The Chicago Sun-Times laid off its entire full-time photography staff Thursday, including a Pulitzer Prize winner, in a move that the newspaper's management said resulted from a need to shift toward more online video.
The union representing many of the laid-off photographers plans to file a bad-faith bargaining charge with the National Labor Relations Board, a union leader said.
The Sun-Times Media company didn't immediately comment on how many jobs were affected, but the national Newspaper Guild issued a statement saying 28 employees lost their jobs. The layoffs included photographers and editors at the Sun-Times' sister publications in the suburbs.
"I'm still in shock. I'm not angry right now. Maybe I will be later," said Steve Buyansky, a laid-off photo editor for three of the group's suburban newspapers.
Buyansky said about 30 photographers and photo editors were called to a mandatory meeting Thursday morning where Sun-Times editor Jim Kirk "talked for about 20 seconds" telling them the layoffs were a tough decision.
Buyansky said Pulitzer Prize-winning Sun-Times photographer John H. White was in the room and was among those who were laid off. "It's sad," said Buyansky, speaking from the Billy Goat tavern, a longtime watering hole for Chicago journalists, where about 10 laid-off photographers congregated after the meeting. "The Sun-Times had an amazing photo staff."
White took a well-known photo of now-imprisoned Gov. Rod Blagojevich leaving his home through a back alley, one day after he was arrested on federal corruption charges. The photo caught Blagojevich as he passed a bright yellow sign warning about rats.
"It captured everything that Rod Blagojevich and the state of Illinois exudes. It's a great photo because there's such great humor in it," said laid-off Sun-Times photo assignment editor Dom Najolia, who marked his 33rd year at the paper earlier this month.
Chicago is one of few U.S. cities to still have competing newspapers. The Sun-Times, a tabloid, competes with the Chicago Tribune.
Chicago Newspaper Guild Executive Director Craig Rosenbaum said an unfair labor practice charge will be filed in reaction to the company's announcement. The union is negotiating a new contract and the company told the union at the bargaining table recently that no layoffs of photographers were planned, Rosenbaum said.
Sun-Times Media released a statement Thursday to The Associated Press confirming the move: "Today, the Chicago Sun-Times has had to make the very difficult decision to eliminate the position of full-time photographer, as part of a multimedia staffing restructure." The statement noted that the "business is changing rapidly" and audiences are "seeking more video content with their news."
Like most major newspapers, the Sun-Times has been hard hit by the technological shift that has cause more people to rely on their personal computers and mobile devices to stay informed. As more readers have embraced digital alternatives, so have advertisers in a move that has been steadily siphoning away newspaper publishers' biggest source of revenue.
The Chicago Sun-Times ended September 2012 with a paid circulation of 263,292, according to the most recent statement filed with the Alliance for Audited Media. That contrasted with circulation of about 341,448 at the same time in 2006. Including satellite editions that operate under other names, the Sun-Times" circulation totaled 432,451 in September 2012.