Newspaper Chain in Georgia Shutters Its Photo Department, Lays Off Photogs


Less than two months after the Chicago Sun-Times closed up its photo department and disbanded its staff photography team, a newspaper chain in Georgia has done the same.

Southern Community Newspapers Inc. (SCNI), a chain of seven Georgian newspapers (five dailies and two weeklies), is completely shutting down its photo department and putting photo-making responsibilities in the hands of its reporters.

Jim Romenesko reports that four photographers will be affected by this move: three of them are being laid off, while a fourth staff photographer is turning into the company’s videographer.

Company CEO Michael Gebhart writes in an email that he believes “the era of specialization” is over and that the newspaper world is moving “into an age in which journalists need to be multi-faceted in their approach.”

Here’s what he had to say in the memo regarding reporters taking up the burden of photography as part of their responsibilities:

Journalists need to write, shoot video, post on the Internet and edit. The technological advances in the world of digital photography made this strategic move logical. How many photographers need dark room skills to develop film and make prints? Furthermore, it is certainly more economical and efficient to assign one journalist to cover and event in words, pictures and video.


CEO Gebhart asks, “How many photographers need dark room skills to develop film and make prints?”

Change in a newsroom can be burdensome. Our journalists initially recoiled from this change because of the added responsibility. However, most appear to be embracing this and are taking excellent photos.

In many cases, the pairing of words and photos has improved in that the reporters are more aware of the subject matter of the story, as opposed to the photographer choosing images based on the scant information found on a photo assignment sheet.

You might remember that after the Sun-Times let go of its photographers, the newspaper began rolling out iPhone photography training for reporters. No word on whether Southern Community Newspapers plans to follow that same path into iPhoneojournalism.

(via Jim Romenesko via The Click)

Image credit: newspaper darkroom circa 1985 by Robert Couse-Baker

  • Manny

    Our journalists recoiled until they found out they would be fired too if they refused.

  • Phil

    Why not fire the journalists and teach the photographers how to write a story?

  • Mark Houston

    Because, the belief is that anyone can be a photographer / videographer, but writers are special….

  • Wolfgang_Zimmerman

    However high the feelings rage, it was obvious that what happened at the Chicago Sun-Times was only going to be the start, just as it is obvious that what happened in Georgia is not going to be the end of it. The time for staff photographers everywhere to prepare themselves for all eventualities is NOW. We are talking survival.

    It happened to me three years ago, luckily I had seen the writing on the wall. It did not make me feel the shock any less though.

  • Robert Mark

    Classic death spiral. They think they can cut their way to profitability.

  • gochugogi

    I’m sure most photographers can write at least as well as the writers photograph! Besides, most people tend to only look at the headline and images and gloss over the article. The internet age is all about the visuals and that’s why newspaper circulation is rapidly declining.

  • pgb0517

    That’s one of many reasons newspaper circulation is declining — I’d say not even the most important one. Yes, there are millions of Internet-age, picture-happy illiterates out there who think they know the whole story from looking at a poorly shot cell-phone image; God help us.

    “The era of specialization is over.” The need for specialization remains. But, it doesn’t matter anymore. Only that which is cheap survives.

  • Ralph Hightower

    They’re still using film? I thought that newspapers, with other news media, would be the first to ditch film for digital in this 24/7 world of news reporting.

  • stormkite

    Won’t matter. The general public doesn’t WANT to be informed anyway.

  • stormkite

    “Journalists need to write, shoot video, post on the Internet and edit.”

    Now they have 4 (or more) distinct jobs, to be performed in the same time for the same pay… And in the nature of things they do each of them far LESS than 1/4th as well.

    I’ve lost track of the number of people who’ve asked “why can’t your writers get the story right any more? Why does every sentence have spelling and grammar problems? Why are the photographs blurred? Don’t you people have editors any more? Doesn’t ANYBODY at The Paper know what they’re doing any more? Why should I subscribe?”

    And the only answer I can give them is that there are no copy editors, no photographers, no real STORY editors (sure there are people who run the layout software but they don’t have TIME to read the stories, much less check them), and that the only people who know what they’re doing are the ones making sure their personal bonuses go up.

    And no, to be painfully honest, there is no reason you should subscribe any more. The only people even TRYING to add value to what you read are the reporters in the field, and they’re not going to see any of the money anyway. Why pay the other people?

  • gochugogi

    Not at all true. What has changed is people want to be informed about their specific interests. I read NPR Music, Petapixel, MacWorld, photo/music forums, assorted blogs and industry news almost daily. I never read my local newspaper and I don’t know anybody that does…

  • Carlee Keppler-Carson

    and secretaries are doing layouts in the graphic departments because they have a computer … but what is one to expect when most news papers simply reprint from other sources?

