The Case of the Disappearing Professional Media Photographer?

Cause the good ole days weren’t always good,
And tomorrow ain’t as bad as it seems.”

Keeping The Faith
- Billy Joel

The Chicago Sun-Times’ decision to lay off its staff of photographers and editors (~28 total), including a Pulitzer Prize winner, sent shock waves throughout the photography industry. Some cried foul. Some expressed disbelief. Others lamented the changing times and the commoditization of the professional media photography field. Many mocked the paper’s suggestion that it would rely on reporters to take their own photos using iPhones and DSLRs. The Sun-Times did not eliminate using professional photographers, since it plans on using some freelancers to fill some of the void created by the departure of the full-time professional crew. But the Sun-Times’ announcement was a clear indication that it believe something had fundamentally changed and it was willing to take radical action to do what it thought best for the immediate and long-term health of the business.

G20 Pittsburgh Job

Was the Sun-Times being heartless? Heavy-handed? Short-sighted? An example of capitalist greed gone awry? Maybe. But then again, maybe not. No doubt everyone will use this announcement to further their own agenda, which will likely include some or all of the following: photographers railing against the pace, nature, and impact of the technological change, unions attempting to expand union power and influence, attempts to subsidize and protect the newspaper industry from a plethora of new competitors, politicians seeking to harken us back to the “good old days” and vote them into office, government bureaucrats expanding training programs, and a host of other well-sounding “solutions” that do little, if anything, to address the core issue. The truth is a bit more complicated and deserves something more than the usual mud-slinging, overhyped phrases, and political back-and-forth. As a Pew Research Center study shows, many are unaware of the struggles facing the news industry. Fewer still likely understand the cumulative challenges now facing newspaper organizations.

Americans' Awareness

1) The Nature of Change – Drips vs. Floods

When changes are gradual, we notice them less. It is only after some extended period of time that we reflect on how much things have diverged from their previous state. The Sun-Times’ announcement had all the subtlety of a nuclear bomb. The reason for the widespread attention was that it put the issue, regarding the how deeply and rapidly our society is being transformed by technological and cultural changes, right in front of our face. The Sun-Times’ decision made it impossible to kid ourselves that it is business as usual or that such changes are going to happen gradually or someday down the road. If the Sun-Times had laid-off one professional photographer each year and gradually introduced educational courses training reporters in the use of DSLRs or iPhones, we probably would never have noticed it – until some years down the road, when someone waxed eloquently regarding their sadness over the decline of the professional media photographer.

2) Not So Long Ago and Not So Far Away

The simple reality is that the media industry has been going through tremendous changes for the last 30+ years. In 1980, most of us had 3 major television networks and perhaps a PBS station available to us. A new group of cable start-ups were just making their way onto the national landscape, with names like HBO, Cinemax, and TBS. Nearly every house had a local newspaper delivered to its doorstep. Many towns had at least 2 papers. Some had more, some had only 1. We relied on a handful of general purpose magazines such as Time, Look, and Life, and some others that appealed to our specialized interests, such as Better Homes & Gardens for home decor, and Outdoor Life for hunting and fishing. Newspapers, due to their relevance and importance in our daily lives, commanded a significant portion of the local advertising revenue. If you ran a local business or an individual with something to sell, you were likely advertising in the local newspaper. And with little exception, newspapers from around the country didn’t compete with each other, since it was not cost effective to ship tons of paper all over the country, and the ads were for a given locale.

G20 Raising Teens

3) Fast Forward

With an seemingly endless supply of television channels, cable news channels, blogs, online forums, and number of websites, the world looks radically different than the one I described above. Add the tremendous cost reductions and mind-boggling technological improvements such as high speed internet, wireless capabilities, faster computer processing, brighter, higher definition displays, and high volume storage capabilities, and you have a society where nearly anyone can access just about anything real time from the convenience of a PC, Mac, iPhone, iPad, smartphone or tablet. Someone can likely access almost any newspaper website in the world with a few clicks on any of these devices. In such a world, the newspapers of yesterday are struggling to maintain both their relevance in the lives of their readers as well as the attention of the advertising community. And they now have to compete with one another and a host of new entrants in what could be classified more broadly as the “information business.”

G20 Pittsburgh March

4) Changing Nature of Newspaper Busines

I grew up delivering newspapers from age 11 through 15. I also worked in a newspaper press room on weekends, where union workers operated and maintained massive, intricate machinery that printed, assembled, cut, and fed a continuous stream of papers to me and my fellow workers at high speed. I was fascinated by this finely-tuned engineering behemoth worked and how reliable it was. I probably would have spent more time observing it work, if I was not so busy trying to keep up with the blistering pace at which it was delivering newspapers! It was rumored that when members of our crew wanted some downtime, someone would flip a metal bottle cap into the press. This would shred the paper and send it flying in every direction. From a distance, it appeared that the machine had exploded. It was quite a sight! Everyone got a half-hour to an hour break – except those poor guys cleaning up the mess.

During my teens, I read the paper just like my parents had done throughout their lifetime. By age 25, I was reading 1 paper – the Wall Street Journal. Today, I subscribe to the digital version of the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Times, and a number of other fee-based digital magazines, along with free news sources and blogs. A local newspaper delivered to my doorstep? Nowhere to be found. Google News, customized for my interests, is my home page and the most accessed site on my PC, Galaxy SIII smartphone, and iPad.

DC - Don't Tread On Me

For better or worse, I suspect that most children and teens today think of a physical newspaper as something used to house-train a puppy, line their parrot’s cage, wrap household items with during a move, or start a fire. If they want any form of news or information, they search Google, Youtube, or Facebook, or click on a myriad of other “favorites,” few of which include their local newspaper website. More often than not, they will opt for some video representation rather than the printed word – not very comforting consideration for a newspaper organization.

The simple truth is that the competition for “eyeballs” has increased tremendously. And despite what some newspapers claim, they don’t have a lock on investigative journalism, objectivity, or even quality photos. With age and time, I have come to the conclusion that the image many newspapers want us to have of them often has little to do with reality. There is a not-so-subtle bias inherent in which stories they cover, which ones they don’t, and the particular slant they apply. Some people believe they are little more than mouthpieces for the local establishment instead of being the independent set of eyes that investigates and uncovers truth on behalf of society. In some countries, the newspapers and other media outlets have been little more than propaganda departments of the government. Newspapers have historically had quite a bit of power to influence the masses, since their perspective, particularly at the local level, was often the only one people had available to them.

Ghost Bike

I contend that the one of the main reasons that many newspapers did so well for so long was that they had a virtual lock on the local markets, and the financial and technical hurdles for competing against them were extremely difficult to overcome. But oh how things have changed. The internet, rapidly improving technology, and falling prices have enabled anyone with decent writing skills and a modestly–priced digital camera, to create innovative written, photographic, and video content, and post it to a WordPress blog in no time. And those huge printing presses? Not even on the radar. What is really upsetting the newspaper industry? They now have competition, and lots of it! Furthermore, their power and influence are waning. I would go so far as to say newspaper organizations are under siege! According to the Pew Research Center, the current estimates for newspaper organizations is 1,380. It is unlikely that another traditional newspaper organization, complete with printing presses, will ever be created again.

5) The Stark Business Realities – What’s A Newspaper to Do?

