In a depressing move, Sports Illustrated laid off its last six staff photographers, reducing the photography department to the director of photography. According to an NPPA post, the move was a consequence of internal restructuring and economic constraints. So, like their forebears at the Chicago Sun-Times, they axed the last six people who knew their way around a camera.
A year after the Chicago Sun-Times fired its photography staff, 28 people in total, the paper rehired four of those photographers as “multimedia journalists”. The other 24, according to an article on Poynter, have been doing okay, at least as of May 30, 2014.
Back when the Sun-Times made its move, shockwaves were felt throughout the industry, and the message was uncomfortably clear, that photographers are largely expendable. The impact of that move clearly manifested during the Stanley Cup finals in 2013. The Sun-Times cover was awash in big print, red ink and a tiny photograph, whereas the Chicago Tribune had a proper photograph.
We trust that Sports Illustrated isn’t as doltish as the Sun-Times was, but we don’t know what their approach will be now, whether they’ll rely on wire services or freelancers. We reached out to Sports Illustrated, but we have yet to hear back. In the NPPA article, SI’s director of photography Brad Smith said, “Our commitment to photography hasn’t changed.”
The truth is it has. If their commitment didn’t change, those photographers wouldn’t have been fired, and others won’t have more reason to feel ill-at-ease about their job prospects and job security going forward. This post and others taking a look at this move wouldn’t exist.
Sadly, job security isn’t something photographers can necessarily look forward to, and when a magazine as big as Sports Illustrated axes its photographers, the rest of us are left scratching our heads. Photographers have to work a lot harder than many to keep money coming in. We can only hope that the six photographers who were dealt a terrible hand yesterday will find success in the coming months and years.