Chicago Sun-Times will train reporters on ‘iPhone photography basics’

Robert Feder | The Chicago Tribune | PetaPixel

After letting go of its entire photo staff Thursday, the Chicago Sun-Times plans to begin mandatory training on “iPhone photography basics.” Media writer Robert Feder referred to the training in a Facebook post, and quotes a memo from Editor Craig Newman: “In the coming days and weeks, we’ll be working with all editorial employees to train and outfit you as much as possible to produce the content we need.”

Friday’s Sun-Times front is quite photo-heavy.

Image courtesy the Newseum


The “idea that freelancers and reporters could replace a photo staff with iPhones is idiotic at worst, and hopelessly uninformed at best,” Chicago Tribune photographer Alex Garcia writes.

That’s because the best reporters use a different hemisphere of the brain to do their jobs than the best photographers. Visual and spatial thinking is very different than verbal and analytical thinking. Even if you don’t believe that bit of science, the reality is that visual reporting and written reporting will take you to different parts of a scene and hold you there longer. I have never been in a newsroom where you could do someone else’s job and also do yours well. Even when I shoot video and stills on an assignment, with the same camera, both tend to suffer. They require different ways of thinking.

Allen Murabayashi ponders how the Sun-Times’ Web design may have contributed to its decision.

In their current three column design, the largest image gets one column. A thumbnail from Getty Images is used in the second column, and then of course, the entire right column is reserved for ads, which are undoubtedly selling for a pittance relative to their ancestral print counterparts.

Part of this particular issue is just bad design, but the other reality of web design is that we have vertically constrained screens, and so we need to fit as much important material “above the fold” as possible or risk losing eyeballs.

“You can’t just slap ads on a Harlem Shake video and call it a day,” Murabayashi writes.

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  • Amber Collier

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  • Guest
  • G.O.B

    I expanded on that part of the post because it was bizarre and wrong. I was correcting him. Are we supposed to just ignore such inaccuracies just because they aren’t part of the “main point”?

    And who are you to determine that it was not an important part of his post? If it was not relevant, maybe he shouldn’t have written that bit. But he did. He must have thought Apple’s manufacturing was somehow relevant.

    If somebody makes an argument and then, say, starts writing an unrelated religious screed in their post, are we supposed to pretend that didn’t happen?

  • Robert Knilands

    Running large photos is fine — when they are good photos. I’m not sure how you didn’t pick up on that point. Wait, I know why. You are not good at understanding what people are saying.
    In this case, which has to be pointed out to you yet again, it’s a head shot of Madigan. Not really something that warrants being the main photo on a page, much less the cover.
    Regarding type on a photo — it’s something that has been overused to death. For one of the Obama inaugurations, there were even a few papers that added sky, simply for the purpose of running type in it. That’s weak.
    Your point about newspapers not intending to be works of art flops for a number of reasons. If that is the case, then why are there designers salivating over their SND manuals, aka the modern museum of journalistic decay?
    Finally, you should give yourself more credit. Your inability to comprehend any detail in any post is interesting and amusing.

  • Robert Knilands

    If you realize that, then why did you launch into some expansion on that part of his post?
    You seem to try very hard to miss the main points and then use some other technique to keep distracting from them. That’s why it seems as if your reading comprehension is not very good.

  • ChicagoJohn

    I don’t believe that Mr. White received a Pulitzer for that one (although I literally knew it was his the moment I saw it. I’m one of his students.)
    He won in 1982, and 1983, if I remember correctly.

  • G.O.B

    I understand what is being said just fine. I just think the way you argue is far more interesting than the points you are attempting to make, or any of the issues being discussed here. A study of psychology in internet comments, if you will

    Although, FWIW, I’m a photographer, and I don’t see the big deal about running text over the negative space of photos, which seems to horrify you for some reason. In fact, many artists deliberately add text to their own photos. I also don’t see the big deal about running large photos on the front page of newspapers. Also, they’re newspapers, they aren’t intended to be works of art.

