Chicago Sun-Times Photographers React and Respond to Being Laid Off


When the Chicago Sun-Times unexpectedly laid off its entire team of photojournalists last week, Al Podgorski was one of the photographers hearing the bad news at the meeting. Having worked for the paper since 1984, Podgorski’s image-making instincts kicked in, and he shot the photograph above showing his colleagues learning that they were being laid off.

The photographer in the center of the frame is John H. White, the renowned photojournalist who joined the Sun-Times in 1978 and won a Pulitzer Prize in 1982.

In a post published to his Facebook page, Podgorski writes,

The Chicago Sun-Times has laid off its entire photography staff, and plans to use freelance photographers and reporters to shoot photos and video going forward, the newspaper said. A total of 28 full-time staffers received the news Thursday morning at a meeting held at the Sun-Times offices in Chicago, according to sources familiar with the situation. The layoffs are effective immediately. Included was John H. White , Pulitzer Prize winner and mentor to so many journalists , photographers and more…. and my hero.

Podgorski captured some other photos of the meeting showing group pictures, hugs, and heavy hearts:





Shortly after the layoffs, the Chicago Tribune visited the Billy Goat Tavern in Chicago to gather reactions from laid off Sun-Times photographers:

CNN’s Howard Kurtz also caught up with John H. White to hear his thoughts about what the layoffs mean for the news industry:

(via Gawker and ISO 1200)

Image credits: Photographs by Al Podgorski and used with permission

  • Dan Howard

    makes me sick. Every photographer should boycott the Sun Times.

  • Nate Matos

    Won’t happen, there will always be young people interested in photojournalism eager to do work for awful pay. And it’s simply because they feel it will help get them to the next level.

  • James M

    Shocking. How can any publication justify sacking photographers?
    Even worse is relying on journalists to take photographs or relying on members of the public to supply the paper with out of focus or badly setup pictures.
    I originally spent four years as a senior news journalist in the UK before switching to photography.
    Let me tell you, it was and still is one of the hardest jobs that I have ever had. Journalists can always call someone back to check a quote. If you’re a photographer, you only get one click to capture that moment.
    The level of skill, knowledge and timing involved is not unlike being an artists painting on a canvas.
    I do think the rise in digital photography and the sheer amount of people who can afford digital cameras has played a huge part in people’s perceptions of photography as an art form.
    That still doesn’t excuse the Sun-Times from not only letting their staff down, but also their readers, who will no doubt now be left with substandard photography in their newspaper rather than the quality they’ve been used to for the last three decades.
    Shame on you, Sun-Times. Shame.

  • thingwarbler

    Which of course begs the question: what, exactly, constitutes “the next level” in an era when even supposedly top-tier newspapers aren’t hiring? Very few people will survive to “the next level” if they have to live off the meager freelance rates out there — while at the same time buying their own gear, arranging their own health insurance, paying for training, etc. etc.

    Not to mention the “competition” from the remaining writers who are now supposed to be providing images for their stories by snapping away with their iPhones while jotting down quotes. It’ll be predictably sad to see what this will do for the quality — which will lead to more fewer readers, more cost cutting, etc. etc.

  • Matt

    Tragic. But, I think that Mr. White’s legacy will outlive the Sun Times.
    I think it is a loss for us all. Goodluck to all of them.

  • dannybuoy

    But you’re forgetting the general public are getting quite good at taking photos now.

  • Michael Comeau

    What I want to know is, how many people complaining about this actually spend money on print media?

  • Antonio Carrasco

    haha, there is no next level. Joke is on all of us.

  • Wolfgang_Zimmerman

    This is simply awful. However, it IS a sign of the times. If had not happened today, it would have happened in a year or so. The signs have been there for some time (since the birth of the iPhone?). I got out three years ago (when I was fired), but, luckily, it did not come unexpected to me, and I had prepared. Perhaps what happened at the Chicago Sun-Times will serve as a warning to other photographers.

    The VERY best of luck to all concerned.

  • gochugogi

    Well, yes they can easily take lots of photos. Being good at it is a different matter.

  • Marty4650

    Considering how bad the reporting has been lately…. perhaps they should have laid off the reporters and given their photographers notepads? The photographers could write the stories… while they are taking photos.

