  11. Clanmother says:

    I have been following the Chicago Sun news with great interest. In fact, this is my second time around this post because I wanted to read the comments and discussion. We have not seen the end of this narrative. Photography has transformed our society by changing the way we process information and integrate knowledge and experience. They say photos tell a story, but which story. We live in interesting times. A great post, as always….

  12. Pingback: The aftermath of a bad decision | 2 Guys Photo

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s