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Chicago Sun Lays Off Photo Staff - The Race To The Bottom Continues

Posted by: Dean Harte on 05/30/2013 - 11:30 PM

The Chicago Sun will lay off its 28-strong photography staff and will instead start using 'freelancers'. I read quite a few newspapers and have noticed a trend towards 'crowd sourced' photography (in which the photographer gets paid zilch but gets his name mentioned), photos culled from google earth and streetview and generic microstock. Barring exceptions, this has not benefited overall quality I think.

I believe the race to the bottom set in motion by cheap microstock models is now moving into the next phase: free is better than cheap. I feel sorry for what has happened to the profession of photographer over the last decade or so. The onset of digital and models of crowd-sourcing have eroded prices to a point where they simply cannot make a living anymore. Competition, evolution, keep up or die - I know. Too bad though that competition seems more based on price rather than quality. One professional photographer lamented in a forum I read that ten years ago licensing a photo for use in a text book made him $250. Nowadays its $5 dollars. Supply and demand, economies of scale. But I feel the world just got a little colder...


Oldest Reply

Posted by: JC Findley on 05/30/2013 - 11:32 PM


Posted by: Bradford Martin on 05/31/2013 - 12:12 AM

Newspaper. What's that? I get my breaking news from Twitter. There is a website for just about everything else.


Posted by: Dean Harte on 05/31/2013 - 12:29 AM

newspapers also have websites but I assume you knew that already


Posted by: Kathi Shotwell on 05/31/2013 - 12:33 AM



Posted by: Vivian ANDERSON on 05/31/2013 - 12:49 AM

All part of InstagramGratification, rather than valued talents bringing important images in a professional manner.................stop the world..etc.........very sad and sorry.
This might influence all sorts of courses of study at colleges,etc........the pursuit of excellence is now harmed mortally.


Posted by: Dean Harte on 05/31/2013 - 12:51 AM

yep. pretty soon everyone will have a good camera with him or her at all times which can match a basic DSLR. And not asking for money for use too. Or settle for pennies on the dollar. Im just happy Im not a professional photographer at this point in time but only a hobbyist and enthusiast. I hope the staff that were laid off will be able to find new employ but given the state of the economy, newspapers in general and the photography sector I dont think its going to be easy for them.


Posted by: Chaline Ouellet on 05/31/2013 - 1:00 AM

Very sad indeed.


Posted by: Brady D Hebert on 05/31/2013 - 1:21 AM

How do you get a professional photographer off your front porch?

Pay him for the pizza.


Posted by: Roseann Caputo on 05/31/2013 - 7:15 AM

And so it begins. Don't think other artists won't be affected. This actually started with Graphic Designers. This was just the next step.

And I agree. It won't say too much for quality. Then again, if they do get work from people who have studied art and photography, they could get lucky and some youngster or noob will think they are getting "their big break."


Posted by: Bradford Martin on 05/31/2013 - 8:04 AM

Dean-Newspapers have web sites. They also charge to access them. And most of what is in them is old and condensed from other sources. Basically they purvey second hand history.

The internet has allowed me to make enough so that after being laid off from a different job I have been able to sustain myself.

Edited to add. I am third generation in visual arts. My grandfather was a photo-engraver and got put out of work by the lithograph. My uncle did too and he became a free-lance photographer in later life. The go to guy in a small town. I was the go to guy for a lot of photography in the 90's. By the next decade the local graphic designer told me he wasn't going to pay $50 bucks for a photo anymore. I told him you will when I am the only one who has what you need. I am now selling worldwide with much less marketing effort.
I recently went to a local event. A new ship was coming in. I saw a lot of photographers from all over waiting in the predawn hour. Some I recognized as being from the local papers. I have shot next to them for 15 years in situations like this. But now a whole lot more had woken at 4:30 and come down to the port. Shooting for special interests. Shooting for fun. Shooting in the hopes of making a few bucks. The newspaper photographers didn't act so snooty anymore. I wondered if they were kind of redundant. I wondered what they would be doing in a few years.


Posted by: Roy Erickson on 05/31/2013 - 9:20 AM

It's all about advertising and marketing - newspapers are day old at best news - and even our little local paper has problems with advertising - when the closest news paper that counts is 50 to 60 miles away and they don't cover this little burg. the paper has gotten thinner - but literally and figuratively. Way back in the day (no I never walked through snow six feet deep to get to school) the Journalism Club had a two and sometime three page spread in the weekly newspaper that was more news worthy than this flimsy paper that comes out 5 days a week. There was sports, what was happening around the school, sometimes poetry (see - I am old), as well a who was seen with who - like any good rag, upcoming events. there were photographers that took pictures had them developed and sent to the paper - students - not pro's - and there were action shots. they even pitched for their own ads for the paper to pay for those two or three pages.

but - it's all about money - so now we have another handful of professional photographers to deal with on the loose - for those of you in photography - better step up your game - you're gonna have some competition.

