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News & Insight

Sports Illustrated Laid Off Remaining 6 Staff Photographers | Surprised? You Shouldn’t Be

By Kishore Sawh on January 27th 2015

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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.

[REWIND: What Major Publications Go Through & Look For When Hiring Photographers]

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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.

About

Kishore is, among other things, the Editor-In-Chief at SLR Lounge. A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Graham Curran

    So, how can I get a SI press card?

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  2. Alexander Panzeri

    It’s a normal economics procedure, place some branch of the business to outsourcing entities, to reduce costs.
    It’s always a battle if it’s good or not, in my opinion, for Sport Illustrated may be it’s a good thing if the core business is the article (text), but the name of the magazine says something different (it’s not sport-texted) so I don’t think it’s a good thing for the future…

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  3. David Hall

    This does seem to be the trend of late. So unfortunate.

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  4. Dean Reid

    Not surprising at all…the writing has been on the wall for a long time.

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  5. Austin Swenson

    Its unfortunate that they were laid off, but freelance work has been dominating the press int he last few years. My local and county papers have much more freelance work than any staff photographer, and there is only one guy who does it. The only reason he even keeps his job is because he is also one of the editors

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  6. Daniel Thullen

    Unfortunately for the SI staffers, Michael is exactly right. The cost/benefit analysis did not pencil out in the photographers’ favor. That is why many small, local papers have turned to the same model.

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    • Jim Johnson

      My local paper is even worse than SI, they rely on photos submitted from the public. They stopped paying for photos years ago.

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  7. Michael Burnham

    Given the state of the publishing industry this is not so surprising. The majority of pictures published in SI for the past several years have been from prominent freelance sports photographers on assignment for SI or from photographers that happened to be at the right event at the right time. But all in all it comes down to cost/benefit in business so probably crunching the numbers they realized it was cost less to go all freelance then keep 6 photographers on staff and fill the rest of the magazine with work from freelancers.

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    • Ralph Hightower

      I don’t know how long SI has been using freelancers for the majority of the magazine, but with just six photographers on staff, there is no way that those six could adequately cover every regular season NFL game or even the Olympics.

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