G20 Pittsburgh - Ready

A few facts from the Pew Research Center’s 2012 State of the News Media site:

  • Although newspaper circulation reductions leveled off in 2012, newspaper ad revenue fell 6% from 2011 to 2012
  • Overall newspaper revenues are down 40% from 10 years ago
  • Newspaper employment in 2013 is approximately 40,000 – equal to what it was in 1978
  • For every $1 gained in digital revenue gained by the newspaper industry, it lost $16 of print ad revenue
  • And while digital ad sales revenue continues to rapidly increase as a percentage of overall ad sales revenue, a mere 6 companies command a whopping 72% of all digital ad sales revenue
  • Companies such as Google, Facebook, Pandora, and others are making deep inroads relative to local ad sales revenue, an area that has historically been the bread and butter of newspaper companies
  • In 2012, 39% of people indicated that they got news online or on mobile devices
  • 31% indicated that they stopped turning to local new outlets because they no longer provided them with news they were accustomed to getting

If you like graphs better, this one shows the stark reality facing traditional providers of news information:

Rise of Digital News

Given the reality I described, is it any wonder that the Chicago Sun-Times is feeling the effects of these sweeping changes on their bottom line, and implementing some revolutionary changes? No one ever wants to see people thrown out of work, have to deal with the financial implications of losing a job, and in some cases, be forced to leave a profession that they were trained for and love. Despite the lamentations regarding the Sun-Times jettison of its professional photographer team, and the platitudes bestowed on their photographic skills, however, the simple truth is that general public and advertising community didn’t want to pay for the Chicago Sun-Times content – including the photos – at least not in the same levels as they did before.
So while we may feel for the Sun-Times’ photography team, you have to ask yourself what you would have done if you were running the Sun-Times and responsible for the long-term health of the company? It is not an easy problem to solve, and with each passing day, access to additional content and rapidly improving technologies will only add to the challenge of managing a newspaper.

Signs of Unrest

6) Send Us Your Pictures!

One of the other popular trends that newspapers will exploit is already well-underway – the appeal by the news networks, magazines, and others to have people upload their photos and videos. And why not? A media organization can’t have people everywhere. It isn’t practical or cost-effective. It would also assume that the media outlets could somehow predict where and when a newsworthy story will evolve.

With nearly everyone having a digital camera today, whether a cellphone, point and shoot camera, or a DSLR, and the quality of the technology and resultant photos/videos increasing dramatically, the simple truth is that the masses are likely better able to capture the moment, whether it be by chance or raw talent, than having the media organization send a photo/film crew to the every possible news scene – at least for rapidly evolving stories. And by the way, people are often willing to send their photos/videos to the media organizations – for free! Most are simply happy to have had their photo/video featured on a network or in a magazine. The amateur photographers/videographers get their proverbial “15 minutes of fame,” and the media outlets get free content. Not a bad deal. For some photos that are exceptional and/or unique, the media outlets may indeed agree to license them.

G20 Canada Seals

7) Will The Sun-Times’ Strategy Work?

Many newspapers are attempting to shift toward a paid subscription model for their digital content. Some, like the NY Times and Wall Street Journal, are having quite a bit of success with this approach. Others, with less of a following, may simply see their online visitors depart once they start charging for their digital subscriptions. It remains to be seen how well the Sun-Times will fare in the digital world. They face a variety of competitors for both readers and advertisers. On the local advertising level, Google and Facebook are targeting people in new and innovative ways, and are far ahead of the newspapers relative to using business analytics technology.

This may shock some, but I don’t believe the future of the Sun-Times or any other newspaper will hinge on having a deep bench of professional photographers. They have a much larger struggle on their hands – how to remain relevant in light of cataclysmic changes occurring in the media industry, technology fields, and society itself.
Here are some reasons why the Sun-Times strategy might (a big “might!”) work:

7.1) Leica or iPhone? Only The Photographer Knows…

The technological improvements in digital cameras/phones have evened the playing field. You don’t need high-end, expensive gear to take great photos/video. Realistically, I doubt that most people could tell a photo taken with an iPhone or a $25,000 medium format Leica DSLR combined with a $5,000 lens, when both photos were printed at low resolution pixelated newspaper. Same goes for 300 X 500 pixel photos on the newspapers’ websites. And if you need a camera that handles action and higher ISOs, you can easily find a DSLR for under $1,500 that will be more than sufficient for all but the most demanding reporting needs.

7.2) Journalists —> Photojournalists?

Can journalists rise to the occasion of focusing on both the content of the story, as well as the photographic depiction of it? Some will undoubtedly learn some new skills and do quite well. Others may decide that it is not their thing, and move onto another job. Many have predicted the immediate demise of quality photos from the Sun-Times, and of the paper itself. I am not so sure it matters as much as some think.

There are many people who can be classified as “photojournalists.” Some do a great job of telling a story and weaving in compelling images that make it come alive. One might surmise that photojournalists may find more opportunities within the industry now that the Sun-Times intends to rely on people that have both skill sets. Someday in the future, we might look back and wonder why media outlets employed journalists who did not have photography skills.

Air Force 1

7.3) 28 Professional Photographers or Thousands of Amateurs?

Given the proliferation of digital camera technology, and the general public’s willingness to share their photos with media outlets, should the Sun-Times and other media outlets leverage these capabilities? Absolutely. They say that the best camera is the one that you have with you when you need it. In the same vein, the “best professional photographer,” may be any person with any camera who is available at a potential newsworthy event.

Many are lamenting the decline of the professional media photographer, but the cynic in me would reply that if pictures taken by professional photographers were so important to the subscribers, one would think that they would have made a difference in the Sun-Times’ circulation and revenue numbers, and more broadly, those of the newspaper industry. Clearly, this is not the case.

It may indeed turn out that the photographic quality goes down the tubes after this decision is implemented and the Sun-Times’ circulation and revenues continue to decline, but I would be hard-pressed to blame it on the quality of the photos alone. If professional photographers could not stop these declines to date, I would hold little hope that having them on board will guarantee the future success of this industry. That may sound harsh – until you consider the facts.

If anyone doubts the potential of amateurs and serious amateurs to take good photos, you only need peruse flickr, 500xp.com, 1x.com, and other sites to see that there are indeed plenty of people that are more than capable of taking phenomenal photos. They just happen not to have the prefix “pro” in front of their names. Similar to the newspapers themselves, there is little doubt that professional photographers do not welcome such competition in a domain they long-claimed as their own.

Reflections_In_DC

8) Summary

The Chicago Sun-Times, like many newspapers and print publications, faces extraordinary challenges in the digital/internet age. New competitors vie for consumers’ attention every day across a myriad of digital platforms, as rapid technology improvements and cost reductions continue to lower barriers to entry.

Google, Youtube, Facebook, blogs, and the general availability of information are changing the way we think about content, consume it, and share information about it with others. All these forces are combining to alter business models, in some cases, destroying old ones, while creating many new ones in their place. Like any industry undergoing massive changes, the Sun-Times needs to respond with strategies that they believe will sustain their long-term viability. And while the company has received a slew of criticism, it seems that not enough people are considering the complete story behind the recent announcement.

There are some positive signs in the overall industry. Overall circulation declines nearly leveled off in 2012. Some newspaper stocks have increased as well, as people believe consolidation is inevitable. If the newspaper industry can aggressively adapt its business model and practices in light of the changes discussed, it may live to fight another day. We will all know soon enough if Sun-Times’ changes have succeeded in turning the newspaper’s decline.

The only questions that need to be answered are the following:

  • Will anyone will notice once the Sun-Times makes this change?
  • What, if any, impact will these changes have on the Sun-Times’ circulation and revenues?

What do you think?

G20 Rage 2

Comments

  1. 1
    ) WFP
    June 15, 2013 at 12:38 am

    Wow…you guys have stormtroopers on your streets? This looks like an Orwellian Police State :-(

    • 6
      ) John Richardson
      June 15, 2013 at 4:07 am

      In some respects it is a police state, I think Americans have not yet come to that conclusion/realization.

