The newspaper staff photographer goes away

We’ve come to a conclusion that would have seemed unthinkable a few years ago for a daily newspaper.
We are eliminating the position of staff photographer completely.
We have a seven-day, 8,600-circulation daily and a growing group of weekly and quarterly publications operating with a newsroom of 17 people.
For decades, we had two full-time staff photographers on the daily.
But as our emphasis shifts to digital-first reporting, our news cycle is turned on its head, and we report on things that our news cycle never allowed us to and in formats that our print-only platform and technology never allowed us to, the gaps and opportunities become very obvious.
We can’t afford 80 hours a week of staff time devoted only to still photography. And with a Flip cam video camera in every reporter’s hand, blanketing all aspects of our coverage, we don’t really need dedicated videographers, either. At least not at this stage of our digital progression.
And yesterday’s daily due to space, contributed photos and the way the news came down, had only two local feature photos taken by our full-time staff person. Worth it? While we missed all kinds of opportunities throughout the day and throughout our coverage area to speed more information to a wider audience of people with particular interests?
If we push ourselves on the question, we have to admit that action sports photography is about the only thing that a cross-trained reporter/digital journalist can’t handle themselves, and there is an army of freelancers out there to handle such assignments. And freelancers allow you the flexibility to be in three places at once on busy nights (i.e., high school playoffs time).
So when one of our longtime staff photographers stepped down last month, we replaced the position with a full-time “mobile journalist” who starts her day at 6 a.m. and is focused on digital-first reporting when the demand for that information is highest (6-10 a.m.).
Since making that switch, it has become one of those “no-brainer” moments. So within weeks, we are converting our other staff photographer into the same kind of position, and we’re happy that the person in that job now is willing and excited about making the move.

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About mattderienzo

Matt DeRienzo has worked for more than 20 years as a reporter, editor, publisher and corporate editorial director and has been recognized nationally for leading newsroom innovation. He teaches journalism at Quinnipiac University, writes a monthly column for Editor & Publisher magazine, and serves as interim executive director of LION Publishers, a national network of local independent online news site publishers. Previously, he served as group editor of Digital First Media's publications in Connecticut, including the New Haven Register, Middletown Press, Register Citizen and Connecticut Magazine, and Northeast regional editor for Digital First Media. He also served as publisher of The Register Citizen, Middletown Press and a group of weeklies in Northwest Connecticut, and before that was corporate director of news for small dailies and non-daily publications for the former Journal Register Company. In early 2011, The Register Citizen was named one of Editor & Publisher magazine's "10 Newspapers That Do It Right," and DeRienzo was named to its annual "25 Under 35" list of leaders in the newspaper industry. In the fall of 2011, The Register Citizen was awarded the Associated Press Managing Editors Innovator of the Year Award in recognition of The Register Citizen Newsroom Cafe, an "open newsroom" launched in Torrington, Connecticut, in December 2010. He led a team of more than 100 journalists in covering the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in late 2012 and 2013, and has been honored for his editorial writing and leadership of public service and investigative reporting. In 2014, his efforts at the New Haven Register were recognized with the APME's and ASNE's Robert C. McGruder Award for Leadership in Newsroom Diversity. DeRienzo is a former longtime board member of the United Way of Northwest Connecticut, and served as co-chairman of the United Way's annual fundraising campaign in 2009 and again in 2011. In 2011, he received the organization's Lifetime Achievement Award.
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10 Responses to The newspaper staff photographer goes away

  1. John Murray says:

    Matt The "no-brainer" approach of the Journal Register Company has devastated newspapers throughout the northeast, none more so than the Register-Citizen newspaper. It is no coincidence that the circulation of the Register-Citizen has crashed from 18,000 to 8000 under the leadership of a profit driven corporation that is completely out of touch with the community it purports to serve. Having reporters photo document Litchfield County further diminishes the Register-Citizen as they have neither the training or the passion to do so. Your "no-brainer" decision might win you kudos from corporate headquarters, but as far as the community is concerned, it's another hole in the Titanic.John MurrayChief of PhotographyRegister-Citizen 1989-1993Publisher/editorThe Waterbury Observer1993-2010

  2. John,Great to hear from you. I am not going to argue with anything you've said about the past, only tell you that being in touch with the community that we serve is what I've been focused on since taking on the publisher job here as an interim two years ago and then permanently. I came back to Torrington because I love this community, and I feel that while a corporation manages the assets and P&L of this newspaper, it is "owned" by the community.I would encourage you to keep an eye on what the "new" Journal Register is doing. It is investing in news coverage, not gutting it.The changes in approach to photography, and I apologize if I was not clear about it, aren't about saving money. Or even about saying that strong photography is not journalism and not important. It is simply a shift from devoting staff resources devoted to still photography to handling more of it through freelance (which theoretically could provide us more variety, flexibility and a wider geographic coverage).At the same time, it's not an overall trend of less staff people, either. Our editorial staff has grown, and we are not cutting back. We are just using them to improve news coverage in other ways.I would be very interested and receptive to hearing your ideas on newsroom structure and priorities.Matt DeRienzoPublisherThe Register Citizen and Foothills Media Group860-489-1877mderienzo@foothillsmediagroup.com

