November 11, 2013

At newspapers, photographers feel the brunt of job cuts

Former Chicago Sun-Times photographer Andrew Nelles shoots pictures of his former colleagues during a demonstration outside the offices of the Chicago Sun-Times. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Citing “new technologies” and “economic realities,” the Times Herald-Record in Middletown, N.Y., laid off its four remaining staff photographers earlier this month, joining the growing ranks of newspapers that are shrinking or eliminating their photography staffs.

Along with their newsroom colleagues, news photographers have not been immune to the layoffs affecting the newspaper industry. But a landmark moment occurred this past May, when the Chicago Sun-Times axed its entire 28-person photography department.  Another major U.S. daily, The Atlanta Journal Constitution, announced in October that it would lay off a significant number of its staff photographers.

Indeed, the annual newsroom census from the American Society of News Editors indicates that photographers, along with other visual journalists, represent the category of newsroom staffers hit hardest by the numerous rounds of job cuts.

FT_13.11.07_photoJobsThe ranks of photographers, artists and videographers have been trimmed by nearly half (43%)—from 6,171 in 2000 to 3,493 in 2012, according to ASNE. By comparison, the number of full-time newspaper reporters and writers dropped by 32%—from 25,593 to 17,422. In the same period, 27% of copy and layout editor and online producer jobs were lost, falling from 10,901 to 7,980.

Data from the last three years alone further highlight this job insecurity. From 2010 through 2012, ASNE recorded an 18% reduction in full-time photographers, artists and videographers. That compares with a negligible job loss (0.2%) among copy and layout editors and online producers.  And it is three times the rate at which reporters and writers lost their jobs (6%).

A number of factors seem to be responsible for this high rate of attrition among photographers.  Shrinking newsroom budgets play a significant part, but so does the explosion of mobile technology and social media, making it easier for citizens and non-professionals to capture and share images. When it laid off several photographers in 2011, CNN cited the “impact of user-generated content and social media…in breaking news,” as a key reason.

Donald Winslow, an official with the National Press Photographers Association, suggested another factor behind the cuts. In some cases, he said, the victims were veteran photographers pulling down relatively high salaries, making them tempting targets when newspaper organizations are looking to cut costs.

Topics: Newsroom Investment and Resources

  1. is a Research Analyst at the Pew Research Center’s Journalism Project.

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20 Comments

  1. Craig9 months ago

    The cuts started well before “multi-media” and (anti)social media. People have owned pencils for century’s, does that make them journalists too and endanger reporter’s jobs? What a weak report. Photographers are laid off first for the simple reason that they are not equally respected as journalists, period. Just because you have an iPhone, doesn’t make you a photographer, and the vast majority or reporters are terrible photographers. Few people have the ability to tell a story with photography, that is why we need photojournalists. Sadly, newspapers are a thing of the past but bean counters have not faced up to it, and are bailing water out of the boat instead of facing reality.

    Reply
  2. Ted Irving10 months ago

    As a TV sports photographer I’m also interested in what is happening in our arena. It’s a huge assumption, but I believe cuts are happening across the broadcast journalism landscape and TV news will be replaced by the guerilla or civilian journalist. We are already witnessing consolidation where news producers, called preditors, are writing and editing causing the layoffs of video editors. Not sure about print, but for our medium the future is contract, freelance. No more full-time.

    Reply
  3. Neil Burgess11 months ago

    Sadly, none of this is surprizing. In the UK and most of Europe, the newspapers and magazines have long shed their staff photographers and rely on the wire agencies, stock libraries and a few free-lancers, who, if they are very lucky, might have contract for a couple of days a week.

    Three years ago I wrote a piece (epuk.org/Opinion/961/for-gods-sa…) saying, what has been repeated since 1958 to my knowledge, that ‘photo-journalism is dead’. It’s true, in most cases, the journals are simply not paying photographers to do journalism; illustration sometimes, but little or no real journalism.

    So. Let the creative, dynamic, questioning photographers who want to change the world or at least bear witness to it, drop the appellation, ‘photo-journalist'; seek funding and support elsewhere and find a new name to describe what they do: artists, authors, activists maybe? Or social documentarians.

    It’s going to take some time for the revolution in technology and communications that we are living through to shake out. When it’s settled down, maybe the news organisations that still exists will find the funding to support photographers, and maybe they wont. But, I’ve no doubt, photographers will continue to make important work that will, inform, educate and delight us.

    In the mean time let’s find the positive in the situation. Let’s abandon the name photojournalist and the desire for the media, the sick host that we have been living off, to fund our work. Let’s celebrate our independence. It’s been really hard, don’t you know, it’s going to get harder, but as we say, when the going gets tough……

    Reply
  4. Len Kaufman11 months ago

    An additional reason for these devastating cuts is that many of the “new breed” of editors and most of the public don’t recognize the difference between good photography and less than mediocre photography.

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  5. Yannis Behrakis11 months ago

    Sad/unfair/dangerous….

    Reply
  6. Keith Gaskin11 months ago

    There is so much more to quality photojournalism, which can change lives in countless ways, than just point and shoot.

    Reply
  7. Mark11 months ago

    I worked as a staffer at a big metro for a long time and from my perspective, digital cameras and cellphones make it so easy, anyone can basically make a photograph with bright colors of a recognizable scene, which from what I can tell, is about the extent of what the publishers want these days. In the film days, you basically needed to know what you were doing but not anymore. Newspapers also used to publish picture pages and photo essays regularly, but those display platforms are for the most part, totally gone. There are internet slideshows and videos, but realistically almost nobody sits through them. Also, as the vast majority of newspaper reading is now on computers tablets and mobile, photos by design run really small so shooting for display isn’t needed anymore for the vast majority of readers. Realistically, 90% of the photographic work needed by papers can be done with a cellphone so no wonder photo staffs are going the way of the picture page, the Leica and the darkroom.

