Chicago Sun Times Lays Off Entire Photo Staff

In an ironic and fateful twist, the Chicago Sun-Times laid off its entire photo staff just hours after printing the obituary of famed photojournalist Bob Kotalik who spent his entire career at the paper.

The news first began to circulate on Twitter when reporter Robert Channick tweeted, “Chicago Sun-Times lays off its full photography staff; plans to use freelancers going forward.”

Management at the paper stated that the move was due to an increasing demand for online video.  Roughly 20 full-time staff photographers were let go, but according to Crain’s Chicago Business, the number could be as high at 30 since the publication includes smaller papers like the Chicago Reader.

It was earlier this week that Kotalik passed away in his home in Mesa, Ariz due to Alzheimer’s disease.  Kotalik started his 47-year-long career with the Chicago Sun Times back in 1942 and worked his way up to become the paper’s chief photographer.

The obituary, which ran on Thursday, included a quote from Pulitzer prize-winning Sun-Times photographer John H. White who workerd with Kotalik, just hours before White was let go.

The paper released the following statement after they announced the layoffs:

“The Sun-Times business is changing rapidly and our audiences are consistently seeking more video content with their news.  We have made great progress in meeting this demand and are focused on bolstering our reporting capabilities with video and other multimedia elements.  The Chicago Sun-Times continues to evolve with our digitally savvy customers, and as a result, we have had to restructure the way we manage multimedia, including photography, across the network.”

Readers have taken to discussion forums and social media sites to express their frustration with the layoffs.

“Did anybody in control there even read the obit of Bob Kotalik??? Sure doesn’t seem like it…” signed disillusioned reader of 60 years on a Chicago Tonight article.

A reader who goes by BobInRogers Park wrote on the same story, “Expecting print-oriented reporters to act as photographers and videographers will be detrimental to the quality of all three aspects of journalism.”

On The Chicago Sun-Time’s Facebook page, one writer commented on over a dozen articles, simply saying, “NO PHOTOGRAPHS ALLOWED.”

The move comes as part of a larger move to downsize according to multiple media outlets, but the focus remains on the photo staff.  The executive director of the Chicago Newspaper Guild, Craig Rosenbaum said in an interview with The New York Times that an unfair labor practice charge would be filed in reaction to the publications announcement.

Over the past few years the publication, which is currently the tenth largest in the country, has seen their paid circulation decrease substantially.  At the end of 2012, they reported a paid circulation of 263,292 compared to 341,448 in 2006, according to The New York Times.

About Sean Flynn

Sean Flynn is a recent graduate from City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. His work has appeared in The Buffalo News, Condé Nast Traveler, The New York Times 'Fort Greene Local', The Daily Meal, and
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