      • June 15, 2013 at 10:05 am

        In this specific case there were quite a few people associated with the Anarchist movement, that were serious trouble-makers. I generally side with the notion that, “That government governs best which governs least,” but in this case, some of this crowd was hell-bent on destroying public and private property – just like they have done at every other G-20 summit.
        I walked along with much of the crowd you see in these photos and got a sense for what they were up to. Some were there for legitimate reasons to bring attention to issues of concern, such as persecution of their relatives in China. Others looking for an excuse to blow off some steam. But there was a contingent intent on causing some serious damage to the city of Pittsburgh.
        I give the Police high marks for being out in force, acting restrained, and keeping the trouble-makers from carrying out their intentions.

    • 65
      ) Chris Zeller
      June 19, 2013 at 10:25 am

      You hit the nail on the head. This is the power and value of true photojournalism. These photos tell a story–a story that has synergy with the story that the writers and the editors want to tell. Not just any snapshot will do for this purpose. All of the examples here in this article demonstrate this. What we loose in this brave new world is that ability to effectively tell the story. What the professional news agencies as opposed to the blogosphere bring to the table is their sense of quality and context. These are essential to a civil society and particularly to a democracy. If they sacrifice the quality they will loose the battle completely and we all will be the poorer for it. Print vs online is irrelevant. What is needed is a way to pay for quality journalism both through ads and direct subscription in some form. We used to pay for it in print and quality costs money.

      • June 28, 2013 at 1:36 pm

        Actually, we didn’t used to pay for it in print. Subscription costs in print were never significantly more than printing/distribution costs (and sometimes less).

        But here’s an early return on the Sun-Times’ decision:
        http://suntimesdarktimes.tumblr.com/post/53967466726/front-pages-june-26-2013

        Which, do you think, will get someone to buy the paper?

        • June 28, 2013 at 1:57 pm

          AMF,
          It seems people weren’t buying the newspapers before – even with the pro staff on board. The pics aren’t great, but they are probably no worse than many others I have seen in newspapers from time-to-time. I don’t know that poor photos alone will cause the readers to bolt, anymore than having the professional photography crew on board caused them to stay.
          If anyone really thought that having a professional staff of photographers on board was a surefire way to increase readership and advertising revenues, one might suspect that newspapers would be increasing their staffs, not decreasing their numbers.
          Bob

          • June 30, 2013 at 6:53 pm

            Surefire? Hardly. Desperation has led them to a fairly radical experiment, and this is a look at their return. This is just an example of how it can hurt.

            • June 30, 2013 at 7:46 pm

              AMF,
              Do you think this photo will change the trajectory of the paper’s subscriber or advertiser retention? Quite a few people are suggesting that this move will spell the doom of the paper. Few want to take on the simple fact that the previous professional photography staff was not keeping the audience or advertisers. It may be the popular line to claim that without the professional crew on board, the paper will now suffer terrible consequences. But remember – the Sun Times was sucking wing with the pros on board. They may or may not do worse without them. Time will tell.
              Bob

  2. 2
    ) Hoeras
    June 15, 2013 at 1:09 am

    We are increasingly become aware that the “Free Press” is becoming an “Owned Press” – and the “Owner” then becomes the only one with a voice that others are expected to follow… “look into my eyes.”

    A new “system” is on the way. As one media source said “today, power lies with opinion makers” – it’s the way of the Lemmings. Make sure to take nice photos on the way down.

    • June 15, 2013 at 10:12 am

      Hoeras,
      Actually, it is just the opposite. Never before in human history have individuals been able to have their voice heard across the globe in a matter of seconds without huge investments or being in a position of power. If you put out a popular blog, you can immediately become known across the globe. That simply couldn’t happen years ago.
      The old system, was never quite as “free” as it seemed. It was actually controlled by relatively few people in our society. Across the globe, there was precious little freedom, if any, associated with the press. It is increasingly difficult for heavy-handed governments to repress the free flow of information in/out of their country. The world is indeed a different place.
      And with respect to photos, I am not sure those from the average newspaper were much to brag about either.
      Bob

  3. 3
    ) Colin
    June 15, 2013 at 2:26 am

    Excellent article and the first really balanced comment on the subject I have seen. The heart of the issue as you say is that while we might think that high quality news photography is important (and I most certainly do) it’s clear that Joe Public do not value it highly enough to pay for it by buying newspapers. The newspaper in question here, and the industry as a whole, is fighting a much bigger battle. I also think that this is the first article I have read which attempts to give a more balanced view on the whole ‘citizen journalism’ issue. Like most people who read websites like this, I have a deep seated scepticism about this. But your argument that ‘free’ photography might be the only way for traditional newspapers to stay in business is certainly thought-provoking.

    Basically, we all need to take a look in the mirror. We consume news for free on newspaper websites, express horror at the idea of a pay-wall and probably regard the ads as an irritating intrusion. On that basis, how is a newspaper supposed to pay for its journalists, photographers and all it’s other infrastructure? The Sun-Times has come in for a lot of criticism but maybe we should be looking beyond our knee jerk reaction to the bigger story. Shooting the messenger has rarely been a wise policy.

    • June 15, 2013 at 10:16 am

      Thanks, Collin. Indeed now that we have more options, many are choosing not to buy the local newspaper. And because of amount of access we have to information on the net, do we really need all 1,380 daily newspapers to send their individual reporters and photographers to an event?
      What I failed to mention is that Chicago Sun-Times is doing nothing more than expanding the concept of API and UPI, whereby they rely on others for some aspects of their content. In this case, it is more freelancers and the general public.
      Bob

  4. 4
    ) Tony, New Zealand
    June 15, 2013 at 2:38 am

    Bob, I could not have said it better.
    I think you have covered every aspect of the ‘print media’ problem, well, situation. Call it progress or whatever you will, it’s just evolution I guess. The rapidly changing environment within which we all now reside.
    As an oldie (well 65+) I struggle to cope with the technology of today but enjoy the access it now gives us. Like you I read my news online and communicate with friends by email and Skype.
    But as a retired pro photographer, I feel for the younger generation of pro’s. They’ll never know the smell of developer and fixer or the excitement of changing a roll in their Leica cassette when its all happening around them.
    And, maybe, in my lifetime, we may see the end of pro ‘reporting’ altogether. Replaced by Joe Bloggs on the spot, reporting from the scene with his/her opinion on whats happening, supported by snaps from their phone.
    The romance is going, but that’s progress.
    I guess.

    • June 15, 2013 at 10:30 am

      Tony
      Thanks for the feedback. Time will tell how well these new models work. I recall listening to a real firebrand, highly critical of the news media, speak at political rally. He was discussing the bias in the media. He essentially said, “If the media won’t cover the news in a fair and balanced way, YOU be the news! You publish the story. You take the photos!”
      I have never forgotten his admonition. While the mainstream media still has plenty of power, we now have so many opportunities to add our own perspective on events and get them out to readers/viewers around the globe. When tyrannical regimes crack down on their citizens, we see the photos and videos, and hear the accounts – all without the interference of the governments.
      That is indeed progress. :)
      Bob

  5. 5
    ) John Richardson
    June 15, 2013 at 4:05 am

    Well said and well done Bob! We went over this problem in my English class, but the whole concept was lost on these Eastern Europeans. I will bring this article to them as it presents the problem in a very logical and balanced way.

    I started my electronic career by optimizing the paper that paper mills turned out for many types of paper, including newsprint. Spent my time later learning how to operate web presses, and then went to work at Apple during the Apple II days suddenly wondering when print would be dead. I can say I contributed to the decline of print media directly and yet I lament it’s loss. I now read my news exclusively on a computer or iPad. I will miss the newspaper later much like I almost miss holding a real book in my hand….

    The Sun Times did the right thing but alas I think in the wrong way, your slow phase out would have been better … much like how we look back to see an evolving America. I am sure this will be a new trend over the next 5 years or so.

