Chicago Sun-Times Lays Off Entire Photo Staff


The Chicago Sun-Times has laid off its entire photography staff, according to a report from the Chicago Tribune. Twenty full-time staffers received the grave news at a meeting on Thursday morning, leaving them jobless.

Moving forward, the newspaper will be strictly working with freelance photographers, a move that is expected to further cut down on costs in this already financially troubled industry.

The lay-off decision reflects the importance of video in today’s digital news reporting, according to a Sun-Times statement:

“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.”


More and more print publications are dumping full-time staff photographers in favor of freelance photojournalism. While also more cost-effective, they are able to get photos from virtually anywhere without having to dispatch a staff photographer. Given the climate of news publishing (and its digital transition), this sadly appears to be a trending course of action for news publishers.

Thanks for sending in the tip, Brian.

Image credit: Chicago Sun-Times by edenpictures, Chicago Sun-Times by TheeErin

  • Mansgame

    I guess that’s 20 new photographers offering “journalistic ” style weddings.

  • Derek


  • Michael Comeau

    More sad than shameful – it’s ugly economic reality.

  • Clinton Blackburn

    What happens to the cameras and other associated gear?

  • Raymond Larose

    As much as it sucks for those guys – I understand the move. It makes economic sense and there are some highly talented free-lancers out there. In the same breath, I’d hate to be on the receiving end of this – as I’d love to be a staff photographer for a large publication.

  • Todd Gardiner

    Doesn’t this leave local government in a bind? Now they are all required to allow in bunches of freelance photographers to events because there are no official press creds by which numbers might be managed.

    Same for local concerts, press conferences, etc. That should be a little awkward for PR staff in Chicago I imagine.

  • Jason Brewer

    Freelancers will be chopped next.

    Why pay a pro when you you can pay some
    schmuck kid who always have their phones out with camera $25 for all
    the rights to the picture and never have to pay them again.

  • Freelancer

    Why? For quality work maybe?

  • j

    sense the tone, homie… he was talking tongue-in-cheek. what jason said will most likely become true, but i highly doubt he was saying it in support of the practice.

  • Jason Brewer

    No because to save more money media will not want to pay freelancer fees for the photos. So many people have camera’s in their phones and if you can get that image cheaper than the freelancer’s which do you think the agency will want to buy?

  • Adam Cross

    well it’s bound to happen, and will continue to happen. best thing to do is adapt and move on

  • Jon Woodbury

    People are becoming far less discerning when it comes to photography. Most people either can’t tell the difference between quality and average photography or they simply don’t care. If your audience can’t tell the difference, why pay for quality when you’re getting a beatdown from the top to cut costs? Now they have competition between the freelancers for who will work cheapest.

  • Mansgame

    This I like! No more snooty newspapers togs acting smug because they have a pass and get access. Great day to be a freelancer.

  • Scott

    My local paper (pretty damn tiny daily mind you) won’t pay at all for photographs taken by anyone outside the paper. Why would they need to, people will just give the photographs away for free so they can say they got a picture in the paper.

  • Mansgame

    If your profession can be undermined by a kid with a camera phone, you are in the wrong profession.

  • Rob S

    So looking for the silver lining. As a staff photographer you are limited to the wage scale of the paper. If you take amazing pictures you still get paid what the guy who takes ok pictures does. Now you are a freelance – a freelance who will probably be the first number called when the paper has an assignment. Your rates can now reflect being self employed and you can expense more of your life. You can also work for other media sources and OWN your images. For the really great photographers, this could be a good thing. For the average guy, its not.

  • Rob S

    Got to agree. Having been at a few events where the ONLY reason the press guy got a better picture was because he could get 40 feet closer it will be nice to level the field.

  • Jason Brewer

    It’s not about skill it’s about cost. If it is not profitable to pay you $100 for your photo when “Johnny Cell Phone” has a good enough picture for the same story but will take $20 or even give it up for free guess who is not getting paid.

