Sports Illustrated sacks all staff photographers

LeBron James poses for Sports Illustrated photographer Al Tielemans, one of six SI photographers laid off. (Photo by Mark Duncan/Associated Press)
LeBron James poses for Sports Illustrated photographer Al Tielemans, one of six SI photographers laid off.
(Photo by Mark Duncan/Associated Press)

Sports Illustrated, the magazine whose photographers have shot some of the most iconic sports images in history, laid off its entire photographer staff Thursday.

The remaining six staff photographers — Robert Beck, Simon Bruty, Bill Frakes, David E. Klutho, John W. McDonough and Al Tielemans were told at noon Tuesday.

“It’s true,” Sports Illustrated director of photography Brad Smith told News Photographer magazine Friday. “There was a decision made through the company to restructure various departments.  Unfortunately economic circumstances are such that it has cut the six staff photographers.”

The timing comes just before the Super Bowl, which will be photographed by free-lancers for the magazine.

Neil Leifer, the legendary photographer for Sports Illustrated early in his career, drew me into photography when I was 10.  I published my first photo in newspapers before I was a teenager.

Over the years, I have contributed some photos to Sports Illustrated, never major ones and always as a free-lancer.  I was a honor.

But the photojournalist profession has fallen on hard times.  The Chicago Sun Times sacked its entire staff of full-time photographers in May of 2013 and many photographer slots are unfilled at many other papers.

Reporters are now taught to take news photos on their iPhones.  Sometimes they are in focus.  Too often they are not.  Composition, at best, is rudimentary.

I manage to stay busy at a “contract” photographer for print and web publications as well as a videographer for TV and the web but my business is boosted, sadly, by the plight of those who are not now working full-time.

“Bottom line decisions” now drive the news business and that hurts the product for the reader and those who have spent their lives covering news and sports.

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