One Year Later, Poynter Tracked Down the Photojournalists Laid Off by the Sun-Times


It was exactly one year ago today that the Chicago Sun-Times earned the photography community’s outrage and ridicule after laying off all 28 full-time photojournalists on the newspaper’s payroll.

Now that a year has passed and most have moved on from that sad chapter in their lives, Sam Kirkland over at Poynter decided to track down the former Sun-Times staffers and write up the photography equivalent of VH1’s old show Where Are They Now?.

Kirkland got in touch with and interviewed almost all 28 of the former Sun-Times staffers, and found that, of those 28, only 4 were still in the newspaper business — the same 4 who were rehired in March thanks to an agreement with the Chicago Newspaper Guild.

As for the rest, four were forced into early retirement, four were hired by Yahoo!, three found photo-related jobs at nearby universities and colleges, ‘at least three’ changed industries entirely and one went back to school after his lack of a Bachelor’s degree cost him a potential staff photographer job. The rest have turned to freelancing full-time.

You can read the full article over on Poynter, where Kirkland has published a couple of interviews alongside the bare-bones updates from the entire staff. It’s an interesting read, and an uplifting one at that. Despite the hardships they faced, most seem to be doing as well, if not better, than they were at the Sun-Times.

One year after 28 Sun-Times photojournalists were laid off, where are they now? [Poynter]

Image credits: Photograph by H. Michael Miley

  • Jeremy Madore

    Glad to hear they are doing alright.

    In other news today:
    Life changes, those who adjust survive. Life goes on.

  • Adam Cross

    “one went back to school after his lack of a Bachelor’s degree cost him a potential staff photographer job” are Bachelor’s degrees honestly still relevant? what’s the use of a degree when real-world proven experience is more desirable than the ability to write an essay on photo history? :S

  • Bill M.

    Credibility. Depends on the organization. I wouldn’t hate it for an organization have high educational standards.

  • MattSuibhne

    And stick-to-itiveness. I think a bachelor’s degree proves perseverance and goal accomplishment. I think most employers feel there is less risk in committing to someone (by employing them) who has already proven that they themselves cam commit to finishing something like college. Lord knows the actual education often doesn’t matter (I have a Master’s in something not related to my profession.)

  • Carbon Based Hooligan

    The industry is very competitive, so if he’s applying for a staff job and has similar credentials to another applicant who has a degree, the employer will almost always give the nod to the graduate. Also, it’s not about being able to write essays, it’s about having the knowledge of the photographers who came before, and being aware of their styles, and being familiar with their body of work and affected by it…And it just looks good on a resume.

  • Chris Doyle

    A degree (in any discipline) also shows that you can organise your work. Understand instruction. Do your own research and Present information clearly to meet the required goals & deadlines. It must be nice swanning around with a digital camera shooting cool stuff but I would prefer the graduate anytime. I work as a sole trader but I went and got a degree just to satisfy myself.

  • Asgeirr Black

    Most of world has reduced to this. No matter if its US or EU. It doesnt matter who you are or what you know and can do. It matters only if you have right paper or not.

    I see it as certain inflation of true education..

  • Michael D

    It’s not the paper, it’s how it changes the way you think. I have an irrelevant degree and have NEVER, in the last 40+ years had a job where it was useful, but as one fellow-employee said to me years ago “you college guys always get what you want”. That’s right, we do. Not because of what we know, but because of the way we approach problems.

  • Bill Binns

    Yes but as the commenter above points out, even if your degree is not relevant, you have at least showed the ability to follow through and earn a degree. We can assume you can read, can use a computer, can write in at least a businesslike fashion. I did not earn a college degree but have ended up in a job where I often have to hire people. It is shocking how many adults lack the most basic skills listed above. How can someone born in 1993 not now how to attach a document to an email? Having a degree is by no means a guarantee that the person will have these skils, it just increases the odds.

    The other problem is that, these days you can receive hundreds of resumes for every job posting. You need some way to whittle them down. There simply is not enough time to bring everyone in and talk to them. Culling resumes based on education is one of the easiest ways to make the first pass through a foot-tall stack on your desk.

  • Courtney Navey

    And that you have a ton of debt. I have a BA and it’s entirely irrelevant to my job as Creative Director. Besides you can learn so much more now without having to pay ridiculous tuition rates at universities. Creative Live has a ton of resources and there are communities all over the internet where people share knowledge for…wait for it…FREE. I think losing a job due to lack of education concerning a BA, when you already have a BA, is a BS move from the employer.

  • Matt

    That is useful for young people, but the point of experience rendering the degree almost irrlivent is valid. If a person excelled in a competitve field they would be desireable with or without a degree.
    I tell my nieces the same thing all the time, the degree shows you have the ability to see things through. That you have some character and strength. And mental toughness.

  • RonT

    In my experience over the years the more competition for a job, the higher the bar is set for academic credentials, even when they aren’t specifically relevant at times.