  • A.J.

    To the people blaming “Obamacare” on the Facebook post. Really? C’mon man. Let’s not let your political agenda get in the way of reality.

    The ugly truth is that newspaper readership is down, advertising revenue is down, and more people are getting their news from the web.

    I work for a major daily newspaper in a top 15 market (not as a photographer), and I can assure you that we have lot of empty desks & empty offices that were once full of people. This trend has been going on for a long time before “Obamacare”.

  • Focus Dave


  • Ken Jones

    Well, when newpapers are treating their readerships the way they are then it’s no wonder. Our paper increased the subscription to add digital content. The problem is the online content is complete junk. They don’t put all of the articles online. There is very little additional digital content. The apps suck.

    For a while now it’s been disconcerting when reading an article that didn’t even get spell checked or the article ends in the middle of a sentence. Really!? …and we’re supposed to trust this source?

    Anymore the paper’s best value comes in the coupons and puzzles only because they’ve already been printed out.

    Traditional print is dying and it seems print news companies simply can’t break the paradigm enough to provide a nice compliment to online content.

  • Mantis

    This is a long time coming. Very few people in creative industries are kept on a payroll.

    You see all of those names in the credits of TV show or movie? All freelancers.
    If anything this will improve the quality of images in the paper and let a lot more photographers eat.

    Most staff photographer jobs pay very poorly anyway and are filled by kids.

  • Gavin Seim

    “Moving forward, the newspaper will be strictly working with freelance photographers”

    In other words – “Most people will give their work away for free just to see it in print. We plan to use that instead”

    Can you blame them. Sadly I think the photo industry has brought this on themselves.

  • A.J.

    Your paper is doing it wrong. We’ve put a lot more focus into our digital side, never increased subscription cost, and have actually grown our paper subscription numbers a lot in the last year.

  • Rabi Abonour

    While they’ll be hiring freelancers for some things, it looks like the majority of the daily work is just going to fall to reporters with iPhones.

  • Rabi Abonour

    What is this “official press cred” you speak of? At an open meeting, anyone is allowed in. At a private event, if a photographer is hired freelance to shoot an event, he/she will get a credential for that event. Freelancers typically get brought on before an event, they don’t just show up to events and shop the pictures around afterwards.

  • Rabi Abonour

    That’s not really how the economics of news photography work… A staff photographer has a steady job (until, of course, this happens) with benefits. . A freelancer you might make more per assignment, but that is canceled out by the fact that he/she might be shooting one assignment a week instead of three a day.

  • Mansgame

    It’s not that clear cut. Say there is a street festival coming to town that you want to cover. The Newspaper guy flashes his official ID from the newspaper that everybody knows of and goes through the media entrance without paying and gets a media pass that lets him cut through the lines. Say there is a concert: Newspaper guys say “Hi, this is blahblah from the blahblah Gazette and I am covering the concert. Great, I’ll pick up my pass at will call”.

    The freelancer will be asked what publications he works for, then be told to contact the office. Later, he’d be ignored and he’d have to pay for the tickets full price. Then during the event he’ll be told “No professional photography allowed without a press pass”.

  • Matt

    No wonder they are loosing marketshare, they don’t understand the market. And they are getting rid of a valuable resource. Video is nice, but not everything. What they need is to market what makes them unique. Do they have better local reporting? Local sports? Having a good photographer or videographer can be a great markt advantage, but only if the presentation is good. If all you have is thumbnail quality photos, then people won’t come back. The print media can’t grasp how to present their product. In my area the broadcast stations are doing better in some aspects in their web presenses as they are use to presenting info on a screen. But, they don’t have much more than a few sentances on a topic. It really sucks.

  • Rob S

    No argument here. Like I said, I was looking for the sliver lining of a very dark cloud.

  • Jake

    So I guess Marissa Mayer was wrong: nobody is a professional anymore.