  6. 7
    ) JoeG
    June 15, 2013 at 4:26 am

    This is a case of disruptive technology. The fact is the major newspapers were slow to adopt new technology much like Kodak did, even though they could see it coming. The news business should have been the driving force of search, news and information, not Google. To remain relevant, they need to refocus on all digital content in a compelling way to gather an audience. They need to think like Google but more focus in quality information.

    • June 15, 2013 at 10:30 am

      Joe,
      Couldn’t agree with you more. Change is upon us. Let’s see how well they do! ;)
      Bob

  7. 8
    ) John Adams
    June 15, 2013 at 5:17 am

    In my opinion, one of the primary reasons why newspapers are losing ground is the complete political bias they now openly express. This is the same problem network television is also beginning to experience. The idea of a free and open press is to seek and report the truth in an objective manner to the citizens at large. This is no longer the case and is the reason why I no longer rely on newspapers or television to get my news.

    • June 15, 2013 at 10:33 am

      John,
      The perception of bias, and having a “captive audience” for so long are key components of the backlash we are seeing. It is a new dawn when someone with a keyboard, a low-end camera, and access to the internet can draw attention to something going on in their corner of the globe, when in years gone by, they would have suffered in obscurity. Let freedom ring! ;)
      Bob

    • 43
      ) Paul
      June 16, 2013 at 10:58 am

      The idea that citizen journalists will somehow deliver less bias in their reporting than professionals is a myth. Bias is inherent in human nature. Everything you read must be read through that filter.

      I am a staffer at one of Africa’s bigger newspapers and we too are grappling with the multiple challenges of the digital age. Our group tried using citizen reporters for a time. What followed was a tsunami of unfiltered, agenda-pushing garbage. To sort the good stuff from the dross required an army of editors who, quite frankly, would have been better employed getting out there and finding the story themselves.

      The credibility of the paper suffered.

      Technology really has bust open the gates of the cosy media empires and those that cannot keep their readers, and therefore their advertisers, will go to the wall.

      The upside is that offerings such as iPad editions should in fact create much bigger possibilities for news photographers. Where you might get one pic in that day’s paper, and on crappy newsprint too, any half-savvy paper will fill their digital editions with slideshows to enhance, or even in place of news stories.

      So it irks me that people demand credible news stories and good quality photography, but they won’t stump up a couple of bucks for a digital subscription. Now THAT’S shortsighted.

      • June 16, 2013 at 11:15 am

        Paul,

        At least Citizen Journalists have the opportunity to present an alternative view to those presented by newspapers. That was not easy or even possible to do in years gone by.

        There are challenges associated with our new realities, including those you mentioned. However, newspapers and news organizations in general, have proven over the years to be just as biased and capable of turning out garbage as any Citizen Journalist might be. And many newspapers exist only because of their monopoly in the local market – not because they produced quality stories or photographs.

        I do think that people will pay for quality content. Now that people have choices, they are choosing not to pay for many newspapers. They are voting with their website address bars, eyeballs, and their wallets. And I can’t say that I blame them.

        This will all sort itself out in time. Welcome to a new dawn…

        Bob

  8. 9
    ) Dave P.
    June 15, 2013 at 6:53 am

    Main stream media is simply the mouthpiece for corporatists.

    Once that was realized we all went to alternative media to try to come to turns with the world we live in

    • June 15, 2013 at 10:35 am

      Dave,
      Or other political and special interests. New outlets for news and information will undoubtedly flourish as technology and access improves.
      Bob

  9. 10
    ) MartinG
    June 15, 2013 at 6:54 am

    I read about the sackings on-line. I subscribe to my local newspaper via my iPad. I don’t miss all that paper to take out for recycling every week. My local publication has a large photography section which includes a selection of the best news photography from around the world. In an electronic age, the photographer should be more important not less. The problem seems to be as you point out, that when an event happens there are dozens of people who get out their iPhones.

    I hope that Chicago Sun-times discovers that they actually do need staff photographers after all.

    • June 15, 2013 at 10:39 am

      Martin,
      What you say seems like it would be true, but again, having professional photographers didn’t seem to keep the Sun-Times or other newspapers from falling on hard times. Places like the “Newseum” in Washington, DC highlight some of the best photos from news photographers around the globe. But for many local newspapers, it is tough to make the case that their circulation or ad sales revenue depends on the quality of their photos. In my hometown, the Saturday morning paper always featured the same type of scene – a car that been in an accident after the driver had a few too many drinks! Hardly the stuff of Newseum quality! ;)
      Bob

      • 39
        ) Martin G
        June 15, 2013 at 6:44 pm

        Sounds like there is a need for a better local paper in your area. We have two, one does match your description unfortunately. It outsells the one I subscribe to. I am hoping that dark days are not ahead for the professional news photographer, but it really does seem like an era is about to end as thousands of photographic jobs gradually disappear. I think there will be work for those freelancers who can turn out brilliant images, but can the number of jobs will surely decline.

  10. 11
    ) Richard Bondi
    June 15, 2013 at 7:02 am

    Fascinating perspective. And just yesterday I cancelled my subscription to my local paper after 35 years because The Washington Post is going to a paywall and I realized I read it a lot more than the Atlanta Journal-Constitution! I’ll even save money on the deal. As Bob Dylan says, Things Have Changed.

    • June 15, 2013 at 10:40 am

      Richard,
      You are obviously not alone! :)
      Bob

  11. 12
    ) Ernesto
    June 15, 2013 at 8:33 am

    Change happens. I too delivered newspapers as a teen, developed B&W film in the darkroom and actually fixed the printheads of the devices used to deliver the wire services at the newsrooms in the New York metro area.

    Yes the sudden firing of the whole photography staff at one newspaper was shocking when I first read about it. The publishers(owners) of newspapers know that printed news is dying as a viablr business model and have to adapt and shrink as the changes take place. Those owners will do what ever it takes to be a viable business. Sure, several bigger ones will have a online paywall model(I pay for NYT, live 1,100 miles away from NYC) that “saves” the printed edition and many will disappear no matter what.

    Photography is silent and not as visual as moving images with sound, even a shaky amateur smartphone ones. I’m shocked by the firings, but do realize that many newspapers are slowly dying. Simply put, too many sources of news/entertainment, the cost for all of them add up. If you subscribe to cable TV, internet service for home and mobile use, I doubt you will buy hard copies of newspapers and magazines in the future, or now. Plus we have only so much time to read/view them.

    Sure it’s hard to hear about people losing their jobs, actually careers, since they won’t be hired by other newspapers who are in the same boat. Sure some will become freelance photographers, but that is a very different and difficult way earn a steady living. The new normal is harsh and has no feelings. The world is changing before us, we also are contributing to the change.

    • June 15, 2013 at 10:42 am

      Ernesto,
      Indeed as some doors close, others open. We can lament the state of newspapers in our country, but why aren’t we celebrating the rise of the blogger? The humble little website that becomes a staple in people’s daily lives and offers the creator the opportunity to earn a living. The positive aspects of these disruptive changes seems to be lost on far too many people.
      Bob

  12. 13
    ) Jason
    June 15, 2013 at 8:35 am

    Bob you just have to look back at the Boston bombing to see that images captured by people at the scene are used and will continue to be used.

    One of the problems with the digital age of photography is the devalue of a good photograph. The common miss conception you have is that anyone can take a digital camera and make a good picture. When people see my work they comment often,”boy you must have a great camera” little realizing that it’s the person behind the lens making that great picture happen.

    The general public wont know what is missing in the images of the paper they will just know they aren’t as compelling. The images in this article are great examples of how a professional photographer or an advanced ameratur can take a simple event and capture the essence of the situation.

    Keep up the great writing Bob always enjoy your insights.

