It’s a headline you have likely read umpteen times in recent years. Some periodical or news publication just laid off tons of staff. They “cut back” or “cleared departments” or “downsized.” Bottom line, in an industry that is hemorrhaging working capital, someone has to pay the price. Ronn Torossian reports that the latest victims of this market reality are the staff photographers of Sports Illustrated. Yes, the team that has brought you countless iconic shots of America’s favorite games, contests and pastimes are all looking for work.
Brad Smith, director of photography for Sports Illustrated, made the announcement recently through the National Press Photographers Association. “There was a decision made through the company to restructure various departments, including at Sports Illustrated. Unfortunately, economic circumstances are such that it has cut the six staff photographers.”
The company says it plans to “rely more on freelancers.” That loaded statement could mean many things. It could mean that it will rehire some or all of the same shooters for similar money – but without the employee benefits. It could also mean that it will hire a platoon of less celebrated but equally capable camera commandos to work various beats during different seasons. That might make more sense. Instead of incurring the costs of sending its team of single-location employees all across the globe, the company will save money by employing locally-based shooters to work events in their areas.
This is not a new strategy for the nation’s premier weekly sports publication. Consider, with only six staff photogs, and innumerable print and online pics needed on a daily basis, SI has been relying on freelancers for some time now already. But this approach is not without potential pitfalls. Dynamic photos are the undisputed lifeblood of Sports Illustrated, both in print and online. From its weekly cover shots to the celebrated Swimsuit Issue, SI is, its award-winning writing aside, still primarily a visual medium. If the freelancers don’t deliver across the board, SI could immediately lose relevance in the international sports media marketplace.