    But again, all that is pretty uninteresting compared to your unique style of self-righteous aggression.

  • G.O.B

    So, why did he bring up Apple? That was the part of the post I was responding to. Was i just supposed to ignore that?

    It was a complete non-sequitur, which had nothing to do with anything. My reading comprehension is fine. Have you considered some arrogance reduction classes?

  • http://www.jphotog.com Hrunga Zmuda

    I’ve spend some time with John White years ago. Still, anyone who has done extensive field work knows that if you split your concentration between two different kinds of tasks, the overall result is diminished.

    Being a platypus is a great way to go – if you have the time to do the job right. And sure, sometimes you have to use the tools at hand. A cellphone video in a riot. Or in my case, my granddaughter being born. No need for my D800. I’ll shoot with my point-and-shoot that does better 1080p video than the D800 because it can actually focus!

    I’m spending three weeks in China soon in a whirlwind documentary project in four major cities. I’m going with a videographer. Why two of us for double the cost if we could save a buck by sending one person? Because the massive amount of information we’re going to gather would be impossible to get in the timeframe allotted if only one of us was doing both stills and video at the same time. (Heck, he can’t even do stills. And I’m far from a master in video.)

    I got out of the newspaper gig almost 15 years ago for a good reason. They don’t value quality and talent. They value the bottom line. The Sun-Times is only the latest sell-out.

  • http://www.jphotog.com Hrunga Zmuda

    Next let’s get rid of the artists and train some kindergarteners in the use of color with crayons. And while we’re at it, dump all the reporters and just copy/paste twitter hashtags on the subject!

    I remember having an interview with an editor of the Oregonian in the mid 90s. He told me that his vision of the future was sending out photographers, say to a demonstration, and then having the photographer walk into the crowd and hold up his or her camera and spin around and take a panorama of the event. Then an editor back at the paper would simply select an image out of the stream of data coming in from the photographer.

    My suggestion was to get trained monkeys. You can pay them in bananas.

  • Robert Knilands

    You’re the one twisting the original poster’s comment into being primarily about Apple manufacturing.
    Again, read and understand, then post. My “more with less” comment referred to newspapers, not Apple. Try to understand what you are responding to before you post. This is getting to be a bad habit with you. Can I recommend some reading comprehension supplements? You really seem to struggle in this area.

  • G.O.B

    Oh, that’s ironic. You berate me in another post for not discussing the issue, then you completely miss the issue here.

    Perhaps you could address my question? Which phone manufacturers are making their phones in the US, or even outside of Asia?

    I understood perfectly what he was saying. He was saying that Apple is so profitable because it makes its phones outside of the US. Yet, every other phone manufacturer makes its phones outside of the US, yet they aren’t as successful as Apple. It’s a logical fallacy.

    Additionally, most of those other phone companies don’t employ many people in the US to support their phone development. Yet Apple does. So your point is rather weak, because Apple isn’t doing “more with less” US employees, it’s doing more with more US employees than the bulk of the competition.

    The second-most profitable phone maker is Samsung. How much do you think that company is investing in US labor and manufacturing?

  • Robert Knilands

    Why wouldn’t it?

  • Robert Knilands

    They have ruined photographers’ work by overplaying and underplaying photos. You have an unusual definition of “making the discussion personal.” I am referring to a general design trend that has been widely accepted, despite its inconsistencies toward the use of photos. Taking a dull photo like Madigan’s head and running it large on the section front is not a great way to establish the importance of good photography. In fact, it diminishes it. Why would a photographer bust his/her butt to get a good photo when this is the result?

    You are wrong about my accusing people who work in visual media as being idiots (although that is an argument I could defend pretty easily. Example #1: “Our approach WORKS!!!!111!!!! Never mind those plummeting circulation numbers!”) In this case, my point was that newspapers act as if the people who will buy them are idiots, and it was a fairly clear one. Again, you seem to have a hard time reading the posts and interpreting them.