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  8. Jim11 months ago

    Older newspaper photographers haven’t adapted as well in the internet age. Every time there is a big layoff at a big city paper (Ex. Chicago Sun-Times photogs) there are threats that the world is going to come to an end because they lost their jobs.

    Instead of protesting the loss of their job, the Sun-Times phographers should of taken that time to learn how to write. Some may have kept their jobs if they saw themselves as true reporters and learned the skills.

    Reporters have learned (or are required to learn) how to take pictures. With a few exceptions, most traditional newpaper photographers never learned the reporter’s skills. As a result, they have little value in the newsroom anymore.

    It’s a huge amount of overkill to send a Pulitizer prize seeking photographer to shoot a picture of a crime scene, a car wreck, or 99% of the other local news stories. And no reporter or photographer can beat an eyewitness with a camera/video phone to the scene of a breaking story.

    The problem for news photographers is that the position has little value anymore. It’s not a journalism problem. It’s a business problem that can’t be cured by image quality, composition or a renewed commitment to journalism.

    Frankly, I have seen a lot reporters who can write good stories and shoot good pictures. It’s not that hard. The notion that “photographers” are the only ones who can shoot good pictures is dated.

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    1. Dan11 months ago

      Sure, anyone can take a photo, even reporters. But you can see the difference of a photo snapped by a reporter versus one made by a career photographer. “Good” is the operative word.

      Reply
      1. Afi11 months ago

        Dan, as a reporter and a photographer I second your comment. Learning to think in visual terms isn’t something one picks up right away.
        But I wasn’t in a newsroom; I was a freelancer who planned on going into multimedia. I didn’t just grab a camera and shoot. I took photography and graphic design classes to learn the art and craft of visual storytelling.

        I read comments like Jim’s all the time:
        “And no reporter or photographer can beat an eyewitness with a camera/video phone to the scene of a breaking story. ” The assumption is, of course, the eyewitness is on the scene – and has the equipment to get a photo that imparts information. The visuals I see online show that the flaws in that kind of thinking.

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  9. Dave Pokress11 months ago

    I am also a victim of this ill advised cost cutting carnage. (the newspaper I worked for for 35 years nuked its photo dept. in 2008) The newspapers doing this are ignoring the elephant in the room, namely the fact that citizen journalists and freelancers without journalism backgrounds don’t possess or adhere to the standards of journalistic integrity to guarantee that their images are honest and truthful to the facts of the story.

    Many of the newspaper executives who make these short sighted decisions believe anyone who owns a camera (or cell phone) is a photographer. Therefore, I suggest to them that anyone who owns a pencil is a reporter.

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    1. Michael11 months ago

      You’re right, pretty much everyone with a pencil IS a reporter, which is why newspapers are going to the wall, and EDITORS are the ones keeping their jobs – THAT is the irreplaceable skill.

      Reply
  10. Phil Greer11 months ago

    Newspapers as well as the news media is still trying to adapt to online technology . There biggest problem is they have not found away to make money from the Internet . At a time in society were the visual report is more and more important , company’s are backing away from quality . Less visual coverage is never more . If you don’t have content people will not come to your web sight .
    It is about content relieing on citizens and reporters with IPhones will not provide that content .
    I always talk about moments . The basketball going threw the net to win a championship , a service member being greeted by there family when they return home from war , greaf of a family when they lose a member and the body is returned , conflict photos or videos where the photojournalist puts there life on the line just like are troops but they don’t carry a gun . Moments like this don’t come from a reporter or a citizen with a iPhone .
    From the movie Field Of Dreams “If You Build It They Will Come”. If you cut back ,don’t care about quality , they will not and you might want to save money and close your door now . Journalism is a gift to your com unit and if you own a newspaper you need to understand if you serve the public well then they will serve you . If you don’t then there is a grave yard waiting .

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    1. Richard Sitler11 months ago

      “There biggest problem…?” You mean “their”.

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      1. Richard Sitler11 months ago

        I quit reading your comment after “relieing” instead of “relying”. Aargh… I am sure you make good points, but the misspellings really hurt your message. Back when I was on staff at a newspaper as a photojournalist if I had spelled that many words incorrectly in any of my work I would have been called on the carpet.

        Of course, now I’m out of work and I suppose it all doesn’t matter anymore.

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    2. Bob11 months ago

      Wow, I can’t remember when I last read an article with such a high ratio of misspelled words per total word count. Your credibility is totally trashed because of it. Thank god you did not take the ‘learn to be a writer route’ suggested in another comment!

      Reply
  11. Matt11 months ago

    This is perhaps the most misleading graphic I’ve ever seen. It makes it look as if the photographers have dropped the least when, in fact, they’ve dropped by the highest percentage.

    Reply
  12. Marc Monaghan11 months ago

    What are the statistics on the use of freelance photographers?

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    1. David Yunker11 months ago

      Marc,

      I stopped freelancing when requests came in to shoot every player possible at a football game. Quantity and who cares about quality. Plus they saved having to pay me for 10 additional assignments to cover the same players…instead using two year old images!

      Reply
    2. Monica Anderson11 months ago

      Marc,

      That’s a good question. However, ASNE’s survey does not include freelancers, only those employed full-time. The National Press Photographers Association (nppa.org) may be a helpful resource to find out more about freelancers.

      Reply