  • Mansgame

    Sad? yes? End of the world and journalism as we know it? Hardly. This is just one city paper. How many Sun Times photographers were there in Syria or other hot zones getting hard hitting news? I doubt if any were there. Most cover stories like the local festival, mayor giving speech, etc. where they already have a print journalist at hand. The print guy learned how to use the camera on their phone so if the camera guy learned how to write, they’d have more of a shot.

  • Mansgame

    Not me.

  • Bristol

    Me, rarely, and mostly photography magazines and Nat Geo, haha.

  • Scott

    Do you ever read your local papers online?

  • Spongebob Nopants

    I think these photographers should only submit their freelance work to other newspapers from now on. And let the paper use uneducated and unprofessional amateurs from now on.
    If you want work that is to exacting standards you have to pay for it. Not just that but you have to motivate someone to devote their loyalty to you instead of your competitors.
    By doing this they just increased their competitors pool of experienced talent.
    These individuals are like rock stars or pro sportsmen. They’re the best at what they do and deserve to be treated that way. Not like the best athelete, just like the best photojournalist- which isn’t really asking for much.

  • Spongebob Nopants

    How the hell will they even be able to work?
    A photographer for a newspaper or a photojournalist is SENT TO SHOOT SOMETHING BY THE PAPER.
    If they are freelancers, how the hell are they going to be able to know what to shoot? How will they know what the paper might need pictures of?
    Photojournists can’t take chances, they can’t take the time and money to just go run off and shoot somehting because they think people might be interested.
    But if a paper wants them to go shoot something in antarctica, they can go because it’s payed for and because they know the work will be wanted.
    If the paper relies on submissions from random people, it might limit itself somewhat to photos from places where large amounts of people happen to be.

  • Spongebob Nopants

    As there are such easy answers to everything I brought up it must come down to wages and health care costs. The paper is saving at least 50k a year by throwing these guys under the bus.

  • Spongebob Nopants

    Sorry that was wrong. 20 employees with a 500/month health care cost comes to $120,000 a year. Which, even if they keep working as much as before, they will now have to pay for themselves.

  • The big bang theroy

    Very sad, but a sign of the digital photography world ahead for all genre of professional photography. Didn’t the Yahoo CEO just say there are no professional photogrpahers. Maybe she knows something we don’t.

  • Tzctplus -

    Uhm. Call it the “1000 monkeys typing Shakespeare’s Hamlet” phenomenon.

    I think it is perfectly probable that thousands of amateurs taking pictures will provide as much quality (and better coverage) than a professional, who after all has only one point of view: his own.

    Most importantly photographic quality may not be the highest priority when taking pictures for a newspaper, immediacy is clearly what matters to most people.

    Some people on this discussion thread fail to appreciate that many amateurs are good enough to take passable pictures (and occasionally will be tecnically as good as any pro).

  • Leonardo Abreu

    Sun Times is disgusting…

  • Wut

    I imagine that all the scribe-monks had similar reactions on their favorite blog when the Guttenberg press was released……

  • Daniel Kocian

    So if I’m restaurant owner I could fire all chefs because waitresses can do their job as well. Never heard something silly like that. I’ll bet you a dollar that the brainiac behind the decision to let go the 28 professional photographers (some with Pulitzer Prizes) has an M. B.A.

  • Andrea Boyle

    Wish the interviewer had not been trying to cut John off. Howard Kurtz needs to respect folks in his own world. Unforgiveable…

  • Dick Fabulous

    Military, police, and private security. The only growth industry jobs left in America.

  • sikdave

    Just had a look at a few news report pics on their site to see the quality that their journo’s are putting out, poor to say the least, even spotted a thumb over the lens in one of the images. Obviously quality images are not a priority of the paper anymore. Sad

  • Sterling

    A sad event for those involved for sure. But not entirely unexpected. Who reads, let alone buys a newspaper anymore? I know newsprint isn’t dead but it is dying. The reporters, ad salespeople, and delivery people are next.

  • MT

    Also – with cameras out there that allow you to focus the digital picture after you’ve taken it, and all kinds of other smart features e.g. face tracking, the skills of photojournalists have been undermined.

    These technologies are only going to get more advanced.

    Just imagine what will be possible with Google glasses and the like.

    There will always be someone at a news event with a camera in their hand, not just someone, more than likely everyone has a camera – and all of them are willing to sell their pictures for a few bucks, or post videos for free.

