Georgia newspaper chain closes its photo department, tells reporters to take pictures

The Sun-Times isn’t the only news organization that recently got rid of its photo department.

cameraTwo weeks after the Chicago tabloid laid off its 28-person photo staff, the Southern Community Newspapers Inc. (SCNI) chain in Georgia — five dailies and two weeklies — closed its photo department. Three photographers were dismissed and a fourth staffer was named company videographer.

SCNI chief executive Michael Gebhart says in an email that “for the last few years I have preached to our newsrooms that the era of specialization was over and we were moving into an age in which journalists need to be multi-faceted in their approach.”

He adds:

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 an event in words, pictures and video.

Michael Gebhart

Michael Gebhart

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.

“That hurts,” one of the laid-off photographers said when I read him the last sentence of Gebhart’s statement. “We were always chatting with the reporter about a story before shooting it. I always knew as much about the story as the reporter. I take a little umbrage to that official statement.”

The photographer, who is interviewing for another job and doesn’t want to be named, says the photos in the chain’s newspapers “look a little rough” now that they’re shot by reporters, “but through no fault of the reporters.” He adds: “They’re not visual journalists, and it’s noticeable. When I approach the news box, I definitely notice the difference” in photo quality.

* Here’s a PDF of one of the chain’s front pages from Thursday (newseum.org)

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