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Newspaper photographers endangered?

A child blowing a bubble on a summer’s day, a portrait of the local high school sports star, a jumpshot, mourning and triumph. These are merely a few of the scenes photojournalists may shoot in their lifetime, capturing the essence of a mood or the greatness of motion with expertise and an eye for what makes a good shot. But like the dwindling art of long form journalism, a disturbing trend seems to have begun among newspapers – the elimination of the photographer.

It started in late May when the Chicago Sun-Times dismissed its entire photo staff of 28 and replaced them with journalists and freelancers who were reportedly trained on iPhone photography basics and video editing. This resulted in protests and a complaint filed with the National Labor Relations Board over the mass layoffs. In a recent turn of events this week, however, the Sun-Times agreed to hire back four of its photographers in an agreement with the Chicago Newspaper Guild, reported ChicagoTribune.com. The rehired photographers will be required to do more extensive video work in the new deal.

While this concession is no doubt a win for the photojournalism industry and the paper itself, which now again has professional photographers on its staff roster, four out of 28 journalists does not make a whole newspaper.

Meanwhile, last month, Gatehouse Media’s Times Herald-Record in Middletown, N.Y., eliminated positions, including its remaining four staff photographers. Instead, the paper will use freelancers and staff journalists.

Only two weeks after the Sun-Times photographers originally were given their pink slips, Southern Community Newspapers in Georgia also eliminated its photo department, reported Romenesko.com. Out of four photographers, three were let go and a fourth was named company photographer.

According to a recent report from Poynter.org, staff positions for photographers, artists and videographers have dropped 43 percent since 2000. Comparatively, reporters and writer jobs at newspapers have dropped 32 percent.

Alan Mutter, author of “Reflections of Newsosaur,” didn’t seem surprised in a blog posting in September: “Notwithstanding my profound personal respect for photojournalism and photojournalists, the fact is that relatively cheap, reliable and easy-to-use technologies like smartphones, Photoshop and Instagram make it possible for anyone, anywhere, anytime to shoot, sweeten and share a picture whenever the impulse strikes.”

Be that as it may, it’s hard to believe an app on a journalist’s smartphone has the power to tell a story without using words at all. A trained photographer has the artistic eye and background in capturing the power of an image, while reporters, who may very well be decent with a camera, are trained in the flourish of words. Both talents complement one another, and the elimination of the skill that goes into taking a professional photo can only hurt the papers doing the cutting. As we head into 2014, the future of the photojournalist will hopefully be revealed to have a more positive outcome.

 

 

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