Photo blame game

Less than 30 hours after naming Chicago Sun-Times’ editor-in-chief as the one who decided to fire all of the company’s photographers, the company’s owner backpedaled on ladling the blame to Jim Kirk, Chicago-Sun Times publisher and editor-in-chief.

Sun-Times parent company Wrapports’ CEO Tim Knight told Chicago Newspaper Guild bargaining committee members Tuesday, Aug. 21 that the decision to fire the photographers on May 30 was made by management. When asked who made the decision, Knight looked over at Kirk. Kirk nodded, then Knight said it was Kirk’s decision.

Kirk reached out to the Guild Aug. 22 to say that Knight “misspoke” to bargaining committee members.

“I wanted to clarify the statement regarding our decision to part with the photographers. This was a decision made by senior management after much input and discussion and one that then Jim had to execute,” Knight said in a statement released to the Guild.

The 28 photographers and editors who worked for Sun-Times Media were called into a conference room May 30. Kirk was the one who told them they no longer had jobs at Sun-Times Media.

“Regardless of who made the decision, the bottom line is this mass firing had a devastating impact that is still felt today. Despite the company’s supposed financial condition possibly fueling this decision, I hope something like this will never happen again. I believe something like this can be averted in the future through substantive discussion at the negotiating table between the Guild and the company’s negotiating committee,” Chicago Newspaper Guild President Dave Pollard said.

Sun-Times’ bargaining committee did not negotiate about the photographer layoff. After the photographers were fired May 30, Sun-Times released a statement saying the move eliminating the photographers was part of “multimedia staffing restructure” and that audiences are “seeking more video content with their news,” the New York Times reported in a May article.

Knight told Guild bargaining committee members earlier this week that “management made the decision that we could find photography through other resources.”  Knight also told Guild members that the switch to video was a “primary” reason for the decision earlier this week.

“Clearly, they have not pumped video content,” said former Sun-Times Media photographer Rob Hart.

Hart, a Medill School of Journalism faculty member, said it didn’t matter who made the decision to eliminate the photographers. Hart was a photographer for Sun-Times Media’s Pioneer Press for 12 years.

“This is a news organization that cannot be truthful to their own organization. It’s shameful they can’t be truthful. As someone who teaches and practices journalism, I think it’s disrespectful, not just to the people who got laid off but to everybody in the communities they cover,” Hart said.

Unfair labor relations charges against Sun-Times Media over the photographers with National Labor Relations Board are pending.

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