Friday, May 31, 2013

Yet another nail in the coffin

The latest insult in the world of Journalism is the announcement that the photo staff of the Chicago Sun-Times has recently joined the ranks of the unemployed; that, btw, would be the entire staff. The phrase that comes most quickly to mind is “cleaning house”!

The bean counters and toads in the big corner offices, pulling the strings and making the big bucks, have decided that wire service photogs, freelancers and reporters with smart phones will be able to provide all the images necessary for the publication. After all, they suggest in a corporate statement, the Sun-Times is embracing the 21st Century and developing its video capabilities.

I could offer up the obvious belief that newspapers, at their best, are a euphonic blend of words and images; the first telling of history and a way to capture each day’s events in a fashion that is informative, entertaining and, occasionally, insightful and compelling.
To be sure, there still will be some decent photos, mostly from decent freelancers and the wire services. But I’m guessing the Sun-Times will also be publishing lots of snapshots, the stuff of community pages and social media sites – grainy, unfocused, poorly lit and framed.
Worse, the paper will join the hundreds of other mediocre sites filling the web, offering up lame video clips taken by harried and overworked reporters attempting simply to go with the flow in a digital world with an insatiable appetite.
I was lucky enough to be a reporter and editor during the “golden era” of journalism, when the job was actually a noble career. I was also lucky to be surrounded by professionals, men and women who took pride in their work and the notion that they and their colleagues were “afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted”. In short, we were going about the business of putting out a newspaper.
There’s a bit of that sort of work that remains. And I salute the journalists – and their corporate bosses – who remain true to this higher calling.
But, let’s be clear, the world is changing and newspapers are being pulled along into the abyss. Truth to tell, I imagine some schnook 40 or so years ago was sharing these same sentiments as computers started replacing typewriters; the same sort of feelings that several generations earlier were offered up by composing room typesetters losing their jobs to linotype operators.
The difference in then and now is that linotype machines made newspapers and newspapering better; the same can be said about computers and the impact such high-tech stuff had on the industry. Meanwhile, the downsizing of newspaper editorial staffs – reporters, editors, designers, artists and researchers – is a response to a world gone digital and has done nothing to enhance the Fourth Estate.
This week’s announcement out of Chicago, I fear, is simply one additional nail in the coffin of newspapering. I’m thinking soon the lid will be secure and it’ll be time to lower the box into the ground. And so it goes.

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