Roseann - it might be like the local paper - they solicit photographs from whoever was at the scene - perhaps they pay a nominal fee or it's free - send me your photo. Like the weather channel.


Posted by: Roseann Caputo on 05/31/2013 - 9:28 AM

Roy - So, still a 50/50 shot as to whether or not they will get a decent image. Although when you hired a pro, you had a stronger guarantee of that.

One thing you hit squarely on the head - the bottom line being the almighty dollar.


Posted by: Dean Harte on 05/31/2013 - 9:46 AM

well a newspaper used to be more than just news. Human interest, insights, great interviews etc etc. As newspapers are adapting to 'its free on the internet now' they are struggling to stay afloat and one way is cost cutting. I understand that. But getting rid off an entire photo department? As outlined in my OP, I have seen in numerous papers that the quality of the photography has gone down. Instead of pro work they are using user submitted work, and pay nothing. Or cheap stock. This perhaps confirms the notion the public seems to have that photography is not really worth anything anymore and will make it even harder to command acceptable prices.

Where do you go after cheap? Free. Its already happening. And I for one am sorry to see this profession disappearing.


Posted by: Roy Erickson on 05/31/2013 - 11:31 AM

Almost all professions are disappearing - except for those "very professional" practitioners - and their work still commands even higher prices. Made in China, made by robot - where oh where did the professions go. What do you need a photographer for when the event is live on TV and you can grab any shot - better than a guy standing on the ground - or at any other event - what do you need a still camera guy for? What do you need a staff photographer for if anyone with an iPhone can click and image and send it in long before the photographer gets back to the office and goes over the 200 they took to pick the best one - it's just an image in a disposable fish wrapper anyway.


Posted by: Dan Turner on 05/31/2013 - 2:27 PM

Let's face it. In the early days someone was a photographer because they had a camera and their photos were more or less properly exposed. That was their only qualification. As more people obtained cameras, "better" photographers emerged.

Now we see cell phone photos and videos on CNN. Not because the images are any good, but because it's the only footage available. From people on the scene. Eye witnesses! The news outlets have decided to "put everyone on the team." Crowd sourcing.

Truly good photo journalists will still make the sale, still rise to the top, because they'll be where nobody else is with shots nobody else has. They will be "extreme" professionals, going where ordinary people with cameras won't go.

Dan Turner
Dan Turner Fine Art
Dan Turner's Seven Keys to Selling Art Online
To Enjoy Dan Turner's Pinterest Boards, Click Here


Posted by: Odd Jeppesen on 05/31/2013 - 3:07 PM

I love newspapers and I'm sad about the way things have gone but I haven't picked up a real paper newspaper in years. I'm also sad about whole photo departments disappearing, but a good photographer will always be able to find a market for his or her work.

For me the disappearance of photo departments has become an opportunity. I submit pictures to the local paper (circulation approx 10,000) and its online edition. I don't get paid but my name is seen regularly. I know that it has an effect because I'm often stopped by strangers who ask about this or that picture. That's a chance for me to hand them my business card with a QR code link to my FAA site.

So don't bemoan the fact that the world is changing. Change with it.


Posted by: John Crothers on 05/31/2013 - 3:11 PM

Why pay a professional photographer to cover a news story when there are 100 people with iphones snapping "pictures" that are willing to GIVE them to the paper because that would be "cool".

Of course, these iphone reporters don't get the FACTS about what is going on in the picture. They don't get the names of the people involved. They don't report what actually happened.


Posted by: John Crothers on 05/31/2013 - 3:13 PM


When you submit a picture to the local paper don't they then OWN the rights to your picture?

I did some freelance work for a local paper and they would send me places to shoot for a story (I didn't write the story). They paid me $40.00 an image. Sure, that isn't much money at all but guess what, I got my name in the paper as well and I wasn't working for free.


Posted by: Odd Jeppesen on 05/31/2013 - 3:18 PM

The pictures I do for the paper aren't ones that I'd hope to sell anywhere else and I doubt that the paper will sell them... events in small towns aren't very marketable.

Forty dollars for an image sounds great, but when was that? As far as I'm concerned the visibility/publicity I'm getting is worth much more than $40.00.


Posted by: Jim Hughes on 05/31/2013 - 3:25 PM

Depressing. . Right now, these publishers are all smoking the opium of 'crowdsourcing' and thinking cr@ppy cell phone photos taken by their kids' friends are fine for their target market (probably also defined as their kids' friends).. But, the real values in photography - subject, composition, lighting, timing - will reassert themselves in time. I'm not a sports fan but obviously, great sports photos take a lot of skill, experience and equipment.

Somewhat more seriously - what this is probably about is - you guessed it - health insurance. Get all the photographers off the payroll and working as independents, paid by the photo. Hey it's the American way.


