Up to 30 photographers and editorial support staff for the Chicago Sun-Times and its suburban sister newspapers — virtually the entire photo department — were laid off Thursday morning.

Those who lost their jobs included the Chicago photojournalism icon and Pulitzer Prize-winner John H. White. The management intends to replace the team with freelance shooters.

The National Press Photographers Association cites a reporter who claims that Sun-Times editor Jim Kirk told reporters a week before the announcement that they would soon have to cover stories with their iPhones.

In a statement released Thursday, the company said it fired the photographers in order to meet the demands of its audiences, who it says “are consistently seeking more video content with their news.”

“We have made great progress in meeting this demand,” the release said in a tone that is deaf to the power and importance of still-photo journalism. It said the company is “focused on bolstering our reporting capabilities with video and other multimedia elements. The Chicago Sun-Times continues to evolve with our digitally savvy customers, and as a result, we have had to restructure the way we manage multimedia, including photography, across the network.”

Poetically, the layoffs came just a few days after the death of the Sun-Times’ former chief photographer, Bob Kotalik. He was 87 years old. His obituary appeared in the paper the day before the announcement.

— Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

Donald R. Winslow at the National Press Photographers Association:

Rob Hart, a Sun-Times Media photojournalist at the suburban Pioneer Press and an adjunct faculty member at the Medill School of Journalism, was in the room this morning with the entire staff when they were told of the layoffs. 

“Being in the room with John White when we got laid off was a highlight of my career,” Hart told News Photographer magazine today. “About 30 of us got the axe. As soon as [Sun-Times editor] Jim Kirk said they were going to have the reporters produce multimedia for their rapidly changing platforms, I just had to walk out.” 

Hart made his comments to News Photographer via iPhone from a seat at the Billy Goat, an ever-popular Chicago journalists’ bar where he was gathered with about eight other photographers tonight. 

… According to a report from a wire service photographer who formerly worked at the Sun-Times, three people may have been retained to perform new job duties. Photographer Jessica Koscielniak will do video multimedia, photographer Rich Hein will be a photo editor, and Geoff Scheerer will serve as a photo editor in the suburban papers, he told News Photographer magazine tonight. News Photographer is currently trying to reach Koscielniak and Hein for comment.

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