Chicago Sun-Times News: Professional Photography vs. The iPhone

One of the more shocking Monday morning water-cooler discussions this week (trumped only by Game of Throne’s Episode 9) was that the Chicago Sun-Times fired all of their staff photographers (totaling 28) only to declare that they were going to send their staff journalists to mandatory iPhone photography training.

Before I continue, let me say: in this day and age, I can absolutely appreciate the immediacy of an iPhone. It is quite a powerful little tool, and it’s in 70% of the public’s pocket. It's one thing to reach out to your readership and ask, "are you near the scene of the crime? Are you witnessing an injustice right this second? Are you watching a storm cloud form into a funnel cloud as we speak? If so, reach into your pocket, pull out your iPhone and send in your photos!" That is the perfect application of iPhone photography in this industry. As proven by the Boston Marathon bombing, it can also be very useful in creating timelines of events and lead to capturing criminals. That level of immediacy, intimacy and spatial ground coverage is ideal for an industry that demands information now, pictures NOW! After all, a photographer absolutely can't be everywhere all the time. I have no disillusions about that.

But to completely discredit a century + long trade, and those who have devoted their lives to mastering that trade, is disrespectful and insulting to the art form, even in a commercial or journalistic setting. I'm not even going to get into what an "actual" camera can do that an iPhone cannot, because I'd really like to focus more on the people and the art form. The professional photographers who lost their jobs because management felt that their years of education, practice and in-the-field training could be replaced by a writer taking snap shots with a smartphone are definitely victims, but not nearly as much as the art form itself. The appreciation for good photography is being replaced by momentary snapshots, and that is the true crime here. 

This brings up an age-long debate amongst those who are photographers vs. those who are not: it’s not the camera that takes great photos, it’s the man or woman holding the camera that takes great photos. 

You won't be able to teach the fundamentals of lighting, composition, situational photography, sports photography, portrait photography, or landscape photography, not to mention the hundreds of other little nuances of the industry, in a "mandatory iPhone photography training" class. There will be an immediate drop off in all phases of imagery represented in this paper, the likes of which the average viewer will absolutely be able to see. This misguided decision will likely make a huge impact - and not the good kind of impact - on the readership of an already struggling newspaper.

Imagine the flip side, if you will: management fires all of the journalists and instructs the photographers to utilize Twitter to write all news articles. In 140 characters or less. Sounds incredibly absurd, doesn't it?

What are your thoughts on the Chicago Sun-Times decision to fire their professional photographers? Sound off in the comments below.