In a move that is raising eyebrows amongst media-watchers, the Chicago Sun-Times today announced the layoff of its entire photography staff. While the fact that the economic outlook for many traditional news media outlets is grim is definitely not new news, this strikes me as being utterly the wrong move.
Almost all of the new developments in content sharing, digital media consumption and social media are centered around visuals. Entire social networks like Pinterest, Instagram and Vine are built on visual content. YouTube is the world’s second-largest search engine. Facebook and Twitter have put digital content front and center for their users. The algorithms that search engines and social networks used to determine what we see all give visuals more weight.
These are just a few of the reasons why it is difficult to overstate the importance of visuals in today’s information environment and communications arenas. Humans are visual animals, and if you want to attract a human audience, you need visual content, period.
But simply having a visual isn’t enough. A bad visual will not generate good traffic or good engagement. To be effective, the visual must serve the audiences interest. Traditionally, news photography has set the standard for compelling imagery and visual storytelling, thought that may be going by the wayside now. According to reports today, the Sun-Times plans on asking reporters to “provide” pictures and videos to accompany the stories.
Journalistic sentiments aside, I smell an opportunity for PR, which was the topic of my post titled “Chicago Sun-Times Lays Off Photographers & Opens Door for Newsworthy Third Party Content” over on Beyond PR.