    The sad thing about photography is – a lot of people fail to appreciate the difference in the quality of a picture in terms of composition, lighting. Publishers realize this and happily churn out sub-standard images. I work in video and have experienced the same shift.

  • Ziz

    The analogy is kinda off. You’re assuming the chefs (newspapers) are interesting in offering gourmet meals. I think, newspapers are pretty content with sub-par phone images because they know their readers. That is unfortunate but true. We live in a world where Justin Bieber is making millions.

  • Nik.C

    It’s just typical of how industry views, and treats creatives, as a graphic designer, Photoshop has been a blessing, and a curse, the same way that digital photography and the rise of the Instagrammer has meant that creating interesting looking photo’s has become easier, for me, someone can do a photoshop course, and then start calling themselves a graphic designer, when I’ve spent my whole like absorbed in creative arts, studied design, and worked my way to where I am today. Both disciplines are an artform, take years to develop, and are constantly evolving, you can’t just replace someone with a cheaper, inexperienced version and expect the same results, asking journo’s to be photographers, might make the process cheaper, but it’s not fair on both the jouno’s and the photographers.

  • Chris

    Isn’t that saying something? Heh.

  • dave W

    The problem is that the monkey theorem depends on the “monkeys” typing for billions of billions of years… far longer than the time that has passed since the Big Bang.

    The abundance of advanced cameras has elevated the technical quality of the average casual photographer’s images, but unless the paper is simply looking for vacation snapshots, they need someone with both skill in and passion for PJ behind the camera. Those are things your average reporter and casual photographer don’t have.

  • dave W

    Yes, we get in focus, perfectly exposed vacation snapshots.

  • mrbeard

    i feel sorry that the Sun Times lacked the vision to realise that while print copies are going down, tablets and large screen mobile phones are peoples main way of sourcing news these days. Great photographs would have enhanced an online Sun Times (i dont know if there actually is one or not)

  • Sporkus

    …and it’s for that very reason I haven’t jacked in my day job and gone fulltime-pro.

  • Gustavo

    The things is that there isn’t gonna be “next level” if this keep hapening.
    I’m sure this will damage the quality of that newspaper.

  • snapshot1

    Honestly it’s that the bulk of the general public doesn’t care about quality or journalistic integrity of an image anymore and photo editors know this. But also this has been in the making the last 10-15 years from the deluge of “I didn’t need a degree or take classes to be a photographer”, “I am self-taught” and “art is in the eye of the beholder” nonsense of putting down people who actually went through the ringer in school to be taught a profession/discipline full of history. Case in point the mere fact this very website had an article on the inverse square law, or said here as “Hey look what happens when you use a really bright light really close to a subject – wow can you believe it you can make any background go black – even in outside! Crazy!” as something unknown when it’s one of the very first things you learn in school. Mix that with cheaper and cheaper professional quality equipment and you end up here. This is just the last decade finally catching up to diluting an dismantling an area of study and the people who hold the money and power of employment who kept hearing “you don’t need no school to be a photographer” over and over until a light bulb went on and have taken it the next logical step figuring why bother to pay much if anything if it’s something that can be self-taught? Even worse they know that they can pay people an unlivable wage because they know “photographers” will work for pennies and even free to win the illusionary gold ring for years before they give up – and when they do – employers now can just move on to the next sucker.

    We have no one but ourselves to blame. Just because I can wire a wall outlet or fix a leaky drain doesn’t mean I can call myself an electrician or plumber and most people would call out my BS if I did as much. But nooo…. in the photo world the instant someone makes single cool looking image they are given this title and no one calls this out because we mix up stylized craft/hobby with profession and thought out artistry. So here we are now without an industry and we wonder why.

  • Sal

    You can see the reason for the layoffs already in the first pictures. They are all shooting Nikon. Nikon quality < iPhone quality. This would not have happened if they had been shooting Canon.

  • Rose

    The point is that these were professions with salaries and benefits. Investors want more “profit.” But, they get their profit by drinking the blood of their employees. Instead of firing people, they need to utilize and respect staff and allow workers to do a good job. Developing a superior product is the way to increase sales, NOT cutting staff. Now, there are more unemployed workers who cannot afford to support the economy. It’s a viscious circle that will not end until greed and arrogance are not looked upon as virtues in the corporate world.

