Is photojournalism dying? That question arose late in May when the Chicago Sun-Times gathered its staff of 28 photographers to inform them that they were all being fired. The newspaper decided that, rather than pay a staff of professional photographers, it would issue iPhones to all of its reporters and give them training on “iPhone Photography Basics.”
In the days following the announcement, most of my photographer friends decried the decision as (at best) shortsighted or “penny wise and pound foolish.” While it’s true that an iPhone cannot compete with a professional-quality camera in providing high quality images, I believe that the technical arguments miss the point. The critical component of any photographic system is the one that resides behind the viewfinder. Years of experience and training make it possible for a professional photojournalist to make images that touch the soul as well as the mind. A good photographer will allow you to see what happened – a great photographer will help you feel what happened. It is the years of practice that make “effortless” image-taking possible. Imagine the iconic photos throughout history that would not have been made but for a seasoned photographer framing, focusing and exposing an image at just the right moment. Did the Chicago Sun-Times make an appropriate business decision? Only time will tell.