Picture This, A Newspaper With No Photographers

By Casey Bukro

Journalists are hardened by now to the continuous drumbeat of layoffs and cutbacks ripping through journalism these days, so it’s not easy to shock them.

But many were shaken by the news that the Chicago Sun-Times laid off its entire staff of 28 full-time photographers, planning to use freelance photographers and reporters to shoot pictures.

It’s ironic, really. The Sun-Times is a tabloid, dating to 1844, which built a powerful reputation on the smart and creative use of photos. Of the eight Pulitzer Prizes won by the paper, two were for photography. It was known as a picture newspaper.

What was management thinking? In a statement, it said the “business is changing rapidly and our audiences are consistently seeking more video content with their news.” Their vision is a video newspaper. Management usually has the final word in such matters.

Sun-Times reporters joined the laid-off photographers in a peaceful demonstration outside the newspaper building. The Society of Professional Journalists code of ethics says everyone, including our colleagues, is deserving of respect.

The laid-off photographers are taking it like the professionals they are.

But how many set-backs can a great newspaper take?

When Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. bought the Sun-Times in 1984, it was recast in the gaudy Murdoch image, complete with bikini-clad pinups. It was his idea of what sells newspaper. Murdoch seriously misjudged Chicago, thinking it was a blue-collar town of steel workers. Some of his star columnists defected in disgust. And they keep going.

After selling off assets, Murdoch sold the Sun-Times and left it weakened.

In 1994, the Sun-Times was bought by a company controlled by Canadian-born press baron Conrad Black. In 2007, Black was convicted of fraud and stealing $60 million from company stockholders, and sent to jail.

And now, new management is set to work its magic. Let’s hope the Sun-Times catches a break this time. It could use one.

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About cbukro

Casey Bukro was inducted into the Chicago Journalism Hall of Fame in 2008 for outstanding contributions to Chicago journalism, after a 45 year career with the Chicago Tribune. Bukro retired from the Tribune in 2007 as overnight editor. He had pioneered in environmental reporting and in 1970 became the first full-time environment specialist at a major metropolitan newspaper in the United States and covered major developments on that beat for 30 years. He won the newspaper’s highest editorial award in 1967 for a series on Great Lakes pollution. The Society of Professional Journalists awarded Bukro its highest honor, the Wells Key, in 1983 for writing that organization’s first code of ethics. He is a past president of SPJ’s national ethics committee and a past president of the Chicago Headline Club. Bukro graduated with bachelor and master degrees from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. In 1998, he received the Northwestern University Alumni Association’s alumni service award for 17 years of volunteer service to the university. He has lectured in environmental journalism and journalism ethics at Northwestern, the University of Chicago, DePaul University, Loyola University Chicago, Columbia College, Columbia University and others. Before joining the Tribune staff, Bukro worked at the former City News Bureau of Chicago and the Janesville Gazette, Janesville, Wis.

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