You Don’t Save 'New York's Picture Newspaper' by Firing Photojournalists

You Don’t Save 'New York's Picture Newspaper' by Firing Photojournalists

The New York Daily News, once called “New York’s Picture Newspaper,” has nobody left on staff to take pictures after its parent company, Chicago-based Tronc, cut the editorial staff in half on Monday.

The cuts included all 10 staff photographers, leaving a few freelancers and reporters with iPhones to pick up the slack. The biggest problem with this move that echoes moves in the past by the Chicago Sun-Times and the Orlando Sentinel is that it leaves photojournalism in a weaker place than it was before. I talked with Todd Maisel, one of the laid-off Daily News photojournalists who covered 9/11 at great peril to himself, and he commented on why this situation keeps happening at newspapers around the country:

There has been a general acceptance, even in the public, of mediocrity, of photos that are less-than-good. That’s because most of the public is taking pictures with their cell phone too, and so they’re used to it, and when they see a great photo, they say, ‘wow’, but you see, the public is also people running Tronc and running other newspapers, and Chicago Sun-Times — all of them. They don’t see photos the same way, they don’t have the same training as maybe you and I in the arts. A lot of the people who were running the Daily News had great experience in journalism, but not so much in the arts, in understanding photography.

News photographers gain some height by standing on a dumpster on Saturday, Dec. 13, 2014 at the Millions March NYC. With the layoffs of so many photojournalists, there will be less eyes on key moments in New York City. Photo by Chelsea Katz.

News photographers gain some height by standing on a dumpster on December 13, 2014 at the Millions March NYC. With the layoffs of so many photojournalists, there will be less eyes on key moments in New York City. Photo by Chelsea Katz.

Why Do Photojournalists Bear the Brunt of Layoffs?

In each of these layoffs, I’ve always questioned the wisdom of laying off photographers and having reporters pick up the slack, rather than the other way around. Why not teach photographers a thing or two about writing and go the other way? Maisel thinks it boils down to a dollars-and-cents issue.

“We’re more expensive. This is a numbers game, because you can send a guy out... with a cell phone, and so you’re only paying for a cell phone, and he can send his pictures almost immediately,” Maisel said. “Whereas, we had photographers like myself, some [Nikon] D4s which constantly needed repair at this point because they’re old, and everybody needed new cameras, and everybody needed computers, so at the very least, if we had kept all 10 of us, it probably would have been a large capital expenditure. It’s a little different holding on to a reporter with a cell phone who doesn’t have those kind of expenses.”

Maisel talked about a pitch he made to editors earlier this year about new equipment for photographers, pointing out that his newest camera is almost seven years old. He does without the niceties of having Wi-Fi in the camera by creating a mobile editing station in his car, but certainly, he says, a phone can get the photos out faster.

Even with reporters costing less than photographers, that group wasn’t spared. Many reporters, especially in the sports department, were axed. The social media team was also shown the door, but clearly, someone forgot to change the passwords on The Daily News’ Twitter account, as several unsanctioned memes were let loose on the feed as staffers exited.

Where can photojournalism go from here? Maisel thinks that education is where it should start, that photographers need to learn the business end of things and be better entrepreneurs.

“It’s very, very important that education respond to what happened here,” Maisel said. He said that it’s important because full-time jobs in the industry will be fewer in the coming years. “The staff jobs are going to become more and more rare. It just is. It’s sad, but it’s true.”

Ultimately, while Tronc may have been the one to deliver the bad news, Maisel attributes the layoffs to something that has been building for a long time in the transition to digital.

“Do I blame Tronc for what has happened? No. Because this was happening long before that,” Maisel said.

All images used with permission.

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28 Comments

Jen Photographs's picture

The bells are tolling for the photojournalists around the world. This will happen again.

Jen Photographs's picture

OK, I've had time to think about this and do a little research.

Elsewhere, I posted a link -- the circulation subscriptions are higher than it's ever been in the past ~10 years; this was helped by improving mobile platforms. So, no, I don't believe this firing is due to dwindling subscription numbers, as some people claim.

For what it's worth, circs make up a very small % of a publication's intake.

