In an ever-telling tell of the times, Sports Illustrated, you may have heard, has laid off the entire remaining roster of staff photographers. That’s 6 of them, to be precise: Simon Bruty, Bill Frakes, Robert Beck, David E. Klutho, John W. McDonough, and Al Tielemans.
Brad Smith, who is Sports Illustrated’s Director Of Photography has been the one to confirm the news, and to assure the adoring public that the commitment to photography hasn’t changed, but simply the way they go about obtaining their images. He has gone on to say that wherever they were before, whatever major game, series or event, they will still be there.
The company has come out with what clearly are meticulously chosen, and rehearsed lines to tell the media as to why this decision has been made. Spokesman Scott Novak told CBS that the decision was a strategic one to approach photography in a new way, granting SI more access to worldwide resources. He further went on to say,
It was really about how do we do even more with photography in the most effective way for our audience in light of the expanding global sports world.
Now, to me, it’s strange that news outlets across the board are using words like ‘Shocked,’ with eleventy thousand exclamation marks at the end in response to the news. Then they ask if a news organization can survive or thrive without staff photographers? Of course it can. Clearly, this is just creating excitement for something that’s neither exciting or new. Is anyone really surprised this is happening? If a global economy has taught us anything in the Internet age is that outsourcing a freelancer is cheaper than keeping full time staff. Period. That’s why this is happening here, why it happened at The Chicago Sun-Times, and more to come.
Interestingly, you can watch, in the rewind below, Brad Smith speaking at length about what they look for in freelancers. Clearly, this was a long time coming.
Appreciation for many types of imagery is lower these days because expectations are higher, to a higher and steeper learning curve, and higher proficiency of amateurs resultant from upgrades in technology, especially when images are being viewed on small devices. This should serve as a wake-up call for working pros or newcomers who think it’s still the 60s and hang on to a sense of entitlement.
As business models change, so do we as creatives need to change too. It’s why I always advise photographers to get to know video intimately, because what do you think is going to happen when you can pull the right kind of images from video? And we’re almost there. Photography isn’t going anywhere, but the business is changing. Sports Illustrated is just a beacon of that, and we should be prepared for it.