Posted by: Bradford Martin on 05/31/2013 - 4:05 PM

In the late 90's I met one of the photographers at my local paper. "Florida Today". She said if I saw some breaking news, even a car accident, to take the photos to the paper and they might use the photo. I said "how much". She said, "nothing you get your film processed free. I said "no pay no photos." Over the years I have been published many times in that paper with the only credit being "For Florida Today." Never submitted by me, always a friend or client I did work for. I can't even use that for a tear sheet. Last month I got a call from a sculptor I do a lot of photography for. "Oh Brad I need a cd of my work for the paper. They are doing a feature story on my gallery!!" So I burned a cd of pictures of her work. And put in a portrait of her with some clay art. I told her how I get published a lot there but never get credit. I put my name on the cd. The copyrights are in the metadata. She said she would insist I get credit. They did a feature article and did a half page of the photo of her using my portrait. In the online edition they did a slide show of her art using my photos. The credit read "artist submitted photos". This is the same company that publishes USA Today. Crowd sourcing is nothing new.


Posted by: Dean Harte on 06/01/2013 - 6:12 AM

The Sun Times will train its reporters to use iphones and do the photography that was formerly done by profs. Lovely.


Posted by: Roseann Caputo on 06/01/2013 - 6:27 AM

Wonder how long before they close their doors.


Posted by: William Norton on 06/01/2013 - 7:06 AM

This is the demise of the newspaper industry which has been in decline for a long time. It is not the demise of photography. The demand for photography is actually increasing. Those in demand want perfection for free but will accept anything from anyone to fulfill the demand. Insurance companies want property condition photos, lenders want asset verification photos, any business on the internet wants photos showcasing their products etc. The availability, quality and cost of equipment has given everyone a part time job as a photographer. Some will do it well others not. Years ago a roll of film would contain baby pictures and graduation photos on the same roll. Today people post 85 shots of their lunch. Professional photographers need to reenergize. We need to rethink our business models, meet the new competition with increased quality, identify the demand for photography and address how to profit from that demand. The industry has changed, we need to catch up to the change and get ahead of it and guide those in need of the photography.


Posted by: Les Palenik on 06/01/2013 - 8:32 AM

"Somewhat more seriously - what this is probably about is - you guessed it - health insurance. Get all the photographers off the payroll and working as independents, paid by the photo. Hey it's the American way."

Not only will they save the payroll and medical insurance, but also the new kind of fees for the new CC Adobe Photoshop.
That's something even Adobe did not foresee when they made sales/rent projections for a new software subscription model aimed at the corporations.


Posted by: Roy Erickson on 06/01/2013 - 8:55 AM

@ Jim - it's not just about "health insurance" - although that has become a huge part of the cost of any company doing business - it's also about payroll - and newspapers don't make money selling newspapers - they make their money on advertising - and they are failing because google, yahoo, bing and whoever else is grabbing the market. Besides - why advertise in the newspaper when you can go on line or on iPhone/iPad or whatever other handheld device - or even bombard buyers with email with your products and sales. Pay the newspaper to print the savings coupon - no - have the customer print their own, use their ink and their paper.


Posted by: Ricardo De Almeida on 06/01/2013 - 11:18 AM

There's always the other side:

"Shutterstock Celebrates 25 Million Images in its Collection and 300 Million Licenses Sold"

(NEW YORK, April 12, 2013)


Posted by: Harry Lamb on 06/01/2013 - 4:52 PM

Newspapers and other publications want everthing free; after all we get our equipment free don't we? Actually if they keep increasing the Quality of the Cell Phone capabilities to about 6MP then crowd sourcing will be sufficient for News Papers and cheap Magazines. Reviewers on Stock sites will kill off most phone shots, but there are some that get accepted.

Even I used to make a few sound dollars from being published - especially sports images. No dice now; you are blessed to get your name for credit especially if they spell it correctly. The only work I get published any more is something I do for the church, and like the previous writer said - "NO Credit".


Posted by: Ricardo De Almeida on 06/02/2013 - 5:56 PM

Interesting numbers

"Photograph people, landscapes, merchandise, or other subjects, using digital or film cameras and equipment. May develop negatives or use computer software to produce finished images and prints. Includes scientific photographers, aerial photographers, and photojournalists".


Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2012


Posted by: Larry Lamb on 06/02/2013 - 6:22 PM

Well if nothing else,go to hollywood,and chase celebs.


Posted by: Frank J Casella on 06/03/2013 - 1:10 PM

Here is the latest article on the subject. Chicago is my home town, so I know most of the people involved. In fact, John H. White is my photo mentor.


Posted by: Frank J Casella on 06/03/2013 - 1:43 PM

... And another: "Photographers tussle over whether ‘pro Instagrammers’ are visionaries or hacks

Read more: " Pro Photographers Embracing the Flexibility of iPhone, Instagram


Posted by: Frank J Casella on 06/07/2013 - 5:16 PM


This discussion is closed.