January 28, 2014 Last Updated 11:14 am

Newspapers and photographers: days together may be numbered

When the top execs can’t figure out how to make money, staff is the first place they cut

The news that Johnston Press would be be eliminating its photography department didn’t make as much of a wave as it might have because they are not the first to decide to do this. The Chicago Sun-Times announced it would do the same thing last year, then hired back four of the fired photographers as part of its new collective bargaining agreement.

Even Roy Greenslade, who wrote about the move by Johnston Press, said that the move made sense.

“Relying on freelancers – and, of course, citizens with smartphones – to provide pictures is far cheaper than having photographers on staff,” Greenslade wrote, though he acknowledged the issue of quality when using reader contributed photographs.

kubrick-photography-lgNewspaper executives fire newsroom and photography staffers for only one reason: the personnel are seen as an expense too high to handle when revenue falls. Ironically, this is what was bound to happen when those without ad experience are promoted to the top job. Editors, circulation heads, production managers do not manage budgets built on revenue (circulation directors do to a small degree), they are evaluated mostly on their ability to get the job done and stay in budget. Even editors who win major awards only buy themselves some time if they are lousy at managing costs.

The irony of this situation is that ad managers are less likely to face the consequences for missing budgets. Everyone’s ad revenue is falling so axing the ad manager makes no sense, the common wisdom is.

My own background is a bit different, having come up through both the editorial and advertising sides. For me, the newsroom is the engine that drives profits. If you can’t see how to make money through your news and photography staffs, you shouldn’t be in the newspaper or magazine business.

Photographers, looked this way, don’t simply provide graphics that accompany news stories, they generate (if used properly) their own content that can be monetized in many ways. Photographers can generate the content for eBooks, digital magazines, websites; they can be authors, contributors, illustrators.

Far too many publishers look out at their newsrooms and see dollar signs over the heads of their staff – red dollar signs, meaning expenses. Those publishers need to be driven out of the business, plain and simple. We need publishers who can look out of their offices and see big, black dollar signs over the heads of their staffers. They might even start to treat them better because of it.

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