    Best regards, Jason

  13. 17
    ) Neil
    June 15, 2013 at 10:28 am

    I think I agree with Thom Hogan’s assessment of the Chicago Sun-Times situation. You don’t succeed in the market place by reducing costs and quality. Instead of firing creative people producing content they should focus on increasing the quality of their content and making it more distinctive thus drawing people in.

    • June 15, 2013 at 10:52 am

      Neil,

      I read Hogan’s piece. I agree with him on the “improve your content” notion. That is why I said that newspapers need to find a way to be relevant in people’s lives. That will likely involve some creativity, improved content, etc. But I am not so sure that long-term success of the industry depends on having large staff of professional photographers. Has it helped so far? Is every one of the photos taken by the pros really that much better than what an amateur might have taken? I seriously doubt it. Some are indeed worthy of being in the Newseum, in Washington, DC. But lets face it – most photos in most daily newspapers are not the stuff of photographic legend.

      It is easy to equate “pro” anything with quality. That is not always the case. Who hasn’t read a newspaper at one time or another and gotten fed up with some of the blatant bias? As we have seen with the advent of blogs and various photo sites, there are indeed people that don’t have the pro label that are more than capable of telling a great story and taking some stunning photos and videos. And it is that new form of competition that has shaken up a very stodgy newspaper industry and will continue to cause it to evolve.

      Bob

    • 41
      ) Colin
      June 16, 2013 at 4:48 am

      I would love to think that increasing quality of content would draw more people in and justify the cost involved but have to conclude, sadly, that the rise of the Internet means consumers expect to pay less and less for more and more. It is deeply depressing to say so, but from a business perspective it would be a suicidal decision for the Sun-Times and others like thm to invest in producing that higher quality, gambling that it will pay off in the form of more revenue. All current business evidence shows tht it wouldn’t and the end result would more likely be another bankrupt newspaper. These are sad times for the print media and the photographers who serve(d) it but the Internet genie is out of the bottle and no amount of wishful thinking will put him back in.

  14. 26
    ) dick chilian
    June 15, 2013 at 11:12 am

    I’m a reasonably good amateur photographer but certainly do not live and breathe photography as professionals exhibit time and time again. They shoot really good photos.

    We’ll see. The world has moved into short video. There does not appear to be a paucity of advertisements with all the ads however..

    Classic photography with all the armamentaria (kindasorta wrong word but you get the gist) and beautiful de novo photographs? Probably will be looked upon similarly to the soon extinct SLR photography aficionado in a few years.

    • June 15, 2013 at 11:18 am

      Dick,

      The good news is that if people REALLY miss the photos of the pros, there will be a demand for their services. They will be hired again, and those newspaper organizations (paper or digital) that hire them will flourish. Those with amateurs will suffer and continue to decline. No disrespect to the professional media photographers, but let’s face it – not every photo taken by the pros is a work of art. Many are run-of-the-mill shots any of us could have taken. When they feature a photo of a car that has slammed into a tree after the driver had a few too many beers, is that really something that requires a pro’s perspective? I don’t think so.

      We will see how this strategy works out in time, and whether the Sun-Times, or those decrying its strategy are right! Stay tuned! :)

      Bob

  15. 28
    ) peter
    June 15, 2013 at 11:26 am

    It’s over, period. It was a great time but it’s gone, sad to say. This from a kid who grew up in a “newspaper family.”

    I’m not surprised at all that newspaper photographers are going from major newspapers. I took photos for several college/local newspapers years ago and could see it coming especially when digital entered the scene along with the masses of average-skilled people clicking away with their cell phone cameras, etc. They were bound to get some good stuff…and they were everywhere! I could not be where they were 24/7, so…here we are.

    I got some good advice when I worked in the New York Post Art Department one summer. The head artist of the department asked me what I wanted to do when I graduated college. I said that I wanted to be a photographer. He said to me: ” Forget it. Look for another profession.” I did and it worked out fine. Photography is a great hobby. If you want to make REAL 6-figure money look elsewhere.

    I do hate to see this era going. It was great and I loved it.

  16. June 15, 2013 at 11:29 am

    Peter,
    A Billy Joel said:
    “The good ole days weren’t always good, and tomorrow ain’t as bad as it seems.”
    Bob

    • 33
      ) Peter
      June 15, 2013 at 4:22 pm

      Billy Joel? He got his life experiences in the decadent ’60s, and he’s a fountain of wisdom?

      • June 15, 2013 at 6:08 pm

        Peter,
        Perhaps not, but I the expression is a pretty good one!
        Bob

  17. 30
    ) wc
    June 15, 2013 at 3:41 pm

    Well said and an intelligent response to the situation but still the question is how much quality are we willing to sacrifice for survival and is simple survival without quality worth it. Kinda like the old Franklin paraphrase about security and liberty. Are we progressing or just really “dumbing down”?? Not all innovation is progress and for sure the good old days were never all that good. Guess time will tell, you bet your money and take your chances like any good crap shoot.

    • June 15, 2013 at 4:10 pm

      WC,

      Thanks. The assumption by so many is that the quality of the photographs will go down the tubes, everyone will notice and be horrified, and subscriptions and ad sales revenue will plunge faster. I just looked at a variety of photos on the Sun-Times site. Quite honestly, just about any decent amateur photographer I know could have taken any of them. Granted, my sample size is very limited, but I would contend that the bulk of photos of any daily newspaper on any given day are pretty nondescript.

      Will you really know the difference if the Sun-Times professional photographer took this, or someone with a used, $200 Nikon D40 with a kit lens?

      http://www.suntimes.com/news/metro/20741706-418/850-teachers-staffers-get-pink-slips-at-closing-turnaround-schools.html

      How about this one?
      http://www.suntimes.com/news/cityhall/20553757-418/city-council-gulps-hard-approves-parking-meter-deal-39-11.html

      I would urge people to look through the Sun-Times’ photos before deciding that the lack of professional photographers is destined to doom the newspaper.

      Bob

      • 34
        ) wc
        June 15, 2013 at 5:17 pm

        Thanks Bob, you are of course absolutely right. I never meant to to predict the death of newspapers because of the lack of quality photography. What is it called.?? “crowdsoursing”.. with smartphones or D40’s (now D3200’s) will probably be much more immediate and good quality then dispatched photographers with upper level gear, and immediacy is what news is all about, no doubt, but also not convinced about quality. Also I love the idea of the common man like me on the streets capturing quality images of real life with good enough equipment for publication..But, over the long run, what does this do for National Geographic style photography..are we dumbing down ..??

        For right now my friend, I cant dig any deeper into this because I have just got my two year old grandson deposited on me for a couple hours..and my next major decision is whether I should drop my land-line..

        Gad us old folks are demanding

        wc

        • June 15, 2013 at 5:47 pm

          WC,
          You only need look at Tom Redd’s stunning wildlife photos to know that there are plenty of talented amateurs who are up to the task!
          http://500px.com/TomRedd
          Bob

  18. 32
    ) Monte
    June 15, 2013 at 4:12 pm

    Maybe look at the bright and positive side to this. As the door closes on photographers employed by newspapers it opens to freelancers and independent photographers.

