I've been meaning to write about the Chicago Sun-Times' decision to lay-off their entire photography division, in effect replacing them with…IPhones.[foot]I’m not being facetious here. The Sun-Times plan to use freelance photography as well as teach print journalists how to take pictures themselves[/foot]. But what I was looking for, along with time, was a piece that would complement this dynamic. With every 100 stories about layoffs in a given sector we're going to get one story about someone using their grind and hustle to make it big. And along comes Soledad O'Brien, touting the new model of journalism:
What are you hoping to do, ultimately, with Starfish?
The goal has always been creating a new model and you take different platforms — the CNN, the HBO, the Al Jazeera, the National Geographic — and do the work that you want to do across the number of platforms, and I think the answer is yes, I think that there’s a new model in journalism. Instead of just doing a bunch of different things, you can do what you do well, what you like to do. Me, I like storytelling. I like good journalism. I like getting into thoughtful stories and I can now do that across a number of platforms for a number of partners.
So when you approach networks to work with, you're focusing on telling a human story?
The focus is, first of all, do they want to be a partner? If they want exclusivity, then we can’t do it. Starfish Media Group is my new company and this company does a number of things. We distribute content, I own "Black in America," I own "Latino in America," so that’s part of it. We produce material so you know, we have teams that go in and produce stories. And I go and report some of those stories. So for me, number one, we ask people, if you want an exclusive deal with Soledad O'Brien, that is off the table. I do partnerships. And those partnerships have to be around the kind of work that is good journalism, smart, and good storytelling, great storytelling. And if you want that, then we should be in business together. We should be working on projects together. There’s a lot of stuff that I don’t want to cover. It’s easy for me to say no to things now.
Soledad isn't a photojournalist, but she too was terminated (along with Roland Martin). On the one hand who doesn't want the type of freedom Soledad writes about? "It's so easy for me to say no to things now." Who doesn't want the ownership Soledad writes of. "I own 'Black in America'".[foot]As an aside, think about that for a second. Soledad owns ‘Black in America’ and ‘Latino in America’!! She’s basically built on the model Tavis Smiley innovated, capitalizing on the need for multicultural content.[/foot] Who doesn't want the ability to do work for HBO one minute (owning that content) and then work for CNN the next minute (owning that content too)?
But Soledad's work is now even more tightly bound up in the market–she has to build and cultivate a desire for her products and for her own brand. Once that market or her drive to sustain that market dissolve, her livelihood dissolves. While I imagine this can be a rewarding lifestyle, it's an incredibly demanding one. One that I imagine the former Sun-Times photojournalists are going to have to get used to. There was a time when doing nothing other than photography could bring an individual a good salary and benefits. Now that everyone has a camera? It's a different bag. Photo-journalists are now going the way of checkout clerks. A thin sliver of photojournalists will be ok. Some of them will transform themselves into street photography artists.[foot]I don’t know whether Hartel was a trained photojournalist but rather that some photojournalists will successfully market themselves the way Hartel appears to.[/foot] Some may become print journalists. Some may become videographers.
But all will have to become better entrepreneurs of themselves.
As Soledad did.
Neoliberalization at work.