Here is what the Sun-Times had to say about the action.
"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."
Allow me to translate. We at the Sun-Times have found ways to obtain visual content without having to pay for it. Readers and iReporters who get no compensation are willingly providing us with free content and we figure that our audience isn't really savvy enough to care about the poor shaky camera work and generally low image quality of this substandard submitted material. We are also able to supplement this content by putting iPhones into the hands of our reporters who, while perhaps very good writers, haven't a stitch of talent as visual journalists....AND we don't have to pay them any more for this new double duty.
I do have some personal experience that allows me to understand a bit of how these photographers are feeling right now. On July 8, 2009, the entire staff of CiN Weekly, where i had served as the staff photographer for 4 years, were all called into Enquirer Editor Tom Callinan's office and told that the party was over. We did all know that some cuts were in our future, but none of us expected that the whole operation was being shut down. Funny that i remember sitting in that boardroom feeling bad for Tom. It was obviously not his decision and his face seemed pained as he informed us of the end.
Of course, what has happened in Chicago has weightier consequences. Newspapers do come and go, especially these days and that does indeed sucks. But what the Chicago Sun-Times is telling us with their action is that a newspaper (and here i mean a DAILY newspaper, not a lifestyle weekly like CiN) does not need highly skilled professional visual journalists on staff to provide good news coverage for their city. Now if i thought for an instant that this was true i would just have to throw up my hands and say fine, end of story, time to get back into the food service industry. Or maybe weddings! The idea that a staff of very talented professionals can be replaced by reader submissions and iPhone toting reporters is just absurd and i remain hopeful that this all blows up in the Sun-Times' face in the very near future. The idea that readers only want video content these days is also absurd, though i do understand and respect that video content is becoming a standard for news websites these days. But there is a big difference between the effect and usefulness of still images vs. video and while it is getting easier to lift usable still images off video footage the impact of those images is just not the same as those captured through still photography. The approaches to the capture are just different and yield different results. Beside, all photojournalists these days also shoot video and they are more skilled at it than reporters of the average citizen because they are already skilled visual professionals.
I guess i need to remain optimistic. I just find it too hard to believe that readers will actually be happy with bad or even mediocre visual imagery to illustrate their news, whether still or motion. The Sun-Times had an award winning photographic staff, including Pulitzer Prize winner John White. So what are the i-Reporters and mamarazzi going to offer up to fill that void? Will they be out in the streets in all kinds of conditions taking risks to capture the breaking news of this cosmopolitan city with award winning images? Somehow i think not. I am also looking forward to seeing the local coverage of the Cubs, Bears, Blackhawks and Bulls in the coming seasons. Maybe iPhone will be coming out with a 400mm 2.8 lens soon for those tight field shots.