Channeling Mike Royko after Sun-Times layoffs

Chicago Sun-Times photographer John H. White won the 1982 Pulitzer Prize with a package of images that included this image of ballerina girls in flight.
Chicago Sun-Times photographer John H. White won the 1982 Pulitzer Prize with a package of images that included this image of ballerina girls in flight. John H. White/Chicago Sun-Times

As a visual journalist, it's a bit strange I fixated on the memory and legacy of muckraking columnist Mike Royko following yesterday's news coming from the Chicago Sun-Times.

The photography department, photographers and editors, were told to report to a Thursday morning meeting. According to a photographer in the room, the editor-in-chief gave a 20 to 30-second explanation about why the department was being eliminated. Jim Kirk's reasoning was this was necessary to help their technology investor owner, Wrappolds, restructure into a news organization that placed greater emphasis on video.

All the news reports, tweets and blogs zeroed in on the accomplishments of one of the department's most heralded photographers, John H. White, a 35-year veteran and 1982 Pulitzer Prize winner for the newspaper.

There is no doubt White is as pained by being singled out from a group of colleagues he loves as he is by his forced departure.

White has a global fan club. He's known for his almost evangelical ability to change students' minds about their life's work and bring them into the fervent fold of photojournalism. Just like Royko whose work elevated the reputation and credibility of the Sun-Times, White was its visual ambassador.

Using the past tense feels like this is an obituary. It's not. Digital journalism is at its best visual, moving and still. And the talented Sun-Times staff photographers have a future, just not with Wrappolds.

It's not hard to imagine what Royko, who minced no words with public figures and institutions who veered from the public trust, would have said about the Sun-Times not running a story on its own web site about the company's actions. Taking liberties with the title of a 1968 collection of Royko's columns, "I may be wrong, but I doubt it."

- Sally Stapleton

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