17 January 2009

"The Turk..."

Every since I can remember, I'd always read of "The Turk" coming in the late summer - usually making unannounced appearances at pro football training camps. You see, "The Turk" is the mythical character that makes the cuts on pro teams. Well, our own version of "The Turk" has been eviscerating the newspaper photography staffs, and the news business in general for quite a while now. Every few days one can find in the journalism and photojournalism trades the latest announcements of newspaper staff reductions, layoffs, buyouts, and even closings. This is a most troubling and difficult time for the business I truly love and have devoted most of my adult life to. I've been monitoring photography staff reductions, buyouts and just plain elimination of personnel across the board. On one paper last year in Madison, WI the photography staff was reduced from 5 or 6 photographers down to two, and the paper was going to weekly distribution. This is at the second largest paper in the state and in their state capitol. Of course those two remaining photographers would be expected to continue the workload. My colleagues at the Star-Ledger, New Jersey's largest paper, went through a very troubling time last Fall. The owners offered 200 buyouts to begin cutting costs, and immediately upwards of 400 employees signed up. After negotiations and employee reductions and buyouts, the paper began hiring college interns to work in their bureaus - without benefits, and of course at the lowest pay possible. The Christian Science Monitor, one of the most respected daily papers carrying international content will begin a web-only edition in the Spring, with only a weekly wrap up print edition. Two final examples of how troubling all this is for me to recall is what Newsday did to their photography staff recently. All of their staff photographers were called into the office on a Friday; even those on their off day, and told they were technically "fired and could reapply" for their jobs by the beginning of the new workweek. Their new job titles were something like "visual journalists." I don't recall the actual numbers, but there were only 7 or so full-time positions for the 20 or so photographers then on staff. Finally, and hitting very close to home; the Gannett Company has announced in the last week that all employees will be required to take a one-week furlough (without pay) sometime during this first quarter. (I spent five years at The Journal News in White Plains, NY, a Gannett Co. paper, and know their staff photographers, as well as dedicated photographers at Gannett papers in Poughkeepsie, NY and Phoenix, AZ.)

After 20+ years as a photojournalist, I am not sure how the business will recover from all this. Troubling times indeed... -cg.

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