    “Yet somehow, you accuse me of defending these designs?” Well, no. In fact, the opposite is happening. You keep passing by the points — likely because you seem to have such a hard time reading and figuring out what is being said — and trying to wage a personal argument.
    Let’s try to get back to the point once again. The page consists of three head shots and a tiny image of a section front — not exactly an indication of what will be lost with the axing of the photo dept. Unless the S-T is vastly different from most papers, at some point there was a designer involved in the selection and/or use of the photos in question. The original poster (not me) called this “photo lite.” I agreed. You, however, keep trying to ignore that point and go in a different direction.
    You should try much harder to understand what is being said and to stick to that discussion. Maybe you could have someone else explain it to you.

  • G.O.B

    I didn’t make the discussion personal, you did. For example, where you replied to Robb Montgomery and accused him and “other designers” of ruining photographers’ work.

    I am discussing the issue of your strangely egotistical arguments against people who disagree with your views, which even go so far to accuse people who work in visual media as being idiots.

    I’m not interested in being a cheerleader for designers. In fact, I have not said anything, either positive or negative about the designs you mention. Yet somehow, you accuse me of defending these designs?

    My sole purpose in posting was to point out how hilarious and weirdly aggressive your arguments are. Nothing more, nothing less.

    It’s just a very strange thing to see somebody so worked up by a category as broad as “designers” that he’ll lash out at anybody who he suspects of being involved in such jobs.

  • Robert Knilands

    You might “what” to think before you post. I’d bet the part about some exec getting more pay for making people “do more with less” is exactly right.
    Try to understand what people are saying before you post responses. You seem to do a poor job of that.

  • Robert Knilands

    Valid, as opposed to your continued attempts to make the discussion a personal one, rather than discussing the issues. This happens often when these issues come up, which leads me to believe there is some validity here.

    Try to focus on the discussion at hand. The page has three head shots and a tiny image of a cover of another page. Not exactly prize-winning stuff. In a discussion about photos and how important they are, I think that is an important detail. However, that type of discussion has been lost in the world of the lazy page designer who will take anything and justify making it dominant. It’s happened for far too long. The type treatment is the same — “dead” space extended far enough to hold reverse type.

    Funny how you mention design being subjective. For years, I’ve seen discussions where people would claim, with zero specifics, how a page “worked” or “didn’t work.” Some of those discussions took place at this site. Both sides of that argument might be made here. The real point, though, is that on this given day, the photo selection is less than ground-breaking, and that’s a relevant detail for anyone who doesn’t want to be just a cheerleader for designers. If you want that, there is a guy at the ACES site who does that day in, day out. The best time for cheers takes place when the action movies come out. You should check it out.

  • G.O.B

    No, your hatred of designers appears to go beyond this specific example. That’s what I was addressing. Throughout these threads, you rant needlessly about designers in general, suggesting you have a deeper problem.

    By the way, I’m not annoyed, I’m amused. It’s especially funny the way you declare your own post “valid criticism” – validated by whom? Your own opinion? You are aware that design is subjective, right?

  • Robert Knilands

    You appear to have no actual response to the points. Either you think the Madigan head shot should be large, which shows you don’t have much photo knowledge, or you think bad photos should be overplayed for the sake of having a dominant image, or you are just annoyed that valid criticism was presented.

  • G.O.B

    You appear to have an irrational hatred for designers.

  • G.O.B

    As opposed to all those other companies who make phones in America?

    You might what to think before you post. Apple at least employs a lot of Americans in design and software, unlike most other phone manufacturers. Perhaps you could tell us which company doesn’t have their phones made in Asia?

  • http://www.alexandergieg.org/ Alexander Gieg

    This is utterly moronic. Is this newspaper in pre-bankruptcy stage?

  • http://www.andykuiper.com/ Andy Kuiper – SEO Analyst

    SAVE MONEY… and that’s about it

  • Ashevillian

    The Sun Times has made a really bad mistake, and they will pay for it by having crappier content. And they will lose audience. All of which could have been avoided.

