It’s more than just a little ironic that a magazine named Sports Illustrated just laid off its photography staff. (Maybe they’re planning to re-title the magazine “Sports Sorta Illustrated”.)
Time-Life has decided they’d rather pay the planet’s best sports photographers on a piecework basis (forget about them making those pesky health insurance and mortgage payments), but they don’t actually want to say that, which leads to their Director of Photography making dickish statements like this:
Smith said the six staff photographers “have contributed to the success of the magazine and the Sports Illustrated franchise, and I hope that they may continue to do so under slightly different circumstances.” He said that while the six are no longer staff photographers, that does not preclude them for continuing to shoot for the magazine if they so desire.
“In my grandest thoughts I hope they will continue to contribute to the magazine,” Smith said. “I can’t imagine a world where they don’t. We just have to figure out what this new structure is.”
It seems likely the “new structure” envisioned by Time-Life includes a lot less money.
While digital is disrupting traditional media, let’s not pretend all the words and pictures that used to go into the magazine aren’t being produced.
The clear goal — at least at the corporate level — is to produce that content a lot cheaper. After all, SI’s ad revenue has been relatively steady the last four years, and their Swimsuit Issue is at least a billion-dollar asset.
Anyone else find it odd that the demand for content has skyrocketed, yet despite that demand, the payments to those who produce it have steadily declined?
It seems the “invisible hand of the free market” might just be a fist.
As freelancer Scott Carney recently noted, maybe it’s time content producers demanded a bigger piece of the pie.
Yet Another Personal Digression
In my college years I was a photojournalism major, and while I was a fair-to-middling feature photographer, I was a pretty good sports shooter.
Back then, every photographer with a long lens wanted to be an SI staffer. They had fabulous access and took great photos, but what often set them apart was that they took great photos of “the” game’s key moment (the distinction is important).
One of the laid-off SI staffers is named John McDonough, and while he surely doesn’t remember, he shared a Dodger Stadium photo pit with me in 1983. Steve Sax was the Dodger’s new second baseman, and he had somehow lost the ability to make an accurate throw to first base.
I was there to get a picture of Sax making a throwing error, and apparently so was McDonough.
McDonough was helpful and nice and not the slightest bit condescending, and because he was a real pro and I was an awestruck student intern who couldn’t believe he was taking pictures at Dodger Stadium, McDonough got the picture — while I just stood there and watched Sax throw the baseball into the stands (editors aren’t big on publishing memories).
In the decades since then, I’ve idly followed McDonough’s career. It’s clear the good ones always rise to the top. I’m just wondering if they’re still paid that way.
Keep writing, Tom Chandler.