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Decision to Cut Photo Department Keeps Chicago Sun-Times in Spotlight

By T.C. Cameron

Last week’s decision by the Chicago Sun-Times to eliminate the paper’s photo department continues to make headlines.

The Sun-Times announced it would now rely on freelance photographers and reporters carrying iPhones to provide local photo coverage. The layoffs are part of cutbacks designed to make Sun-Times Media Group, the paper’s parent company, profitable again.

Several editors were laid off from the Sun-Times in March after it was revealed the company was struggling to make payments on a distribution deal with the Chicago Tribune worth more than $70 million. The Sun-Times called the layoffs part of a larger shift to more online video.

The paper defended the decision to eliminate the photo department, saying the business is changing rapidly and audiences who are tech-savvy seek more video content with their news.

Depending on what you read and where, it’s either a tragedy or a punch line.

Political humorist Stephen Colbert on Wednesday dedicated a three-minute segment to the controversy during his “Colbert Report” on Comedy Central.

Colbert poked fun at the paper’s decision to train reporters on the elementary elements of taking photos with iPhones. The training has been reported to be a mandatory requirement for all Sun-Times reporters.

“But the paper will continue to have great photojournalism, because reporters are now required to learn iPhone photography basics,” Colbert said. “But only the basics, like pressing the button. If the Sun-Times is still around in a week, the reporters can move on to the advanced stuff, like using a flash, and asking flood victims to say cheese.”

On Tuesday, MDDC was solicited via the association’s Facebook page to post to petition on behalf of the Chicago Newspaper Guild. The petition states the decision to terminate the entire photo department at the paper is “a violation of the bargaining process with their union” and asks Timothy Knight, CEO of the company that owns the Sun-Times) to “step back from the announced layoffs and bargain in good faith with your employees.”

MDDC declined to post the petition.

The guild did not respond to a request for an interview for this story. It did announce a rally for the fired photojournalists and a picket of the newspaper scheduled for Thursday morning. The guild, which represents eight of the 28 photographers, has filed a complaint to the National Labor Relations Board. There are also published reports the guild plans to sue the paper.

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