  3. Dave says:

    Matt,As a reporter at the RC from 1990 to '93, I find this baffling and sad. First: Why am I hearing about the minutiae of newsroom operations from a publisher? Who's the managing editor? I'm now the executive editor of a national magazine with a circulation of 425,000, and no one on the business side ever tells us how to do anything; they know better than to even try. That church-state separation is sacred. If you really want suggestions about newsroom structure and priorities, this would be my first: Recuse yourself. Leave the news to the news people, and keep your nose out of it. Second: That bit about the paper being "owned" by the community is painfully cynical corporate-speak. That's like the Steinbrenner family saying New York City "owns" the Yankees. It's true, taxpayers get to pay $363 million for the new stadium–but they don't get to make any decisions about ticket prices or who plays third base, do they? In the case of the RC, the second the community wanted something that would cut into profits–say, some real, meaty news stories–we'd get a fresh reminder of who really "owns" the newspaper.Third: Your spin here on the freelance-photog thing is weak. No one buys that a clutch of freelancers is going to have the same level of skill, connection to the community, or passion that a talented staffer would have. If this was anything other than a cost-cutting gambit, you would keep the staff shooters (after all, they cost the same, don't they?) and pick up a couple of freelancers the (very) few times a year you had multiple things to cover. Litchfield County is not New York City. As to your claims about the "new" Journal Register, my eyes are wide open, but at this point I see zero difference from the old one. The JRC is still the publishing company for a Brave New World, no doubt about it. You'll be all digitally pimped out, lean and profitable. But my guess is that you'll quickly find you're pulling up lame with the non-digital, non-video-cam side of the business–that thing the rest of us call "journalism."Good luck with that.David Howard

  4. David,Great to hear from you also. The standards that Register Citizen staffers like you set back in the day were lost and squandered over the inconsistent (to be most generous) approach of ensuing years.Do you really think that the publisher of a newspaper or general manager of a news organization shouldn't think about or be involved in news? Isn't that what the business is all about?For the first time in the history of the company, we have a CEO with an editorial background who is focused on journalism. That's going to do more to promote the values I know you hold dear than any kind of cold separation between the "business management" of the company and the very reason we are in business to begin with.(My background is editorial as well, not advertising or accounting, and maybe that's why you see me a little more engaged than your typical publisher.)The reference to "meaty" news stories, by the way, hits home with me. We are focused on developing consistent hyperlocal small community news coverage, and in enhancing everything with multimedia. But I believe strongly that we must carve out time and resources for quality, investigative, enterprising journalism as the centerpiece for what we do.I don't have all the answers for accomplishing this, while paying the bills on shrinking classified ad revenue at the same time. That's why – and I hope you'll find it refreshing – that the company's new leadership is being so public about its quest for those answers.Matt DeRienzoPublisherThe Register Citizen and Foothills Media Group860-489-1877mderienzo@foothillsmediagroup.com

  5. Dean says:

    Matt, Some budget advice: Cut all full-time employees and go with a freelance staff. For example, have a Monday news reporter, a Monday sports reporter, a Monday photographer, Monday editors, a Monday publisher and so on. Then the company wouldn't have to pay for benefits for a full-time staff. One day, we will find the way to spend no money at all and produce a paper.Dean Stamos

  6. john says:

    You call this decision a "no-brainer" moment. Too many letters in "brainer." The "e" and the "r" don't belong.

  7. Ken Krayeske says:

    Matt -So Sonja Zinke leaves and the brass says hey, we can force reporters to do more work? How absolutely ridiculous. A reporter can't serve two masters, visual and print.With this extra workload you seek from your staff, I hope you are paying them overtime. Peace,Ken KrayeskeRegister Citizen Reporter 1997-1998

  8. Ken,How do you think we should change?Matt DeRienzoPublisherThe Register Citizen and Foothills Media Group860-489-1877mderienzo@foothillsmediagroup.com

  9. Ken Krayeske says:

    MattTo start with, pay your employees a fair wage, and actually invest in the edifice and the people you hire who interact with the community. How about a youth literacy program? Or how about giving your staff reporters time every week or every two weeks to go into Torrington high school, Oliver Wolcott High School, Gilbert, Northwestern Regional and the UConn Torrington branch to rejuvenate the journalism programs there, part of which is the JRC donating printing to all these school newspapers, and helping them develop websites that serve their school communities? We need to grow community journalists. JRC has never done that previously. When I see that, I might believe that you are doing something different other than pedaling for-profit bs. I am certain that my experience with the JRC was par for the course, and I doubt that much has changed. Reporters were fungible goods who could be replaced at the drop of a hat. And just as much, the reporters used the JRC as a stepping stone in their reporting careers because they knew (with slim exception) that the JRC wasn't going to be a great employer, and that the JRC treated them no better than the phone system and wood paneling from 1975.When I see the JRC investing in its people, investing in the community – and not just corporate double speak that David Howard points out above, then I might be convinced something has changed. I understand that you think you are doing the right thing, but you are fighting a decade of history and horrible decisions from a company that bled journalism for profit not just in the northwest corner, but across the country. The scars from the corporate colonial mindframe of a far away company taking community resources and hoarding them behind bullet proof glass in Trenton still run deep and are real to many people in these parts. Former readers are not suddenly going to pick up the RC again because it is trying to convince us that freelance photographers can have better relationships with the community than a Murray, an Acerbi, a Shannon or a Zinke.And if you don't know who an Acerbi is, that is part of your problem. Peace,Ken Krayeske

  10. Ken,Your ideas about youth literacy and journalism are great.And what we need to be doing at JRC is finding the next generation of John Acerbis, and we need to turn the company into a place where they would want to work, where they would grow in their careers, and they would make good money. That's the way we'll fix our "products" – (our product is, or should be, good local journalism) – build audience, and ultimately, profit. Instead of the "vampire" corporation approach, it's the "gardener" … plant seeds, nurture them, grow into something with deep roots in the community and in the strength and talent of our employees.I took the liberty of posting your comments to our new CEO's blog, http://jxpaton.wordpress.com, and I would encourage all to check out John Paton's very blunt and honest response. Matt DeRienzoPublisherThe Register Citizen and Foothills Media Group860-489-1877mderienzo@foothillsmediagroup.com

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