  • grashoper

    I think we are missing the point. Basically, a large company has let go employees because of IPHONE, thus saving monies, and requiring current employee to do more work at the same wages. And I am sure that top exec will receive increase in salaries and bonus due to squeezing more work out of less employees. And Apple gets to make more profits by having it products made overseas where they pay less wages. That is why Apple is so profitable.

  • skippykawakami

    This can’t possibly apply to their sports department, can it?

  • skippykawakami

    Well, they’ll just bring along a cheap digital camera in those cases. But that hardly matters: trying to get good sports photos from anything other than the most specialized gear is a fool’s errand.

  • Robert Knilands

    That will bring them a step closer to the designers’ Utopia: Where all pages are done at least 2-3 weeks in advance, and everything is simply on file. Of course, the newspaper will no longer have much news in it, but as always, that is someone else’s problem to resolve. They have PFADs to create!

  • Robert Knilands

    Is anyone arguing either of those points? I’m not sure USA Today ever had “the most pictures,” and it certainly doesn’t now.
    Also, even the most text-resistant non-reader is going to have to use words to describe something from time to time. Which is better: Knowing how to do it, or insisting that no one recalls the words anyway? Newspapers have died while trying to cling to the second premise. Why would any sensible customers stick with a product that treats them like idiots?

  • http://www.swift2.blogspot.com Swift2

    Yeah, it’s true… but…
    Is the USA Today the BEST newspaper, or the one with the most pictures?

  • http://www.swift2.blogspot.com Swift2

    One photographer per 10 reporters, I’d say. Otherwise, amateur night. On the other hand, photography in newsprint, it must be said, is deeply underwhelming. Remember, they just got onto a crude and not so-well matching color-on-newsprint, what, just before craigslist took their business away? They should work very hard for a web and app future. But I don’t know if this is the right strategy. Every step along the digital transformation should look like an addition, not a subtraction. Maybe the reporters could snap the odd pic, at least the ones who have an aptitude and wouldn’t mind a raise; while the use of photography in the pro way could go to videos, either on the CNN “iReporter” model, to get those breathtaking tornado shots up on your website first. That’s probably worth some freelance money. But it’s hard for me, who when I worked in radio and TV always went out with a photographer and/or a sound recordist and a video cameraman, to say that I could have done all that with an iPhone. I… don’t think I could.

  • Leslie Rhodes

    this saddens me

  • Chris Thompson

    It will be interesting to see the quality of sports photos they produce with iPhones. Or will they just rely on wire shots? Or did this not occur to them?

  • http://www.robbmontgomery.com/ Robb Montgomery

    I have done video reports from protests in Rome with a Smartphone (It is all I had with me) and I have reported with Nikon F3′s and ‘fast glass’ from disaster scenes. The tools evolve. Storytelling matters, regardless of the form.

    John H. White was my student at a video journalism training held at the Sun-Times five years ago. He totally got it.

    The reasons for his dismissal have nothing to do with his skill set.

  • Robert Knilands

    This premise of “No one recalls words!!!1111!!!” is sort of a silly one. Sounds like quite a few non-readers have gathered here. Are the “desks” in Orlando and Norfolk giving people breaks to post these theories? They sound like they come straight from the pro-visual, anti-word, anti-thinking folks.

  • Robert Knilands

    “I bet they don’t sell bound copies of articles.”

    Seriously? You must have missed every compilation after every sports championship.

  • Robert Knilands

    How many of those photos did you and other designers mar by running type on them, or by making them into cutouts, or by not running them in the proper size because of the obsession with having a dominant image NO MATTER WHAT!!!1111!!!!

    Feel free to take a conservative guess. A quarter? A third?

  • Robert Knilands

    I am not sure that ever happened.