  • RonT

    TBH, although it varies somewhat around the world due to education systems, a Bachelors mostly indicates that you can stick around campus for 3-4 years without starving.

    Any independent thought or research isn’t really going to occur before postgrad in the eyes of most academic staff.

    That’s why lecturers typically don’t bother getting to know undergrads – they are just considered to be making up numbers and paying to keep the lights on at the university and why their attitude then changes towards postgrad students so markedly

  • RonT

    Ironically the quality of the education has deteriorated at roughly the same rate – most universities are now degree factories, churning out Bachelor-holding graduates who are still sadly lacking in critical-thinking skills, let alone basic literacy skills in some cases

  • Pete

    “one went back to school after his lack of a Bachelor’s degree cost him a potential staff photographer job”

    Are you f*cking serious America?!

    Worked at the Chicago Sun-Times; not good enough because no university degree.

  • kerry pittenger

    He’s a photographer,…..what the hell good is a bachelor’s degree vs his portfolio???? Did they want to know his GPA too? NO ONE has EVER asked me to see my degree in 33 years. They hire me based on my pictures.

  • dukeofurl

    I’ve always thought that my degree was only relevant for the sake of having a degree.

  • Middle Class Observer

    While I generally agree with the main thrust of your argument, your opinion of “the actual education” indicates to me that you failed to grasp the main purpose of a college education, including your own; which is to learn HOW to think, and to utilize effectively the proven skill set for critical thinking… not what to think, or what mere “facts” you should retain for ready recall some years later.

  • Middle Class Observer

    “I have a BA [comma] and it’s entirely irrelevant…” Yes, I can see how that was the case.

  • MattSuibhne

    Such broad assumptions. It must be such a burden knowing everything.

  • Middle Class Observer

    It’s virtually impossible to have a PROPER college education “unrelated” to ones work or profession. …Or to much of the rest of ones life. Proper education ALWAYS matters, irrespective of vicissitudes of fortune and the unpredictability of ones life path. Only a person who failed to take away some of the most valuable lessons of a quality education, a masters degree not withstanding, could make the statement you made.

    By contrast, for me, whatever factors may have been involved, I feel fortunate every day and in practically every circumstance for every minute of my education at an institution that rigorously demanded the best from me. I can’t even imagine what it must be like to entertain your dismissive and trivializing characterization of the pursuit of a sheepskin as principally a means to some economic end.

  • Middle Class Observer

    BTW, what a silly comeback. I experience no burden in that regard: What I do experience is joy in ideas, endless curiosity, awe and wonder at the deep complexities of the natural world; and amazement that at certain levels, relatively simple mathematics can somehow contain and express these relationships as comprehensible truths (even if they are true provisionally).

    I’m happy that many years on, my connection to the learning process is little different than it was in my undergraduate years. I’m sorry that you are able to view the gaining of a degree as some kind of terminus, as some test passed, as something to move on from. True, the extended childhood aspect of a formal education is something most need to leave behind… but I have always considered that my pursuit of higher education has never ceased, and I certainly hope to able to feel that way ’til my dying breath.

  • Middle Class Observer

    That doesn’t reflect “what you know”?!

  • Middle Class Observer

    It was NOTHING like that where I went to school.

  • Middle Class Observer

    You needed someone else’s permission to succeed? There are no alternatives you can think of?!

  • Middle Class Observer

    True students can get a true higher education at most any well-garded college or university which values diversity of opinion and is not too sectarian or provincial.

  • Middle Class Observer


  • Middle Class Observer

    So, college = degree. And degree = $$. So sorry.

  • Middle Class Observer

    Someone with a clue.

  • Middle Class Observer

    P.S.: John Houseman, ‘The Paper Chase’.

  • MattSuibhne

    Dayum, you win. Remind me never to argue with you on the internet again.

    (turns slowly, removes framed Master’s degree from wall and smashes it.)

  • MattSuibhne

    I honestly don’t understand how you read so deeply into the few simple lines of text I posted. I’m not sure how you were able to surmise that I think pursuit of an education is solely a means to financial gain. For one, you have no idea what industry I’m employed in and therefore don’t have enough information to pass judgement the way you seem to be doing. The most fulfilling and enjoyable periods of my life were when I was in school. Grad school was probably the best time I’ve had as an adult. I just happen to be in a career field that doesn’t allow me to use the full potential of what I learned there. That doesn’t mean the experience didn’t set me up for success in any number of career fields. I am better both personally and professionally because of higher education. My original point is that just the simple act of applying oneself to the wholly voluntary pursuit of a degree speaks a lot about their character, and I know from experience that many employers will use it as the deciding factor over someone without a degree. Either informally, or officially as in many jobs where the absolute basic requirement is a bachelor’s degree.

    I still love you despite all of our disagreements.

  • RonT

    You were lucky. Hopefully that’s still the case at your school and they continue to resist the ‘commercialisation’ of education by not becoming simply a degree factory:-)