Advertisers are working with newspapers as well, and this too hasn't dropped. In fact, it's a booming source of money for newspapers, which has been the case since the dawn of newspapers and magazines. Ads are what really pays for publications, not circulation subscriptions.

Speculation ahead: I won't pretend to understand what's behind Tronc's decisions to cripple their newspapers, but I suspect it's more politically driven than anything else. Tronc is a publicly owned company, and it has had a very rocky 6 months. I wouldn't be surprised if stockholders were demanding some sort of executive changes to steady the boat, as it were. Unfortunately the Tronc CEOs chose to target what appeared to be an expendable option on paper.

user-186898's picture

That article mentions just 4 newspapers. The statement you're making " circulation subscriptions are higher than it's ever been in the past ~10 years; this was helped by improving mobile platforms" only applies to the 4 papers mentioned in the article.

Michael Jin's picture

I think this keeps on happening at newspapers because nobody really reads newspapers anymore. Seriously... who still buys newspapers?

David Pavlich's picture

This is the crux of the whole matter. My wife and I are among the last generation that actually likes to read print, both in newspapers and books (66 years old). This particular story hits home with us because we are photographers. But...

...this is the fate of newspapers in general. Subscriptions are shrinking due to the older among us becoming a smaller portion of the population, newspapers have the same basic stories online working against their print divisions, and the fact that the younger generation just don't buy newspapers.

Jen Photographs's picture

Actually, subscriptions to the major newspapers are higher than ever! Particularly now that they've made it easier to use on mobiles. Source: pew research and npr. I lost the link to pew's article, but here's the npr one https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/12/27/507140760/big-newspap...

David Pavlich's picture

I was talking about the print versions, not the "E" versions. Print newspapers are slowly dying across the country.

user-186898's picture

That article mentions just 4 newspapers. That's nothing to get that excited about. Newspapers, in general, are not making a comeback. Like so many other things, there will be a few left standing. Industries change and we are seeing this one change right now and unfortunately, it's not good news for photojournalists.

Wasim Ahmad's picture

I think the key to remember is that this isn't just about the ink-on-dead-trees here - laying off the photographers means less coverage on their website as well, and it also means less eyes on what's going on in New York (or wherever there are layoffs) in general.

It's in the CJR link within the story up there, but here's an example of where local photographers showed the need for strong local journalism presences at news organizations - take a look:

http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/ny-oped-why-we-need-local-journalism-...

Michael Jin's picture

Show of hands. Who pays for a subscription to a newspaper website?

Yeah... You can't pay people when you don't have money. Want news these days? Just hit Twitter or Reddit... News as a business is on its way out for better or worse. :/

Wasim Ahmad's picture

I pay for three different newspaper website subscriptions! It's important to get news from a place that's vetted. Twitter and Reddit tend to go off the rails pretty easily.

Michael Jin's picture

You would be in the minority if you're paying for newspaper website subscriptions. And yes, Twitter and Reddit do get off the rails pretty easily, but frankly, so do many news sources with their endless supply of Op-Ed pieces or talking heads round table discussions that provide tons of entertainment and no real value.

Simon Patterson's picture

I take the opposite approach to following "vetted" sources. Everyone has a barrow to push of course, but I prefer to avoid the work of journalists, whose primary job must always be to tell a story to sell. The work of journalists is therefore often a step further removed from the source than what is available elsewhere online.

So I tend to avoid newspapers and other media outlets as I seek to discover what's happening in the world.

Michael McCray's picture

Vetted by who? One of the directories of media in the 70's use to included papers political orientation a lot more honest than today.

David Pavlich's picture

I don't subscribe to any online newspapers. We do, however, get two printed papers delivered to our home. But we're a dying breed, no doubt.

Jon Kellett's picture

Good point, but as always, there's going to be a smarty pants that tries to wriggle out. Today, I'm that smarty pants. My country only has two mainstream newspapers, neither has paywalls. We used to have a good business paper, however that went downhill years ago and I've not checked in on it since. The only other news site that I read is a UK-based tech site and their editors are openly hostile towards the concept of a paywall.

Now, if we had more news sites in my country I may consider buying a subscription if it weren't for the fact that free-to-air TV and non-commercial blogs cover the same stories.

