Chicago photographer waits for new assignment from God

So, who has been following the drama that unfolded early this month up in Chicago, where the professional photographers at The Chicago Sun-Times were hit by the roller coaster of digital change earlier this month? To make a long story short, in the age of smartphones and digital video, the management decided to lay off the entire photography staff, award winners and all.

Who needs photos better than those that can be shot by reporters and bystanders?

Many people in Chicago continue to protest this.

When the whole thing started, a reader sent us a URL to a sad Poynter.org piece that explored the impact of this on one famous shutter star, a piece that put the spiritual angle right up front.

I saved the piece and then forgot about it. It’s still an example of how a news team — especially a niche news team like Poynter — can try to let a person’s voice speak to the heart of things. In the end, I thought the story fell one brave word short. Here’s the lede:

John White’s 44-year career at The Chicago Sun-Times has been rooted in faith and professionalism. It’s a career he refers to as “an assignment from God.”

Earlier this week, that career came to an end on what some photographers have called the darkest day in Sun-Times photojournalism history. The paper announced … that it had laid off its entire photojournalism staff and would rely on freelance photographers and reporters instead.

White — who has seen the paper go through many owners and changes — says he never imagined that his and his colleagues’ careers would end so abruptly. In a phone interview, the 1982 Pulitzer prize-winning photojournalist and teacher recalled a day that he is still “trying to make sense of.”

“This is what I remember hearing: ‘As you know we are going forward into multimedia and video, and that is going to be our focus. So we are eliminating the photography department.’ Then they turned it over to HR,” recounted White, who had already been doing video at the paper.

The journalism details are all there, a blow-by-blow description of the digital logic of our day. The photo department included 28 full-time staffers.

Up next: Classes in iPhone photography basics. It’s happened before and it will, sadly, happen again.

However, I kept waiting for the White’s voice to return.

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On the media’s habit of showing habited nuns

Quick follow-up to a recent post highlighting some problems with 60 Minutes’ coverage of Roman Catholic women religious in the United States. Commenter Deacon John M. Bresnahan wrote:

Most of the media can’t seem to find traditional type Catholics to interview. There is a group of conservative-traditional nuns called the Council of Major Superiors of women religious that is almost never called on by the media. And it is the radical nuns group that 60 Minutes loves whose religious orders are sinking into oblivion as very few women seem interested in the radicalism they are selling. Meanwhile more traditional groups are growing rapidly–but little news coverage seems to find them.

Or as Creative Minority Report put it:

I noticed something odd (or maybe not so odd) in the anti-Catholic rants in the media recently. While they talk about things like the “stained glass ceiling” to refer to the fact that women can’t become priests they use images of nuns that don’t exactly correlate with their message.

60 Minutes used a graphic of a habited nun in their story blasting the Church for misogyny. And just yesterday, NBC’s The Today show extensively used footage of the Sisters of Mary from Ann Arbor in connection with an argument for women becoming priests from Joan Chittister.

Journalistically speaking, this is problematic. We’ve talked about it before, but the error keeps happening.

This is not to say that one can know everything about a book by the cover. Traditionally habited women aren’t necessarily making a point about their adherence to traditional teaching.

But in this regard, I found the introductory visuals to the preview of the 60 Minutes segment a bit better. We saw casually attired women in an informal liturgical procession. It may not have be the stunning imagery of more traditional orders but it is more honest for everyone involved, no matter their particular doctrinal views.


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