    • June 15, 2013 at 5:45 pm

      Monte,
      Absolutely. I love the fact that we are seeing the rise of “Citizen Journalism.” Years ago, the common man could never make his voice heard in such ways as we are seeing today via blogs, videos, and creative internet sites. And indeed it opens up many opportunities that never existed before. To see this only through the prism of the newspaper companies or their professional photography staff is to miss the big picture.
      Bob

  19. 38
    ) FrancescoP
    June 15, 2013 at 6:44 pm

    Newsrooms have shut down or reduced their photographers and operators staff worldwide. In this type of restructuring, the U.S. is less advanced European countries, especially those in severe recession.
    It is an irreversible trend due to 1) the deterioration of the ratio between costs and revenues and 2) the evolution of the demand of images from around the world, even from the most remote locations.
    The editorial staff (traditional media and online) tend to buy the service directly on the market (freelance and stock) avoiding, where possible, to pass through the agencies in order to enforce their pricing power. The result is a decrease in the quality of the editorial product to which the public is becoming familiar.
    The amateur may be able to take occasionally some shots of commercial value, but it is not able to provide a complete coverage of any kind of events.
    How to move in an irreversible situation, where there is only room for freelance photojournalists? The solutions are many and each country has a specific market.
    It ‘a great theme, impossible to deal with simple comment, but that needs to be debated. Surely are useful actions how:

    – cure your own stocks;
    – diversify the business;
    – expand contacts with editorial offices outside of your home country;
    – build networks with other colleagues.

  20. 40
    ) Richard D.
    June 15, 2013 at 9:11 pm

    I generally agree with you, Bob. I do think that the decline of print media has everything to do with internet access, social media, etc. and it has not much to do with professional photographers….heck, if they made the difference, they would make the difference in digital media. So, having said that, I do have some comments and concerns.

    1. Bob, you list Tom Redd’s 500px pictures. I don’t know who Tom Redd is (and probably shouldn’t know) because he is just an “amateur.” But is he really “up to the task” of shooting National Geographic style photos? Tom’s images are very nice, but I assume that because he is an “amateur,” he has another career. If he were to shoot for Nat Geo, I’d assume he’d quit his current job and would then become a “pro” for Nat Geo.

    2. Echoing WC’s concerns, I fear that if there are more organizations which use amateur photos, the common guy on the street’s photos, that the overall quality of these photos that are published will degrade. The lower quality will become the norm. I fully believe that the professional photographer’s photos do not make the newspaper, nor are they necessarily always great, quality photos. But I think that the more “amateurs” that get their photos publicized, the lower the overall quality may become. I see this on the local news often, where they ask for viewers to send in their “weather” photos. Some are quite good, but others leave a lot to be desired. I frankly don’t want to look at bad photos on a news or weather program. And, yes, some photos taken by “pros” really aren’t that good, but I would have to say that much more of them are good, compared to some of the stuff local weathercasts put up.

    3. There have been instances where professional news organizations have Photoshopped their images. One instance I can remember is from a few years ago, where an organization Photoshopped what looked like more smoke from some bombings in the Middle East than there really was. This is bad enough, but I can imagine if you get more and more “citizen” journalists out there, how many of them will start using photo editing software to make things look different than they really are? At least a newspaper hires photographers that they believe and should be honest…..and they can supervise what they do.

    4. Going along with item 3 above, there have been instances where “citizen journalists” doctor their photos or their videos and actually can cause harm in doing so. Who is going to supervise all of these “citizen journalists?”

    5. It’s great that we are all free, now, to put up a blog and post pictures, but I fear if this becomes the primary news source, especially if there are so many of them, how do we know any more what is truth? Yes, you can argue there is bias in the media, now, but just wait until the primary news source becomes all of those bloggers out there! I see these things out there often….they’re all over the place. How do you decide which one is more truthful than another? Sure, some will become more popular than others, but are they reporting the truth more than others?

    6. I am not a professional photographer, although I do shoot some events on the side. I do belong to a local photography club where various events are put on, where we will go shoot pictures of a certain location for our own photography hobbies. We recently were apparently approached by people who work at one of the locations we just shot at. They liked a number of shots they saw. What the leaders of our club are saying is that it appears as if they are trying to get the use of certain photos for free. Things do change, but something just doesn’t seem right about this.

    In summary, yeah, I know things are changing, and they won’t go back. Change happens, and we should look at what positive things can come out of this. But I do think there are real dangers here which, in my opinion, center around the veracity of photos to be used in news organizations, and they center around potential quality issues of the photos. I don’t believe the quality will make the difference in a news organization’s survivability, but the veracity issue might.

    In the mid 1990s, my boss asked me to write a speech for him, a speech about how much good the internet will be doing for us. I wrote that speech for him, but I also put a caution in the speech, saying that while we can quickly gain a lot of access to much information, one danger the internet would put us in is the lack of face-to-face contact with other humans. I said that people might not know if they can trust what they find on the internet. My boss took that section of the speech out, but I’ll tell you…..I think this is a problem nowadays. People don’t speak face to face; they yell and scream at each other on various blogs; they read stuff on the internet that they think is 100% correct but is not; and I think similar type of issues may come up with using the “citizen journalist” with his iPhone out there on the street.

    Anyway, interesting topic.

  21. June 16, 2013 at 9:14 am

    Richard,

    Of course there are pitfalls and downsides to change. And “change” merely describes something being different than it was before – which may be positive or negative, but often both in varying degrees depending on our perspective.

    However, we should never look back at the “good old newspaper business” and think it was some bastion of truth, justice, and the American (or whatever country we may hail from) way. Bias, slander, prejudice, manipulation of the masses through misinformation, etc. wasn’t invented with the internet.
    If anything makes me hopeful, it is that I believe we are in the age of the “Citizen Journalist,” where someone with a low-cost video camera, smartphone, and access to youtube, vimeo, blog, etc., can change the world and our perceptions of it within minutes and hours. When Iran cracked down and was slaughtering its people in the streets, we saw it. Years ago? We never would have had such insights into what was happening in this country. The same can be said for so many other situations around the globe.

    That type of influence by the common man was not possible years ago when powerful newspapers significantly influenced (some would say “controlled”) what we thought of as the truth. So for all the downsides and issues, which you rightfully pointed out, I will indeed take the new world over the old. I hope we can work through some of the challenges and problems that come from these new technologies as well.

    BTW, Tom Redd is one of our Photography Life writers, and one heck of a wildlife photographer!

    Bob

  22. 45
    ) LukeB
    June 16, 2013 at 11:22 am

    Richard alluded to photoshopped media from the Mid-East. This was where the newspaper accepted freelance photos that had been doctored, from a combatant organization to help sway public to their ideology. This is the slippery slope newspapers (and TV) travel when photo editors accept photos and footage from sources without a track record.

    • June 16, 2013 at 11:37 am

      Luke,

      And this differs from a newspaper with a monopoly, or a Government that controls the news media how? The assumption in many responses is that the newspapers were somehow unbiased in their presentation of the facts. How about a Pulitzer Prize winner from the NY Times denying the Stalin’s atrocities in the USSR? No bias there, huh? I suspect the family members of the millions slaughtered in Stalin’s purges might think differently.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walter_Duranty

      I could go on and cite example after example of gross negligence on the part of many newspapers over the years. Suffice to say that I worry less about a few Photoshopped photos by Citizen Journalists than the monopolistic power newspapers and other media organizations have typically wielded throughout history.

      Bob

      • 47
        ) Richard D.
        June 16, 2013 at 2:22 pm

        Bob,

        I think it differs tremendously. Both are wrong, but in a newspaper environment, when photographers are hired and supervised, it’s easier to try to ensure ethical presentations of the news. Was there and will there still be bias? Sure, but I think there is much better chance of finding it and weeding it out than if there only a small set of photographers doing this compared to a large number of them. The average Joe on the street won’t go out and pay hundreds of dollars for Photoshop, but they will go to get free programs such as Picasa or Gimp which are evolving to do many things like Photoshop and Lightroom already do. Further, it is generally well known nowadays what bias certain news organizations might have. If you think they have a certain bias, then treat the news they present accordingly. But, if you have thousands and thousands of citizen journalists, how do you know what their bias is? How do you know how to take the information they present?

        I don’t believe that the “good old days” of the newspaper were necessarily bastions of truth, either. Of course, bias, slander, prejudice, and manipulation of the masses through misinformation were not invented by the internet, but they have been greatly enabled by the use of the internet.