  • Robert Knilands

    The comparison card has little to do with my original point, which is that people with different skill sets have been pushed into other tasks for quite a while now. But we didn’t hear much complaining, even when entire desks were eliminated, because that was simply accepted, for whatever reason. Many, many times, when one task after another kept getting dumped onto “the desk,” I would hear the same reply when anyone dared to voice concern: “Well, it’s only color-correcting photos.” (Never mind that no one had been trained, and that some people didn’t even have the software on their machines.) “Well, it’s only another section with an early deadline, so it won’t get in the way of other things.” (Never mind that no one was staffed at the time of said deadline, or that the section editors didn’t think they needed to observe it.)

    So if we’re going to start trumping responses, I’ll take my multitasking affecting hundreds of people for 20 years over your video shooting for X years. Thanks for pointing out that is 3-dimensional, though.

  • Marvin Martian

    Newspapers, are the stupidest thing I’ve heard recently. I haven’t picked one up in a decade… and a hearty gfy to those that still do.

  • Alex Garcia

    Robert, have you ever done a video in a news situation? To think in terms of sound, video, motion and 3 dimensions is different than doing a 2 dimensional design on a screen.

  • ericbrady

    Thanks Robert. You’re right, many word editors are not equally talented in page design but required to do both. Didn’t some papers contract out these services to to India?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-Updike/100000544227910 John Updike

    In my days as a reporter, editor, copy reader, the beauty of a project was being able to work with the staff and the photo people to produce what we tried to deliver — the well-conceived story, illustrations, infographics. Damn, that was fun and it made coming to work a joy. Hell, we even worked an hour overtime for the fun of it if necessary. That was what MADE the newspaper industry from the inside-out.

    Creativity, communication, concept … all those other “C” words.

    Stringers just never got to experience that.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-Updike/100000544227910 John Updike

    They will used canned or AP art for most of their front page. No issue there. Clip art might be pretty useful.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-Updike/100000544227910 John Updike

    Hell, they did both in Merrillville. I don’t know how many people cared. Support wasn’t exactly all that great. It’s the reason I retired, 45 days before they laid off the entire copy desk.

  • tonybullard

    “Maybe they should have kept the photogs and let everyone else go”

    Excellent point about how still images of important events become seared into our collective consciousness. The Sun-Times got it backwards.

  • diamondmask

    Let’s see them get a topless picture of some starlet from 200 yards away with an iPhone. Our newspaper in Seattle will sell prints of shots taken by their photographers. Usually for a pretty steep price. I bet they don’t sell bound copies of articles. As someone posted here, (A Freelance Copyright Creator), photos are memorable. They take you instantly back to a scene or event. They stick in your head when articles do not.

    I love good writing just as I enjoy good photography. Photos stay with you while the words may fade. Photographs can display a huge set of feelings with a simple image. I’ve seen some great iPhone photos, but in many cases, reporters can’t get close to the action, where a photographer with the right equipment can make you feel like your’re feet away.

    This is a mistake of course and will further hasten the demise of newspapers.

  • Elizabeth Stone

    This is not either-or. No one ever makes us choose between a fork and a spoon.

  • CT14

    Buy it from a freelancer, who probably doesn’t care about the Bears or a Chicago p.o.v.

  • CT14

    Just the mention of “Kent State” and I immediately get a visual.

  • LaRisa

    What you say is so true. I wasn’t old enough to know about the Vietnam War, but I do remember the photo of the little girl running naked down the street after the napalm attack. And Mr. White’s Pulitzer came from a picture of people running from a gas pipeline explosion. Please correct me if I am wrong on that one.

  • http://www.robbmontgomery.com Robb Montgomery

    Witness the work and then you’ll see what has been sacrificed.

    A special gallery of Sun-Times news photos and a film interview with John H. White:

    http://j.mp/sun-times-photos

  • Robert Knilands

    If you seriously think “word” people are the problem here, you missed something along the way.

  • Robert Knilands

    I questioned that myself.

