Sports Illustrated Lays Off Last Remaining Staff Photographers

Curators’ Corner

Sports Illustrated Lays Off Last Remaining Staff Photographers

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The most recognized sports magazine on Earth is now without a single staff photographer.

Sports Illustrated, a brand of Time-Life, laid off its six remaining staffers, the National Press Photographers Association reported Jan. 23. It’s a move that we’re beginning to see more frequently across the media landscape as news and entertainment sources rely more heavily on freelancers. Most notably, the Chicago Sun-Times cut its entire 28-person photo staff in 2013.

Sports Illustrated director of photography Brad Smith addressed the layoffs in a statement to News Photographer magazine, citing reasons all too familiar in these types of situations.

“There was a decision made through the company to restructure various departments, including at Sports Illustrated,” Smith said. “Unfortunately economic circumstances are such that it has cut the six staff photographers.”

Smith said the plan going forward is “to re-evaluate what’s best for the magazine, not just financially but also content-wise.”

“Our commitment to photography is as strong as ever, and we will continue to create the best original content possible,” he added.

The cuts came with some foreshadowing. In 2012, Time Inc. Sports Group laid off 16 editorial staffers. Many sports photographers began noting SI’s increasing use of wire photos, and according to NPPA, rumors of another round began rippling last summer when Time-Life announced plans to move into smaller and more affordable headquarters downtown.

However, for an image-driven magazine with a circulation of 23 million to cut its entire in-house photography department is something that all photographers should be aware and take note of. The profession of photography is changing rapidly, and the question is double-sided. First, can major media outlets survive without staffers? Second, can photographers survive without full-time jobs at major media outlets?

The Sun-Times actually re-hired four photographers, perhaps acknowledging a rash decision. But that’s still an awfully small photography department for one of the largest newspapers in the country. CBS MoneyWatch offers an employers’ perspective of the SI cuts, while Digital Photography Review gives a photographer’s view.

Photographers, this is your livelihood on the line and we want to hear what you think. Are you concerned by the dwindling number of full-time positions with major organizations? Or would you rather freelance for them anyway? What have you learned from your experiences? Share this post with your thoughts via the social media links below.

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