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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Spotting the sacred ghost in the era of iWeddings

Let me begin with a few confessions.

First of all, let me stress that I know that there are plenty of weddings that are completely secular or, well, they should have been completely secular. You know what I mean?

Second, I have been to quite a few weddings in recent years, in large part because I sing in our church’s choir and in an Eastern Orthodox wedding the choir is a big part of the proceedings. One of these rites was my daughter’s own wedding. During all of these rites and even, for the most part, the celebrations afterwards it has never entered my mind to whip out my iPhone and put something up online. However, I recognize that I am getting very old and, thus, lived a large chunk of my life before the all-digital era.

Third, I was totally prepared for The New York Times team to leave religion completely out of the fine feature story that ran under the headline: “The ‘I Dos,’ Unplugged.”

However, I was wrong. The story included a brief nod to the fact that some weddings are, imagine that, religious events and, thus, it is rather sad to see them crashed by rampaging hoards of social-media addicts with smartphones. More on that angle in a minute.

Here is the summary paragraph for this slice-of-life-today classic:

The hottest topic in wedding circles this year seems to be whether to request, remind or even require that guests go cold turkey on technology during the event. Everyday couples (which is to say, not just those at risk of being exposed on TMZ) have started treating their guests like paparazzi, confiscating their cellphones and cameras, even throwing them out of the reception if they violate the no-posting-on-Tumblr announcement that the best man makes from under the wedding canopy.

Emily Post, text your office, time for a new mandate: Bridesmaids, thou shalt not Instagram photos of the bride drinking manhattans while getting her hair done in a bun.

On wedding chat boards, brides-to-be fret over the problem: their queries read like dystopian, post-Zuckerbergian versions of Dear Abby. A typical entry might sound like this: “I have a wonderful best friend and she means well, but you should see the photos of my sister’s wedding she put on Facebook — photo bombs of Grandma, drunk Uncle Louis making rabbit ears behind the preacher, my creepy cousin licking the cake, and a shot of the bride and groom contorting as if they needed to go the toilet. My fiance hates cameras. I don’t want a thousand iPads in my face as I’m walking down the aisle. My florist said the flower girls will cry. Help! What do I do?”

Oh. My. God. Are the bride and groom legal and financially liable if someone blows millions on a stock trade because he/she missed a crucial text?

This is great stuff.

I was particularly struck by the fact that many people complain that they cannot possibly be without their phones for an hour or two for medical or even legal reasons. In some cases, professional wedding consultants (it’s hard for me, as an Ortho-dad, to type those words without cracking up laughing) go so far as to offer high-strung people a “cellphone coat check” option that gets the smartphones out of the shaking hands of alleged participants, but allows them to quickly glance at them at strategic moments.

Now, what about that religion angle?

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Baylor grad pushes app for cheaters?

A long, long time ago, I was a journalism major at Baylor University, which, as you may know, is the world’s largest Baptist university. Baylor is located in Waco, Texas, which many folks in the Lone Star state like to call “Jerusalem on the Brazos.”

It didn’t take long, as a young journalist, to realize that stories linking Baylor to anything having to do with sin and sex were like journalistic catnip in mainstream news newsrooms.

Even in the world before search-engine optimization, it was rare for copy-desk professionals in Texas, or anywhere else, to pass up each and every opportunity to put, let’s say, “Baylor” and “Playboy” in the same headline. It appears that this a subject that never dies, decade after decade, as journalists have fun with the whole idea of Baptist co-eds choosing to pose for this noted feminist publication.

Well, Playboy isn’t planning another visit to Waco — at least, not that I have heard about — but Newsweek recently ran a rather depressing little story that could have been seen as an update on this whole Baylor and the Sexual Revolution riff.

Don’t get me wrong. I am rather glad that the publication didn’t choose to push that button. Frankly, I am amazed that Newsweek didn’t push that button — so much so that this rare act of inky restraint actually made me pay more attention to this story than I normally would have. Paying attention made me think that there could be a ghost in this mini-feature.

So here is the top of the report, complete with the B-word. The headline sets the stage: “New App Helps Cheaters Cover Their Tracks.”

Great News for all you current and aspiring cheaters out there! Neal Desai, a 25-year-old pre-med graduate of Baylor University, has a smartphone app designed to help keep your dirty little secrets a secret.

The app is named CATE, short for Call and Text Eraser — which pretty much explains its basic function. Once set up, CATE keeps hidden any and all contact from certain special friends until the user inputs a secret access code. Better still, the app isn’t even visible on the phone until you enter the code, providing an extra layer of protection from snooping spouses.

So a graduate of the world’s best known Baptist school has come up with a way to help husbands cheat on their wives or wives cheat on their husbands (since the story later notes that about 70 percent of the downloads, so far, appear to be by women).

Meanwhile, what the potential impact of this technology on those who, at any given point in time, are being tempted to this sin for the first time? How about those who are trying to walk a path to recovery after a marital crisis?

Anyway, I am glad — I guess — that Newsweek passed up the Baylor angle, although it certainly would have been valid to note this irony, briefly. However, I now question whether theis news story should have been written in such a values- and ethics-free manner.

So, readers, thumbs up or thumbs down on omitting the Baylor irony? How about the editorial decision to make this a rather lighthearted, jolly report about the destruction of marriages? Would mentioning moral concerns be dangerous, since that might validate the views of those who consider adultery to be sin?

Just asking.


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