  • marks

    no he’s just getting all high and mighty about how you don’t need someone with obsolete legacy skills (remembering how to use film and a dark room 10 years after you went all digital) … like journalists with their legacy skill of writing things down with a tube of ink on to sheets of dried out masticated tree pulp….. or managers… with their obsolete skills of… managing…

  • Renato Murakami

    Heh, like I said before, this isn’t the end of photojournalism. This is the end of print. A good part of it. After a period of transition, photographers will get hired by some other medium.
    If you think about it, we live in an era where image has a very high value… significant enough to require professionals dedicated to it. Not journalists with iPhones, or other crap replacement. And I’m not even saying that it’s impossible that journalists become competent enough to become photographers… it’s just something that you need someone dedicated to. You either have quality in all areas with dedicated professionals, or crap overall with people working on multiple specialized stuff.
    But print is dying. So they’ll start by cutting off specialized parts, reducing staff, ’till they have nothing more to loose and nothing more to offer.
    You’ll eventually get to the point where a newspaper is produced by the smallest staff possible – staff that will be overworked, stressed, trying to juggle between several tasks as best as they can, and having quality in none.
    Because in print and news, there is one thing that can never be changed, and that is time. No matter how CEOs try to distort the deal to you, the fact is that those journalists who are recoiled and I completely doubt are accepting of the change is that they’ll have the exact same time to produce stories for the next release. So the time photojournalists dedicated to take their pics will have to go somewhere. Simple math.
    It’s already very hard to pick stuff on print that you didn’t already read elsewhere.
    I’m pretty shure no one will go back to it if what people can expect from them are images made by amateurs with smartphone cameras, and articles written by journalists that are now even more overburdened then they were before.
    We’ll soon have tons of newspaper closing doors… they’ll first switch entirely to digital, and then, after a while depending on how big it once was, shut down completely.
    The few that will remain will be those who invest in the complete opposite of this trend, offering images you can’t find anywhere else with pro photographers behind them, giving room for writers to focus on their writting alone.

  • Steve Fogarty

    Lots Of New Wedding Photographers In Georgia. Yay.

  • Ken Elliott

    photojournalism = photo + journalism

    Folks – learn to write. Take a writing course. The people they will keep will be the multi-talented. If you’re a one-trick-pony, then you become useless once the car arrives.

  • johneve

    Wouldnt worry too much. Just another crappy bunch of local newspapers on the way to extinction. I feel sorry for the photographers though. But believe me reporters and rest of staff will soon follow. And to the photographers, see it as a possibility to advance your carreer. Working in an environement where management couldn’t care less about their product kills your creativity and makes your life miserable.

  • johneve

    Just one more thing a lot of people are saying print is dying. Not entirely true. bad print is dying and that is a good thing.

    Lets face it the reason most of these so called “newspapers” exist is only because of local advertising. They have zero content. Who cares who won the local dog show, its just a bunch meaningless articles to justify bombarding you with ads. That worked fine pre crisis not so much now. Advertisers back down, revenues for the so called papers decline so people get fired. The rag needs filling (remember words make it look legit) so fire the photographers and let the ones writing the meaningless articles supplement these with meaningless pictures.

    What management of these “papers” dont understand is that their milking cow is letting them down, not because of the people working the farm, but because the milk is bad.

  • Vic.toria

    (“Company CEO Michael Gebhart writes … that the newspaper world is moving “into an age in which journalists need to be multi-faceted in their approach.””)

    I have a feeling that this “era of the generalist” will not last long, at least I hope it doesn’t. It is ridiculous to expect one person to be skilled in all of these areas. I’m not saying that media people should not have basic exposure across tech platforms and media, but it would be a RARE person who could master all areas. Even if someone could master all areas, please tell me how they can perform all tasks simultaneously.

  • superduckz

    I am not asking this question out of snark. I’m being serious. I’m still a “newspaper reader”. When I travel I always grab a copy of the local wrap. It’s been my observation that the quality of writing in general is becoming of rather poor quality at about the same time that we are becoming a much more “visual” society.

    My question is why not lay off some of the writers and let the photographers have a crack at doing the printed journalism to go along with their images. give them more column inches for photography and essentially let them “write” the story with captions. It’d be better and more interesting than the cloned journo school graduate take on every “dog bites man” story I see. Keep the good writers for Op-ed’s and the rare “investigative” piece and let the camera people “talk” about the community stuff.

  • superduckz

    Sorry I didn’t see this question. I just asked the same thing in a more wordy question above.

  • A.J. Heiner

    I went from being a full tine newspaper photographer upon graduating college in 93, to having to work as a writer/reporter/editor and photographer for 40% less than what I made after graduating twenty years ago. To this day it sickens me to see the number of typos in a Washington Post or USA Today article. The quality of photography today pales in content today than it did years ago.

    There is too much work, too little time anymore. Prior to the internet you had a set print deadline today, the deadline is the moment the story lands on the desk, and that’s if you’re not in the field. This week alone, I had a publisher calling me in the middle of an interview asking why the story wasn’t posted online yet with accompanying video and images.

    In retrospect, I would have preferred lay off over to what daily work has become in the industry. I feel for the four who were just laid off, however, they should be grateful to bail out of the industry. It is only getting worse.

  • A.J. Heiner

    Amen brother. I have to answer this question every day.