Saturday, September 19, 2020
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Newspaper start cutting out photo desks

Photojournalism too is suffering from staff cuts as media outlets try to balance costs. Recently, The Chicago Sun-Times laid off the entire photo desk staff and started training reporters to do videos and photos using smart phones. In a statement, the newspaper said the layoffs were due to a new focus “on bolstering our reporting capabilities with video and other multimedia elements”.

Among those getting the pink slip was longtime Sun-Times John H. White, who won a Pulitzer for a photography feature in 1982. At the time, White was praised for his “consistently excellent work on a variety of subjects.”

But it is always a company’s pocket that speaks loudest, even if it means compromising the quality of work. When it is a survival issue, no award can help as experienced professionals are exchanged for trainees or internees. This is the reality.

The combination of new technology and an unfolding media crisis has made reporters take on many new functions — images and videos on top of writing — that at the end the quality will not be the same.

Yes, it is possible that a true professional can multi-task and maintain a consistent quality… but it requires time and training. Although there are great smartphone cameras, it will never be of the calibre of a top DSLR linked to a powerful lens.

Image has power and to prove it the French newspaper Libération last week removed all images form one of its daily print edition. It was to make a statement on the importance of photojournalism at a time when several media are cutting staff.

“A visual shock,” stated Brigitte Ollier, a journalist on the newspaper’s culture desk. “For the first time in its history, Libération is published without photographs. In their place: a series of empty frames that create a form of silence; an uncomfortable one. It’s noticeable, information is missing, as if we had become a mute newspaper.”

The newspaper explains its decision with these words on its front page: “Libération vows an eternal gratitude to photography, whether produced by photojournalists, fashion photographers, portraitists, or conceptual artists. Our passion for photography has never been questioned — not because it’s used to beautify, shock or illustrate, but because photography takes the pulse of our world”.

The initiative coincides with Paris Photo’s opening, an important event for the photojournalism industry.