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Sun-Times Photographers, Supporters Protest Layoffs

By Quinn Ford | June 6, 2013 1:02pm
 Sun Times reporters and union activists join laid off photographers to protest the tabloid's decision to fire its entire photography staff last week.
Laid Off Photographers Protest Outside Sun Times
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RIVER NORTH — Scott Stewart is accustomed to shooting protests and rallies through his camera lens. As a photographer at the Sun-Times, Stewart covered his fair share over the years.

But Thursday, Stewart was on the other side of the camera as he and other Sun-Times Media photographers held a rally to protest the company's decision to fire its entire photography staff.

"One week ago today was the day it happened," Stewart said. "It's still very numbing and it still hurts."

About 150 people — including Sun-Times reporters, columnists and union activists — picketed outside the Sun-Times building Thursday morning to support the 28 photographers who lost their jobs.

David Roeder, a Sun-Times reporter and treasurer of the Chicago Newspaper Guild, said last week's decision "compounds the insults that have been dealt" against the paper recently, including the decision earlier this year to shutter the company's suburban newspaper offices.

"They have taken so much content out of the paper over the last few years, to the point that it's been a disservice to readers and to advertisers as well," Roeder said.

When announcing the layoffs, the tabloid said it would rely on freelancers and reporters with iPhones for visual content.

But reporters like Roeder say the change will diminish the quality of the paper's product, especially in certain areas like breaking news.

"We know that technology means everybody does have to change, but there has to be some strong professional element as well," he said.

The Chicago Newspaper Guild filed a charge of "bad-faith bargaining" with the National Labor Relations Board on Friday after the Sun-Times let the photo staff go.

Craig Rosenbaum, the executive director for the guild, said the company had made a "number of representations across the bargaining table" that they would not lay off photographers or reporters. The guild is arguing that when the company fired its photography staff, it violated a portion of the National Labor Relations Act that requires companies to bargain in good faith.

Officials at the Sun-Times would not comment specifically on the guild's charge but did issue a statement after Thursday's rally.

"The increasing demand for more video as part of the way we cover the news, combined with our ability to tap into Chicago's robust network of professional local photographers, has created the right environment for the company to aggressively move forward with a new multimedia strategy," the statement said.

Rob Hart, a Sun-Times Media photographer for 12 years, said the company's justification that it needed to move toward video was a "cop out."

"That's an excuse," Hart said, explaining he and other Sun-Times photographers were trained to take video. "The newspaper is about printing the truth. Why can't the managers of the newspapers be real with the city and just say this is about money?"