Multitasking at the Chicago Sun-Times

1968_Shot_in_HeadI’ve made my living with words, but it’s hard for me to disagree that a picture is worth a thousand of them. For example, the picture at right, taken Feb. 1, 1968, arguably did as much to turn public opinion against U.S. involvement in Vietnam as all the words spoken by Walter Cronkite and printed in the New York Times. It also won a Pulitzer Prize for AP photojournalist Eddie Adams.

Last week, the Chicago Sun-Times unceremoniously dumped all its photojournalists. I couldn’t locate a story in the newspaper itself, but Sun-Times media released this statement last Thursday: “Today, The Chicago Sun-Times has had to make the very difficult decision to eliminate the position of full-time photographer, as part of a multimedia staffing restructure.” The statement noted that the “business is changing rapidly” and audiences are “seeking more video content with their news.”

The plan is to equip reporters with iPhones and train them to take photos and videos with their equipment. A Sun-Times staffer leaked the memo about the training, which you can find here.

In fairness, the organization said it will use freelance photographers in some situations. We’ll see how that works out.

Certainly, you can take photos and video with an iPhone. But I doubt that any reporter covering a story will ever have time to stop an interview, pick up a phone and get the kind of photo you see above.

There’s plenty of evidence that multitasking ruins productivity and makes for mediocre effort. I’m nearly certain that this will be the case with the Sun-Times, and its products will be shabbier as a result. This will save money in the short term, and it could delay the demise of the paper. But it looks to me as though it ultimately will be seen as one more step toward oblivion.

Wherever they are, Mike Royko and Roger Ebert must be shaking their heads and drowning their sorrows in a beer or two.

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