    This is, of course, a tabloid, but the Madigan photo is a primary example of the design-based approach run amok. The photo is far too large for the content (Madigan’s head) it delivers, but this is done for a couple of reasons. First, WE HAVE to have a dominant photo!!!111!!!!! [/designer] Doesn’t matter if it warrants the size; WE HAVE to have it! Second, they want to have a photo with dead space so they can run type in the dead space. That’s another tired designer technique that has been passed off as clever for far too long.

    A big part of the problem is photo departments allowed designers to marginalize their work. Good photos were underplayed. Bad photos were overplayed. No wonder upper management decided the work could be dumped onto others. After all, it’s just something to put into a box and then run type on.

  • Robert Knilands

    Sure. How about the pagination dump that led to copy desks taking on combined tasks in every shift?

    Not to downplay this move as insignificant, but maybe if some people had questioned why technology was leading to more work and not less, or why people with editing skills were forced to be “paginators or clerks” (as one infamous memo once said), or why people with no editing skills were suddenly running desks, there might have been a foundation to question this move.

    To me, it just seems like the next rung on the ladder going down.

  • ericbrady

    Care to elaborate Robert? In my 30 year newspaper photojournalism career I can not think of any job tasks that combined such different skill-sets as these. Sure reporters have been asked to take pictures before but never at this scale and quality of paper.

  • BellinghamPhotographer

    A picture is worth 1,000 words, but it has to be a picture taken correctly. iPhone photos in a newspaper is the stupidest thing I’ve heard recently.

  • ED GARCIA

    Its the new economics of the business, t.v. news organizations years ago started making Network news producers shoot with a small camera, edit on a laptop and write the story for the evening news. That alone has eliminated many jobs in the t.v. news business from sound-men, cameramen and editors. soon we wont need news editors they will come out with a computer program to do that job.

  • Bradley Handwerger

    So, what happens when phones aren’t allowed to cover events? Say, like when the New Orleans Saints have a policy that doesn’t allow reporters/photographers to have cell phones at a practice. They allow photographers and cameramen out there, mind you, just no cell phones. How would the Sun Times get art in this case?

  • A Freelance Copyright Creator

    Teaching “iPhone photography basics” has little to do with capturing important news images and is further evidence that the MBAs and “word” people who have had a stranglehold on news management have no concept of the value or an understanding of quality visuals.

    Here’s a quiz: What is your most memorable quote (writing) from the May, 1970 shootings at Kent State?

    What is your most memorable quote (writing) from the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing?

    What is your most memorable quote (writing) from hurricane Sandy?

    What is your most memorable quote (writing) from Moore, OK?
    Can’t remember any?

    Now change the question to most memorable image from the same above. Maybe they should have kept the photogs and let everyone else go.

    I can’t wait to see how exploitive the “freelance agreement” (is) will be. I’ve got a $1 that says the corp will own everything, treating the freelancer like an employee, but will offer virtually little in return. Welcome to the new world, same as the old world.

  • Lieutenant Norals IV

    To go from professionals who you know will produce the type of work your brand standards commands to freelance work is a risky, and gutsy move…. but will it pay off? Is it a smart move to put your brand essentially in the hands of people who have no real stake in your company besides a quick payday, to the sun times I say Good Luck!

  • JH

    This is so sad.

  • http://twitter.com/jptrostle JP Trostle

    “PLEASE — NO MORE CROTCH SHOTS!” — memo from Sun-Times publisher, July 2013

  • http://www.facebook.com/PortaPocketGal Kendra Kroll

    more casualties of a business trying to do more with less…and having everyone suffer as a result. bad decision. disgusted that more quality people will now be out of work trying to figure out how to make a living…

  • Eugene Mopsik

    Alex and Allen are spot on with their comments. This move by the Sun Times exhibits a blatant disregard for their customers and for the value that the imaging professional brings to the table. These photographers are responsible for creating the visual heritage of our society. I look forward to a wide spread discussion on the extraordinary value that the professional brings to the imaging and news gathering equation.

    Eugene Mopsik
    Executive Director, ASMP