The Rise of Freelance Journalism

As we all know, journalism is an industry that is constantly transforming and adapting to a world that is becoming dominated by technology. Many publications have been forced to downsize in attempts to safeguard their long-term profitability and end up replacing tenured staff members with freelance writers and/or photographers.

This phenomenon isn’t exclusive to smaller, local publications, either. Back in October, The New York Times announced that it would be eliminating 100 newsroom jobs, as well as a smaller number of positions from its editorial and business operations. The Wall Street Journal also cut dozens of jobs this summer, and USA Today eliminated 70 positions in September.

Just this week, Sports Illustrated cut its entire photojournalism staff in a company-wide move to “restructure various departments.” Sports Illustrated director of photography Brad Smith cited “economic circumstances” as the impetus behind the cuts. In addition to the photojournalism staff, two writers and two editors were also laid off, according to sources.

Scott Novak, a spokesman for the magazine, said SI is “committed to delivering world-class photography and nothing has changed from that mission.” For me, this is a little difficult to buy. If they were committed to delivering world-class photography, why would they feel the need to cut a group of extremely highly-skilled photographers who have produced fantastic images for such a long period of time? It’s hard to believe that times are so bad that the media giant that is SI has actually been forced to let go of photographers who have helped make the magazine what it is today.

Obviously the writers at SI put together fantastic stories for every edition of the magazine. But people who know SI know the magazine because they’ve been running gorgeous photos for years – ones that have become some of the most iconic sports images of all time.

Like this one.

And this one.

And this one.

It’s a shame to see a publication that depends so heavily on spectacular imagery be forced to cut its entire photography staff. Sure, they’ll hire some freelance photogs, and they’ll still publish great photos, but I think there’s something special about a team of guys (or girls) that works together and consistently puts out high-quality work. SI has been renowned and set apart for its photography for so many years, and now it seems that by hiring freelance photojournalists like so many other publications have done, their work may begin to look like everyone else’s.

I believe this move is reflective of the state of the journalism industry. It definitely shocked me to see that Sports Illustrated, the premier publication for sports photojournalism, cut its entire photography staff. In my opinion, the iconic visuals are what have helped make SI so unique and successful, and I don’t quite understand the decision. However, I suppose it simply proves that no publication is immune to the drastic changes in the industry caused by the growth of technology.

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