        In one sense, I feel as if the argument being made could somewhat be made by quacks who espouse home medicines. In some cases, those home remedies might work; in other cases, they might be dangerous. You could say the same thing happens now with doctors and the use of certain medications, but I certainly feel better getting treatment from a qualified, degreed doctor than I would from someone I don’t even know on the internet telling me some cure for cancer. (I recently did see someone post a home “cure” for cancer on a web site…..fortunately, he was chewed out big time, but there will be some who believe such nonsense).

        Sure, I welcome citizen journalists who can capture many things the standard professional photographer could not; your example of Iran is a great example; but I think there is a real concern about what these citizen journalists might do with their pictures after they manipulate them. I see so many written comments on various blogs/websites with people stating as fact things that simply are not true, and the sad thing is, many believe them.

        • June 16, 2013 at 2:58 pm

          Richard,
          What stops any newspaper from manipulating images? If Pulitzer Prize winning journalists are willing to cover up atrocities should we believe photographers are above having some ideological bias as well. I suppose I don’t assign some level of objectivity to newspapers more so than ordinary citizens.
          Speaking of doctors, we knew cigarettes caused cancer long before this commercial aired…. :)
          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cKMn-_aQoPk
          Great advice, huh? ;)
          Bob

          • 55
            ) Richard D.
            June 16, 2013 at 3:51 pm

            I think the thing that might minimize a newspaper from manipulating images is the fact that if they do employ professionals, most of those “pros” should be ethical. Yes, there might be a few who are unethical. But, the fact that they are “pros” and have supervisors lends me to believe them more than I would just some average Joe on the street whose job is not to take photographs but might have some sort of point he is trying to get across (yes, pros can also have a point they are trying to get across, but in general, I would trust their photos more). And, the fact that they are a smaller group with a supervisor would tend to cause me to believe them more.

            For that reason, I personally do assign some level of objectivity to newspapers more than ordinary citizens, although, yes, I agree there can be some bias in what newspapers print.

            Again, don’t get me wrong….I think all of this new media, nice photos from ordinary citizens, nice iPhones and other consumer type cameras can and do take important pictures that can be used as news. I’m all for it. I’m a degreed engineer and have seen many changes in the industry I have worked in…..cell phone network design…..so I welcome change. But I just think we need to be more careful and more vigilante with things we see. We have seen instances in the last few years where there has been manipulation of photos or videos, and I think we will see even more of that in the future as there are more citizen journalists out there. Heck, maybe that might mean news organizations might have to hire a new team of fact or photo checkers!

            Yup, some commercial, I agree! But I’d still take advice from a qualified medical doctor (or maybe 2 or 3 of them) rather than the advice of some guy on the internet who is “living proof” that his home remedy worked!

            • 56
              ) Richard D.
              June 16, 2013 at 3:55 pm

              Oops….should have said “we need to be more careful and more vigilant”…..rather than “vigilante!”

            • June 16, 2013 at 4:12 pm

              Richard,

              I suspect that some of the backlash (as confirmed by Pew’s polling, BTW), indicates that many people believe there is quite a bit of bias on the part of the news organizations. As we have seen, many news organizations are in such a hurry to “scoop the other guy” that they rush to press with wrong information. In other cases, they simply don’t bother to do the work of verifying the sources even when they do have the luxury of time. And these organizations have multi-million dollar budgets and tons of accolades behind their name. If I have reason to doubt the guy down the street, I am not sure why I would trust the local newspaper editor on the other end of the street. Both are likely to have their own perspectives that influence what they might report and how.

              But you are absolutely correct – we always need to be skeptical of the information we receive — except that posted on Photography Life of course! :)

              Bob

          • 60
            ) Richard D.
            June 16, 2013 at 5:47 pm

            No doubt, Bob, that news organizations have rushed to “scoop the other guy.” But they also have been called out for this. I remember very recently someone from a major network said that he won’t rush to “scoop the other guy”….he wants to get it right. I would hope that this attitude continues and erodes some of this rush to “scoop the other guy” because these people are being paid to do this. I don’t think any average Joe on the street is being paid for doing such things, and I think there might be a tendency just to get something online to just make a statement or simply to get one’s 15 minutes of fame.

            Yep, there is bias everywhere. Everyone has a bias one way or another. I really don’t think there is anyone without any bias, and that does affect what gets shown. I also believe that much of what the public perceives as bias is because there are those who push very hard to say so and so or such and such a network is biased. I believe that bias does exist, but I also believe it is not necessarily as bad as some say it is in news organizations.

            And, I do believe one of your statements enforces my beliefs…..that if news organizations cannot even verify what their own people do or what their sources say, what’s going to happen when their “sources” will include more and more average Joes on the street feeding all sorts of images which may or may not be doctored?

            And, speaking of doctors, I am quite sure that was an actor in that cigarette commercial you sent me! And, that commercial wasn’t necessarily fibbing. It claimed that when asked, doctors (who smoke) selected Camel more than any other brand! I don’t think it actually said cigarette were good for you, although it certainly implied there was no danger if a doctor in the commercial recommended Camels, even though he was an actor!

            Anyway, yes, we need to be skeptical of anything we read, except, of course, articles in Photography Life!

      • 48
        ) Richard D.
        June 16, 2013 at 2:25 pm

        And, by the way, didn’t know Tom was one of Photography Life’s writers….he is a great photographer! Enjoyed looking through his photos.

        • June 16, 2013 at 3:05 pm

          Richard,
          Tom is a phenomenal wildlife photographer. Every photo is a gem.
          Bob

      • 49
        ) LukeB
        June 16, 2013 at 2:38 pm

        Woah Bob – how did Stalin get in here?

        I was addressing the issue of manipulated photos for political or ideological gain. Editorial and BOD pressure on newspapers in the US and, political pressure from dictators in foreign countries have been around since cavemen carved on stone.

        My point was regarding the photographer – not those responsible for what appears in the paper.

        • June 16, 2013 at 3:04 pm

          Luke,
          Stalin got in here because of a Pulitzer Prize journalist misrepresented the truth about atrocities on the front page of the NY Times. If the journalists and editorial staff can be so misguided, why would you assume the photographers on the payroll would somehow rise to a higher ethical standard? I see absolutely no reason to believe that.
          Do you not think photographers are subject to the same bias? What photos get taken? Which ones do not? The angle, perspective, etc. all can play a part in how we perceive a given story. Photographers indeed have a role to play in the way a story is depicted.
          Bob

  23. 53
    ) LukeB
    June 16, 2013 at 3:22 pm

    Bob, I’m not going to argue with you. You’re talking apples and I’m talking oranges. There is a huge difference between the written word and photographic images. Especially when Stalin was in power. Yes, I’m old enuf to remember this!

    • June 16, 2013 at 4:02 pm

      Luke,

      No argument necessary. It is enough to say that the photos I take, the angle I take them from, which ones I choose to share, etc. can reflect my desire to cast the subject matter in a particular light. It is no different than taking a portrait of someone with a 15mm fisheye lens vs. a 200mm f/2.8. Both will show the same subject but leave you with a very different impression of it. If you are old enough to remember Stalin, you should also realize how much the state controlled his photos and photography in general. There was a reason why they did so, and it was not because they thought of photos as a neutral issue.

      Bob

  24. 54
    ) wc
    June 16, 2013 at 3:25 pm

    Thanks Bob for Tom Redd’s site on 500px. He is a great photographer. I am just newly signed up on that site myself and do like it. BUT, I was a little confused because I thought your were referring to Tom Hogan, another great photo blogger I follow and one who has recently blogged on this same issue and who has taken a somewhat opposite opinion then yours. As I have intimated before, we shall see what happens, it’s all in the wind..