  • Dave

    I think you mean the Chicago Tribune, not Tribute in: “Shortly after the layoffs, the Chicago Tribute visited the Billy Goat Tavern…”

  • Duane A. Hudson

    so sad , not only laid off in 20 to 30 seconds, But cut off so rudely in an interview, you cant give the man a few more minutes of time!? I for one could have listened to Mr. White for hours! God bless these guys, Seems like to me the Sun-Times will be at a loss without these guys!

  • Tzctplus -

    And who is going to pay for all that? Because we the public aren’t.

    It is all well and good to ask companies to develop, nurture and respect their employees, but if the balance sheet and the reality of a changing profession is telling you that you can get away with lower quality and save money, then managers will do just that,

    Staff costs money, that is an unavoidable reality that some people don’t seem to grasp at all.

  • Tzctplus -

    And what do we need? Most photographies going into a newspaper are quite bland affairs: walking politician, politicians shaking hands, talking politician, sportsman in a winning pose, adversary in a losing pose. Is there a riot somewhere? Well, doh, you need pictures of the riot.

    You may argue that we need photos that give a real insight about the facts, but when hundreds or thousands of people are photographing a newsworthy issue the insight is now given more by quantity than quality. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram give us insight, The newspapers can’t compete with that.

  • Rose

    “Investors” aren’t running a business; they are in it for the profit. But, unlike investors of the past, who were willing to develop the product, these greedy sods want profit at any price. That price is the blood of workers.
    Companies absolutely need to develop their products – sell it for a profit – and then – ONLY then – pocket a portion of the profit. The remainder goes into product and staff development. Even the most basic economics class makes that clear.
    You need staff to develop a product. The product sells and everyone is happy. Firing people and pocketing the “profit” is the way to bankrupting this country.
    Trust me, you’ll pay one way or another. That’s how economies work. You’ll either buy the product because it’s a quality product. Or, your taxes will pay for food stamps, Medicaid and public housing for the dispossessed. Take your pick. You do know you’re taxes are paying to supplement the benefits for Wal-Mart workers, right? That’s what happens when billionaires are given their way.

  • dave W

    The stories as told by people involved in the story via Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are so blatantly biased toward whatever position the poster holds that it’s impossible to get the real story or even any kind of opposing viewpoint. Look at the iReports from CNN, they’re a journalistic joke.

    Again, back to the infinite monkey theorem, you don’t get even mediocre quality or anything really useful for telling the story with hundreds, thousands or even hundreds of thousands of monkeys…you just get meaningless jibberish.

  • Tzctplus -

    There is no profit in day do day photography for newspapers.

    There is actually little or no profit in newspapers anymore.

    Newspapers all around the globe invested in their photographers (and other personnel) for decades, and for a while it worked.

    It doesn’t work anymore.

    You want people to be altruistic with the money of others (the shareholders), which I suppose was thought as a bad idea in your basic economics class as well.

    It is funny some people go on and on about respecting the workers and other nonsense that doesn’t address the economic and technological contradictions which are driving those choices and without ever telling us where the money is going to come from to pay those workers when we, the public, isn’t buying the product as it is.

    These same people would have been defending the rights of horse drawn cart drivers as soon as they saw the first motor vehicle turning around the corner.

  • I’m Bob

    There will always be news in one form or another. Newspapers have websites, and guess what? Photos and videos are used. I don’t rely on b.s. from blogs for news. I want quality, and I’m willing to pay for it.

    But, have it your way, friend. Your taxes will pay for laid off workers through social programs like Link and Medicaid. It sure won’t be the billionaires’ who pay. They have loopholes. Unless you’re a billionaire you’d better remove the goggles, Friend.

  • Sam

    You’re missing the point entirely. Physical newspapers may become obsolete, but news websites will not. Those also need photos and video. Unless you want to rely on blogs for the news, you’ll end up paying. The days of free news are coming to an end.

  • Charmagne Elliott

    The cut-throat tactics and blood-letting at the Sun-Times over the last 5 years is reprehensible. The Tyree investors were bad. The Ferro goombahs are even worse; though I didn’t think that was possible. What’s really horrible is the CWA union is weak. It led members to acccept concessions that hurt everyone. Now, union members are treated worse than non-union staff. That’s also a problem. The union didn’t work hard enough to convince the non-union papers to joint. What a joke.