  • Jake

    But it sounds like the end result of this is no more good event photos. How will any photographers get a good shot of an important event without press passes? Or will they just let anyone with a camera to the front?

  • Ken Jones

    I wish your management would show our paper how it’s done.

  • Mansgame

    Well that’s kind of my point. There are many professions that are no longer around as well. Telecom companies would be out of business if they didn’t adapt to cell phones and provided internet access too.

  • Mansgame

    That I don’t have an answer to but after not getting any real coverage of their events, the people in charge are going to have to do their homework on which photographers to allow. Maybe you’re right and nobody gets it.

  • rob

    just think how many press photographers took photos of the lee Rigby murder most were members of the public with cameras on phones

  • Eziz

    It’s happening in many other fields as well. Many companies are outsourcing IT to cheaper countries.

  • Freelancer

    Read his answer below “homie”, it wasn’t tongue-in-cheek.

    It was, however, proof that some people no longer care about quality work from photographers.

  • Ken Elliott

    I think you meant “What happens to the cameras and other abused gear?”

  • Yadka Blimov

    In many cases, the quality of the outsourced labor is dramatically worse due to language barriers, communication problems, etc.


    It is not a trend, not many media outlets are short-sighted enough to ditch their photo staffers just yet..

    The few that did believe they can get by on free submissions from amateurs, hobbyists and shoot-free-faux-tographers. (Calling them “Freelancers” is a PR lie because freelancers get paid and these outlets clearly have no intention of paying for for photos anymore)

    What they failed to take into account is while there are plenty of faux-tographers out there that will submit lousy photos to them from high profile events, asking nothing more than the thrill of seeing their name on a photo credit and hopefully free admission to shows, you are not going to find any of these amateurs covering the grunt assignments like City Council Meetings, Press Conferences or cat shows.

    Since they now have no staffers to cover these gigs and the amateurs only want the high profile gigs, they are forced to arm their reporters with cameras and hire back their staff photographers just long enough to teach the reporters to use the cameras. (I’ve witnessed this personally)

  • Pete

    It gets even worse, seems they are equipping and training the “editorial employees” on how to use an iPhone as a camera.

  • Rabi Abonour

    Cheers, that’s a totally fair thing to do.

  • Rabi Abonour

    Do you have experience working for newspapers? Because I do, as both staff and freelance, and have never had this sort of experience. Let’s take the concert example: any competent photo editor will have called the venue and gotten the freelancer a pass just like he would for staff.

  • Rabi Abonour

    This is, unfortunately, not uncommon. Giving reporters iPhones and quick photo bootcamps is becoming standard practice in some newspaper conglomerates.

  • James

    Getting in freelance photographers to carry out the same role as staffers actually costs more than paying full-time photographers.
    Trust me, the company that I work for when through a carbon-copy cutback two years ago using the same buzz words like ‘new digital age’, ‘user generated content’ and ‘multi media image journalists’.
    What happened? They’re doors weren’t busted down by hoards of readers wanting to send in their photos. Oh no.
    Instead, none of the readers or general public bothered to do anything with the pics on their smartphones as they had no idea of actually how to send the damn things in.
    Even the so called cost cutting expertise of hiring freelance photographers backfired. What happened? Well, it seems that someone didn’t do their math and the collective freelance invoice soon added up to twice as much as having a staff photographer.
    What happened after that? They decided to hire staff photographers back. Doh.

  • easacco

    No new photographers, no news reporters… all the newspapers need are advertisers and all news television needs are talking heads. Every day the local paper gets thinner with little left other than advertising…. I subscribe because I think we need to keep our newspapers, but it would be nice if they invested in real news!

  • Robert Johnson

    Can’t the reporter just take the photo since they are close still

  • Robert Johnson

    Well that is different. Most small ones got bought out by the larger ones. Mobile and Land lines were and still are treated differently within the telcoms. Small bells still do not do mobile and only have DSL and land lines survive just fine.

  • namastemama

    You have NO idea how a press pass works.