Last Thursday my former hometown's newspaper, The Chicago Sun-Times, sadly laid off its entire 28-person full-time photography staff in an attempt to cut costs in an industry that has been seeing a steady decline in subscription numbers and ad revenue as physical newspapers struggle in a digital age. The Sun-Times' contention is that digital video will soon become more important to readers of newspapers instead of photography, so the paper is spending its resources in that area from now on. In a statement, the Sun-Times said:
"The Sun-Times business is changing rapidly and our audiences are consistently seeking more video content with their news. We have made great progress in meeting this demand and are focused on bolstering our reporting capabilities with video and other multimedia elements. The Chicago Sun-Times continues to evolve with our digitally savvy customers, and as a result, we have had to restructure the way we manage multimedia, including photography, across the network."
Whether or not you agree with the paper's move is one thing (I don't), but the thing all of my fellow journalists agree with is that it's a misguided decision that just 24 hours after the layoffs, the Sun-Times announced to its remaining staff that they will receive training on "iPhone photography basics." The news was reported via a post on Chicago media critic Robert Feder's Facebook page:
"Sun-Times reporters begin mandatory training today on 'iPhone photography basics' following elimination of the paper's entire photography staff. 'In the coming days and weeks, we'll be working with all editorial employees to train and outfit you as much as possible to produce the content we need,' managing editor Craig Newman tells staffers in a memo."
Forget the fact that most print journalists are not photographers; that most people who write for a living don't have a great understanding about lighting, composition, the rule of thirds or other tenets of photography. Even if they did, it's ridiculous to think that an iPhone (even the latest iPhone 5) is anywhere near as good as your basic DSLR.
The technology in the iPhone's camera -- while it may be okay for point-and-shoot pics of your friends at a birthday party -- is in no way equipped to handle photojournalism. Where's the telephoto lens? Where's the high-powered flash? And most of all, where's the speed? The iPhone 5's camera is fine if all your subjects are standing still and already properly lit, but trying to take a photograph of a moving subject (as you often do in photojournalism) is a pain because the camera takes so long to focus. Worse, if the cameraman is moving, the iPhone's camera doesn't have near enough stability control to make your images look presentable. And though the iPhone's camera is pretty sweet for something inside a phone, it doesn't have the processing power of a dedicated DSLR, so taking rapid photos in succession isn't something that can be done with great clarity or accuracy.
I love that I have a camera in my pocket at all times, but that camera is not the best-suited one for photojournalism. If the Chicago Sun-Times thinks it is, then it will probably never have a Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph again.