The New York Daily News, once called “New York’s Picture Newspaper,” has nobody left on staff to take pictures after its parent company, Chicago-based Tronc, cut the editorial staff in half on Monday.
The cuts included all 10 staff photographers, leaving a few freelancers and reporters with iPhones to pick up the slack. The biggest problem with this move that echoes moves in the past by the Chicago Sun-Times and the Orlando Sentinel is that it leaves photojournalism in a weaker place than it was before. I talked with Todd Maisel, one of the laid-off Daily News photojournalists who covered 9/11 at great peril to himself, and he commented on why this situation keeps happening at newspapers around the country:
There has been a general acceptance, even in the public, of mediocrity, of photos that are less-than-good. That’s because most of the public is taking pictures with their cell phone too, and so they’re used to it, and when they see a great photo, they say, ‘wow’, but you see, the public is also people running Tronc and running other newspapers, and Chicago Sun-Times — all of them. They don’t see photos the same way, they don’t have the same training as maybe you and I in the arts. A lot of the people who were running the Daily News had great experience in journalism, but not so much in the arts, in understanding photography.
Why Do Photojournalists Bear the Brunt of Layoffs?
In each of these layoffs, I’ve always questioned the wisdom of laying off photographers and having reporters pick up the slack, rather than the other way around. Why not teach photographers a thing or two about writing and go the other way? Maisel thinks it boils down to a dollars-and-cents issue.
“We’re more expensive. This is a numbers game, because you can send a guy out... with a cell phone, and so you’re only paying for a cell phone, and he can send his pictures almost immediately,” Maisel said. “Whereas, we had photographers like myself, some [Nikon] D4s which constantly needed repair at this point because they’re old, and everybody needed new cameras, and everybody needed computers, so at the very least, if we had kept all 10 of us, it probably would have been a large capital expenditure. It’s a little different holding on to a reporter with a cell phone who doesn’t have those kind of expenses.”
Maisel talked about a pitch he made to editors earlier this year about new equipment for photographers, pointing out that his newest camera is almost seven years old. He does without the niceties of having Wi-Fi in the camera by creating a mobile editing station in his car, but certainly, he says, a phone can get the photos out faster.
Even with reporters costing less than photographers, that group wasn’t spared. Many reporters, especially in the sports department, were axed. The social media team was also shown the door, but clearly, someone forgot to change the passwords on The Daily News’ Twitter account, as several unsanctioned memes were let loose on the feed as staffers exited.
Where can photojournalism go from here? Maisel thinks that education is where it should start, that photographers need to learn the business end of things and be better entrepreneurs.
“It’s very, very important that education respond to what happened here,” Maisel said. He said that it’s important because full-time jobs in the industry will be fewer in the coming years. “The staff jobs are going to become more and more rare. It just is. It’s sad, but it’s true.”
Ultimately, while Tronc may have been the one to deliver the bad news, Maisel attributes the layoffs to something that has been building for a long time in the transition to digital.
“Do I blame Tronc for what has happened? No. Because this was happening long before that,” Maisel said.
All images used with permission.