From Full-Time to Freelance: Saying Goodbye to the American Photojournalist

It’s somewhat ironic that as cameras become more ubiquitous within our society, the role of the photojournalist is becoming more rare throughout newsrooms every year.

On May 30th the Chicago Sun-Times laid off their entire photography staff, including distinguished photographer and Pulitzer Prize winner, John H. White. Yes, a Pulitzer Prize winner laid off. That’s like you being recognized nationally within your industry as ‘Employee of the Year,’ and being let go the following year. Chances are you’d be stunned. So too were the photography staff at the Sun-Times when they were given their pink-slips less then three weeks ago.

John H. White had been with the Sun-Times for more then 40 years before he was relieved of his duty last month. Neither his tenure nor his work was enough to save his job, and his firing — along with that of the entire photo department — is an ominous sign for photojournalists across America.

The rise of iPhones and DSLR cameras have given way to the perception that photojournalists aren’t all that important and that anyone can do it. Add in all the tools you can use in any standard Photoshop Suite and all the sudden you have a belief that photography is rather simple. This belief has sadly and seemingly seeped into the newsroom culture where more and more photojournalists are having to resort to freelance type work.

I think of photography much in the same way I do poetry. Both are easy to dabble in, but hard to truly master. There’s a certain nuance that a photojournalist possess about their craft that can really only be developed through time, skill and the capturing of countless photos. Let us hope that newsrooms across this country come to their senses and once again see the importance of photography as the lens through which we see the world. For the actual article and a collage of John H. White’s photography of 1970s Chicago, click here.

  

Telling It Like It Is for More Than 40 Years

It was very sad news to hear last week that the man of the only afro-centric news show on network television, had passed away. Gil Noble had died of a stoke. He was 80-years-old.

Gil Noble is perhaps most well known for his 1-hour long television show “Like It Is,” which aired locally on channel ABC 7 here in the New York area.

Noble was one the first of what would be a new wave of black journalists hired by major news organizations when he was hired by ABC in 1967. It was a tenuous time in America. Malcolm X had been killed just two years earlier, the Vietnam War was in full swing, riots were breaking out across the country and in just a matter of months, Martin Luther King would be assassinated on a balcony in Memphis. Times were changing, and so to were newsrooms.

Up until the mid 60s, many newsrooms (and TV studios) were essentially lilly white institutions. Few people of color were covering these rapidly changing times of the late 60s and that was a problem. Credit Ed Silverman, who was the director of public affairs at Ch. 7 and who eventually hired Gil Noble, for saying as much in this excerpt to the Daily News:

“We decided to get off our assess and hire some African-Americans. TV news was lily white then. There were no black faces.”

Soon after, Noble was hired and by 1968 had his own show, “Like It Is.” Noble interviewed diplomats, world leaders, religious figures, civil rights leaders, as well as those in and around the NY area who were prominent people in the news at that time, such as the wife of Sean Bell in 2007.

How rare was the position that Gil Noble held? I can’t think of another person of color who wrote, produced and headlined their own news show on network television. Not one. Considering blacks make up just under 5% of all employees in newsrooms in America, that is a stunning development.

In the late 80s when my mother was pregnant with me and still living in Brooklyn, she ran into Gil Noble on the street. Mr. Noble asked the name of her son to be. She remarked, “Warin. Warin for warrior.” He replied, “Make sure he lives up to such a name.” Rest In Peace, brother Gil.