CHICAGO – The Chicago Sun-Times laid off its entire photography department Thursday, its parent firm said, in the latest blow to the long-struggling US newspaper industry.
Sun-Times Media will ask its text reporters to shoot photos and videos to accompany their articles and plans to also hire freelancer photographers for major stories, a source familiar with the situation told AFP.
It will also increase its reliance on newswires and eliminate staff photographers at its suburban newspapers.
The cuts come as the US newspaper industry is struggling to cope with years of sharp declines in advertising revenues and dramatic changes in the media environment.
Major dailies have folded or slashed their print editions to a few times a week while a growing number are seeking more revenue from readers by establishing online “paywalls” that require a subscription.
The Chicago Sun-Times and its suburban papers called 28 people into a morning meeting and told their jobs would be eliminated immediately, the source said, declining to confirm whether severance packages were provided.
The union representing Sun-Times journalists said it was “stunned” and “appalled” that any newspaper would consider photojournalists to be “expendable” and plans to fight the cuts.
“This is offensive and wrong on so many levels,” said Bernie Lunzer, president of the Newspaper Guild-CWA.
“I have learned time and again how the eye of a professional photographer can see and express things that I can’t,” he said in a statement.
“Apparently, some accountant/manager can see and express things that I can’t understand. Because this makes no sense.”
Pulitzer Prize winner John White, a Chicago legend who is nearing retirement age, was among those who lost their jobs.
A group of the photographers gathered to commiserate at the Billy Goat Tavern, a regular hangout for Chicago journalists.
“I survived 16 layoffs and now I don’t have to worry about losing my job anymore,” Matt Marton told Chicago Business magazine.
Rob Hart, a photographer with the group’s suburban Pioneer Press, said “this wasn’t about product, it’s about the investors.”
Photographer Thomas Delany posted pictures of some of the shocked photographers hugging each other on his Facebook page.
“I worked with great people at the Sun-Times and took part in great community stories. It was always fun,” he wrote.
There was no mention of the layoffs on the Sun-Times website, which ironically displayed a brief obituary for former chief photographer Bob Kotalik.
The newspaper also offered few details as to its strategy or reasoning in a brief statement released upon request.
“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,” the newspaper said.
“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.”
Sun-Times Media, which was driven into bankruptcy after press baron Conrad Black was caught raiding the coffers, publishes 42 suburban papers along with its flagship Chicago Sun-Times.
The Chicago newspaper is the nation’s eighth largest daily, using a measure of print and digital subscribers, according to a survey from the industry’s Alliance for Audited Media. Print circulation was 184,000 and total circulation 470,000.