    • June 16, 2013 at 4:04 pm

      WC,
      Yes, I read Hogan’s piece. I can certainly understand his and others’ perspectives that differ from mine. Time alone will tell which perspective turns out to be correct.
      Bob

  25. 61
    ) Richard D.
    June 16, 2013 at 6:42 pm

    Hey, Bob.

    I forgot to add one more thing. I’m always looking for freelance photo opportunities on the side, so a month or so ago, I saw an ad from a newspaper looking for photographers to cover certain ethnic events in the area I live. I responded to that ad. A rep from that newspaper got back to me, but she told me that there would be no pay for the pictures I would provide. I wouldn’t even get reimbursed for mileage to an event. She said, though, that I would get credits for the photos. I have to ask, especially given what the Sun Times has just done, what good would “credits” actually do, if newspapers are moving towards a model of getting pictures more and more from freelancers/average Joe’s and pays them little if any money?

    I know the Sun Times is providing their reporters with iPhones, but I guess this type of model also likely assumes that there will be a large supply of freelancers willing to supply photos for little if any money. And while that possibly is a valid assumption, there’s something not quite right with it.

    • June 24, 2013 at 10:44 pm

      Richard,
      With an large, quickly growing supply of photographers/photos, the price was bound to come down. It really is a bit of the supply/demand forces at work.
      Bob

      • 69
        ) Richard D.
        June 25, 2013 at 6:16 am

        Oh, I know, Bob. It’s nice to have you work used, but it just doesn’t seem right to me that people are looking for free photography. And, I’m not a professional photographer.

  26. 62
    ) Anonymous
    June 17, 2013 at 1:35 am

    Compelling articles and pictures. Thanks – I might not turn to professional photography from my current career (reasonably well paid and comfortable) – it is so volatile – more now than ever.

    • June 24, 2013 at 10:42 pm

      Anon,
      It is changing more by the day. The recent floods in Calgary, Canmore, and Banff areas show just how quickly thousands of people could mobilize their photos to provide a summary of the damage in a way no professional crew(s) alone could do.
      Bob

      • 70
        ) Richard D.
        June 25, 2013 at 6:17 am

        Bob, I highly agree with your statement here.

  27. June 18, 2013 at 1:01 pm

    Surprised to see several important issues completely ignored here.

    1) Craigslist, and its effect on one of the main cash cows of the newspaper
    2) Media consolidation – Most of the media is controlled by five companies now (down from 50 in 1983). Not only does this compress the range of viewpoints, but for newspapers in particular, the ones hurting are mostly the ones who bought other papers and have debt hanging over their heads because of it (and yes, the Sun-Times is one of those papers).

    This also has specific knock-on effects for newspapers as this makes it difficult to cover problems with a major advertiser. In the old days, they’d get around that by feeding the story to another newspaper. That’s not so much an option, now.

    I also question your assertion that the NYT’s paywall is a success. Their digital revenue is still dropping, just maybe not quite as fast as before. I’d suggest looking here for more detailed analysis.

    I’m a bit curious, too, why you are so willing to wave away quality as an issue. As far as I know, we don’t have any direct way to correlate sales with picture quality (though I do note, with some amusement, that the Sun-Times was once known as the Chicago Daily Illustrated Times). One thing to come out of this experiment, I suppose, is there will be some data to try to establish that.

    Another issue that might be worth addressing, in terms of changes with papers over the years, is that of declining quality of news coverage. In particular, the seeming inability of news media to be adversarial towards politicians (this is probably largely related to consolidation, as the owners of the conglomerates donate heavily towards political campaigns), especially in the last decade.

    • June 18, 2013 at 9:03 pm

      AMF,

      The version of this article that goes into the “Craigslist Effect” is only for paid subscribers! ;)

      I thought to include Craig’s List, but only did so in that nebulous “other” category. I left them out because while they do compete for the classified listings, I hardly think of them as content generators. But you are absolutely correct – Craig’s List is siphoning off the Classified Section, which has been a good source of revenue for the newspapers. So are ebay and a myriad of other sites that allow readers to contact each other regarding potential buying/selling opportunities. We have discussed such a concept for photography life some time ago.

      I mentioned that the WSJ and NYT had had good success converting traditional newspaper readers over to their digital subscription model, more so than all the others combined. That doesn’t mean I believe this alone will guarantee their success. I just think that in the transition from paper to bits/bytes, these two companies are leading the pack.

      Regarding the “Quality” issue, I simply don’t believe the majority of photos associated with most stories are the stuff of legend. Some? Absolutely priceless. The bulk of them, however, are pretty routine. The city council meeting shot of the citizen asking a question from a podium? Probably any of us could have taken that shot just as well as any pro. I have spent some time looking over various online newspaper sites since the Sun-Times decision made the news. I can’t say that I was bowled over by the high quality of most of the photos I saw as I navigated through the various newspaper sections.

      We do know that despite having a professional photography staff on board, the Sun-Times financial challenges have continued to mount. Is that because the writing has gone down hill? Is it because readers perhaps do not care as much about the photos as some would like us to believe? Is it because of other reasons? Data from organizations such as the Pew Research Center seem to point out that there are profound shifts occurring in the news industry and more broadly how we think of and consume content. As such, I don’t know that the success of failure of any newspaper will hinge on having a professional staff on board. It remains to be seen that relying on reporters, freelancers, and the general public will indeed lead to a noticeable decline in the quality of the photos. If you examined the 100-300 photos in any given newspaper on any given day (I don’t know what the real number is BTW), I wonder how many would really “wow” you and cause you to think twice about dropping your subscription?

      Consolidation. This isn’t a black and white issue. On one hand, you are correct – there has been quite a bit of consolidation in the media industry. It is a bit scary how few companies control so many media outlets – both news and entertainment. On the other hand, the real number of content providers has skyrocketed via the gazillion (and growing!) general purpose websites and blogs. And although some are thought of in the same breath – Youtube/Google, you can also think of youtube as an outlet that provides a forum and exposure to just about anyone with something to share. in this sense, you have hundreds of thousands of individual channels so to say. So stepping back and looking at the big picture, you really have both consolidation and tremendous expansion at the same time – a very interesting dynamic.

      And your last point is really on the money. Sadly, the news media representatives seem to be fawning members of a propaganda squad rather than objective, hard-hitting journalists on the hunt for truth on behalf of the people. The most amazing aspect of their coverage is the litany of questions that they should ask but don’t. That is the worst form of bias – the obvious question that was not asked. I can understand some of this behavior under the tight-fisted control of a tyrannical regime, but in the United States? Mike Wallace must be turning over in his grave…

      Thanks for taking the time to add some insightful comments.

      Bob

  28. 66
    ) Samaresh Panda
    June 22, 2013 at 12:33 pm

    Great article and great pictures. Hats off to you guys.

  29. 76
    ) Eddie
    October 5, 2013 at 5:44 am

    Hey! I simply would like to give an enormous thumbs
    up for the good data you

  30. 77
    ) Ross
    August 19, 2014 at 12:26 pm

    Bob,it seems that the model for survival is the blog and associated revenue which explains your optimism:) Good luck. I think you have to be a certain type of person to enjoy and succeed at this. 25 years in mags etc and I’m out of here.

  31. August 19, 2014 at 7:40 pm

    Ross,
    You obviously were in the industry at the right time. With number of cellphones with camera capabilities exceeding the number of people on the planet, it is only natural that news organizations will solicit photos from anyone in the vicinity of a given news story. Think of it as an “on demand” photography staff of billions.
    And the truth is that the probability of an amateur photographer being nearby at the time of such an event is much higher than a professional photographer that has to be dispatched. You can’t blame the news organizations for wanting to tap into the tremendous number of free photos taken by those who happen to be where news is happening. Such is the nature of change…
    Bob

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