As for dead-tree - I've not done anything in that format for longer than I can remember. I've a Kindle (plus free converter SW) and a tablet - I do read a lot, but only on the Kindle.

That said, yeah - I agree that many more say that they're prepared to support companies than actually do.

Their shrinking subscription base is responsible - as apparently their content is not what those who formerly purchased it want to read

This would never happen if people didn’t shoot for stock. But it’s too late now. Unless everyone boycotted stock by taking down their accounts, which is not going to happen...

user-186898's picture

It's a dead industry. I'm a former freelance photojournalist. At the beginning of the year, I moved on. Every year the checks have gotten smaller. I'm in my 50's and have other options, but I feel bad for some of the 20-somethings who are just graduating from journalism school, with tens of thousands in debt and within a decade will have very few options for employment.

From the article: "Where can photojournalism go from here? Maisel thinks that education is where it should start, that photographers need to learn the business end of things and be better entrepreneurs."

My advice is if you want to stay in journalism then learn to write. Learn to be a journalist WITHOUT the camera. Everyone is a photographer now. We all have a camera and it's no longer a commodity. We are living in the age of cheap to free photos and it's all 'good enough'.

In addition to photos being "good enough" from phones, it seems like a lot of the young think all the news they need is in a five word headline. I'm a 64 yo white guy who 20 years ago had two paper routes in addition to my full time job to help pay for my kids in school. The USA Today has always been thin and only weekday. Major papers were thick, especially on Sunday. Now they are all thin and the Sunday papers are what the weekday papers were. The digital transformation is taking it's toll on every industry. I think AI is going to be huge. It wouldn't surprise me that the phone will be all we need. It will take the photos and AI will fix the lighting and noise. Then speak a few words in the phone and AI will write the article. Then send it off and hope you're first with the "news".

Simon Patterson's picture

We didn't save the horse drawn cabs by firing the coachmen either, but somehow society has survived with taxis and Uber since then.

Still, it's tough on the journalists right now, just as it would have been tough on the coachmen last century.

Simply put, the Internet has dramatically changed the media landscape. Most people under 30 have never bought a traditional newspaper. And right now the so called social media - in the hands of some mega companies - is accelerating the mass destruction of NEWS and most other legacy media....

Simon Patterson's picture

That is true. The internet has also highlighted, for those who care to look, just how little the "news" has always resembled the actual events happening in our world.

Now we don't need to rely on a journalist's interpretation of someone's words - we can see the speech in full. We don't need to see the journalist's selective spin of events - we can see multiple eyewitness videos online almost immediately as they happen. We don't need to rely on the journalist's selective quotes from eyewitnesses - we see multiple eyewitness reports in full for ourselves.

Journalists have suddenly become superseded by the fact that information previously made available only to them has suddenly been made available to the wider public. The mega companies you noted are scambling to replace the story-telling function that journalists once provided.

Social Media and mega internet companies are mostly preoccupied with selling your private data to the highest bidder

Simon Patterson's picture

Yes they certainly do that too.

Christian Lainesse's picture

They should also replace journalists by some guy/gal at minimum wage and a spellcheck software.

John Beckmann's picture

The first two sentences of Todd Maisel are really expressing the issue I have been saying to my boss at my regional broadcast staion for years: people are accepting bad images or don't care. Example: Vertical Photos & Vertical Videos. The quality is decreasing.

People need to understand that photographers are always needed, they have an eye for storytelling. Tell a story with one photo. Unfortunatly storytelling-photos get replaced with iPhone photos. I see that quite often that other freelance-photographers pack their cameras away as soon as they see one of the reporters pull out their iPhones. They cannot sell their pictures anymore, because the reporter did their job with a blurry and dusty iPhone picture.

My solution for the moment: I do video. I make interviews with spokesman, edit it with the logos and jingles of our broadcast station and upload it as quickly as I can - recently more and more over 4G network.
Will I do that for the next 20-40years? Certainly not.

marcus joyce's picture

I think it will be automated. Upload the video and the server will auto do the logo and jingle. Preroll and post roll. Save 10 minutes....