A note to my followers who’ve been waiting patiently or impatiently for the next chapter of “Throw Another Blog On the Fire”:
I sometimes feel like Cassandra the way I have been predicting all the bad things that are happening in this fast-moving, 10- second, 140-character attention-span era of what is amusingly called progress in communication arts, such as the invention of not paying writers. Could this blight spread, as I have been projecting in this series of particles, as I call them? Look, even Cassandra was right some of the time.
Or am I just flogging a dead horse? Should I just shut my trap and stop whining as the new media march their merry way forward.
And then the dead horse jumps up and bites me in the ass.
Such is the case of the news last week that the Chicago Sun- Times had introduced an innovation in streamlining its photography department. Instead of reducing the staff by attrition or buyouts, it sacked the whole department. At one stroke of management’s keypad, 28 staff photographers were gone.
The management team at the Sun-Times—led by publisher Tim Knight, my old boss at Newsday, who himself wound up in the street when Newsday was sold to those lovers of good journalism, the Dolans and Cablevision –should be getting a ticker-tape parade down Wall Street for having thought of such a clean way to reduce costs.
Not only do I risk being called a Cassandra but also one of those I-told-you-so’s blowing his own horn for my gift of prophecy.
Actually, it was Marshall McLuhan who told us so, if we weren’t all so busy playing with our new toys, accumulating new free apps, texting and tweeting about what we ate, are wearing, or watching on TV tonight.
You know, I sometimes made fun of McLuhan in my Newsday column. He was the Canadian philosopher of communication theory; some of his ideas evolved at the University of Toronto. In the 1960s, he was always coming with up with far-fetched theories, something like the invention of lasagna made the Pullman railroad sleeper car obsolete. I always thought that as a thinker he was influenced by the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team, whose game plan was to shoot the puck down ice into the opponent’s corner and see what happens.
But he was right on the money, if you’ll excuse the expression, in such a high-level intellectual discussion, about the impact of the new technologies. Not only did he predict the World Wide Web thirty years before the Internet was created, Prof. McLuhan was prophetic in that media owners would no longer consider content providers worth anything. Being part of a medium, to paraphrase 662 pages or so of one of his seminal works, is considered adequate for providing a message.
Not even Prof. McLuhan, who it was later discovered had a brain tumor the size of a grapefruit after he was awarded the Albert Schweitzer Chair in Humanities at Fordham in 1967, could have imagined that by 2013 there would be millions of bloggers who considered it a privilege to be working in slave labor camps, called blog sites, and writing without compensation, thus fulfilling his prophecy.
Now I don’t want to get into an argument about the quality of the work of The Chicago 28, except to note that at least one was a Pulitzer Prize winner in photography (John White); the others were the most experienced, presumably the highest paid given their seniority, veterans who know the game.
They are being replaced by free-lancers, including some of The Chicago 28, presumably brought back now without benefits, and maybe a few college interns avec smartphones. At the same time staff reporters are being given lessons about how to take better snapshots. The new Weegees of the Windy City also will be expected to be videographers, shooting live footage while reporting, thus eliminating the luxury of professional cameramen.
I can appreciate management’s thinking about photography. Cameras have come along way from the Speed Graphics. Everybody knows how to use a cellphone. The more advanced also know how to achieve 15 seconds of fame on Instagram and Flickr.
Vincent Laforet, the image scholar, estimates that we collectively take more pictures every 6-9 months now than have been shot in the whole history of western civilization.
Yahoo has estimated that 880 billion shots will be taken in 2014; 27,800 photographs are uploaded to Instagram every 60 seconds; 208, 300 photos arrive at Facebook every minute. Not to mention 100 hours of video uploaded to YouTube in those same 60 seconds.
So who could blame Sun-Times beancounters thinking, Why should we pay anybody to take pictures when everybody seems to be doing it just for fun?
As legendary photographer Melchior DiGiacomo, who thinks it is not only a shanda but also vergonia (the Sicilian version of shame) what the Sun-Times has done, concedes you can teach a monkey how to use cameras. “Teaching a primate vision is another story.” Young photographers today don’t know an F-stop from a stop on the NYC transit system.
One might ask how many pictures are passed on to you on your Iphones or Ipads that remind you of Cartier-Bresson or DiGiacomo’s “decisive moments?” Most of the ones I get don’t even rate “indecisive moments.”
One picture, they used to say, was worth a thousand words. With inflation, that’s more like 450 today. So it can be argued it’s legitimate to cut out a wasteful extravagance like a whole department playing with so few words. You have to admire the executive who gave the final order “to the guillotine.” But you might not want to have a meaningful relationship with such a person.
As I say, it’s hard to keep down a good idea like not paying the talent.
Consulting my tarot cards, among the next to reach this new state of nirvana of not being paid or beheaded are the people who design websites, the artists who design book cover jackets. And don’t forget the shrinking workforce in publishing houses in the new age of e-books.
We will know Utopia is truly here when they start downsizing by letting go the accountants, managers and executives who think of such good ideas.
Viva The Chicago 28!
We now resume the story in progress:
Marvin climbs the mountain in search of the answer to the conundrum: to blog or not to bog? He reaches the top and comes down with the answer. “Throw Another Blog on the Fire” – Part VII
Coming soon on select computers near you.