New Brunswick — Brunswick News Inc. laid off 5 professional photographers from its daily newspapers this week, and will now be requiring interview subjects to either pay to have their photos taken or to submit “selfies” to the publications based in Saint John, Moncton and Fredericton.
“Everybody takes selfies nowadays; why should we pay for images that ‘tell a story’ when we can just get free pictures to take up space?” Brunswick News chief Jamie Irving said in an email response to questions about the sudden change, while barricaded in the Irving fallout shelter rumoured to be somewhere near Port Elgin. “Eventually we’ll be laying off all of our pesky reporters that demand extravagances like ‘annual raises’ and ‘timely paycheques,’ so we’ll need these selfies to fill up entire pages,” added Irving, undoubtedly shivering in fear of the expected backlash from news reporters and public alike.
“We’re very happy to be giving new life opportunities to these captains of industry and would even consider hiring some of them on a freelance basis for half the rate and no benefits,” Irving wrote. “But, really, having award-winning staff photographers who actually make our papers worth buying is so old-school, and times have changed. Plus we’ve been told that the national awards will include ‘selfie of the year’ and ‘best cellphone pic’ categories in 2016, and we’re confident that reporters and our interview subjects will step up to the challenge.”
Public reaction to loss of photographers
“Have any of those underexposed ‘contributed’ group shots with 6 people holding a cheque ever won an award? Is that what’s going on the front page?” asked a dismayed Dominque McCardigan outside Read’s Newsstand in Fredericton’s downtown.
Her friend, Rhonda McGivney, said she can’t see herself paying for a newspaper — online or the dead-tree version — when the photographs will be selfies or crappy mobile phone pictures that were probably ripped from Instagram or Facebook 2 or 3 days earlier.
“It’s bad enough when you have to wade through spelling mistakes and grammatical errors to try to figure out what the heck the stories are all about,” she huffed, “but without decent photos, they might as well shut down that one ancient printing press they’ve got in Moncton and move it all to the toilet-paper factory in Saint John. If it was soft enough and cheap enough, I’d buy it on a roll.”
Irving wrote that the company will offer photography training to both reporters and interview subjects for a small fee and will provide certificates of competence upon completion of the course, as well as the publication of at least 400 photos in this year’s papers. “We’re committed to training and, thanks to a federal government grant, will be able to keep the course costs low while turning a profit,” he wrote.
What happens next?
Irving says BNI newspapers will go through a transition period in which the space for photos may occasionally be replaced by a black box indicating where a photo would have been if the the company still had photographers, the way large ads currently fill space where finely crafted stories should go.
Papers having tough time giving away subscriptions
“It’s really depressing,” said Kelly (not her real name), a Brunswick News telemarketer whose job it is to try to convince New Brunswickers to take out a subscription for online or print versions of the company’s papers. “We tell them it’s free for a year and they still don’t want it. We may have to end up paying people to sign up.”
BNI has tried giving away iPads and other devices as part of their subscription promotion, but with only limited success. “I think we got 3 or maybe even 4 new subscribers last year thanks to the giveaways, but so far this year: nada,” she said. “There’s some talk about giving away a free Nissan or Honda with every subscription, but that could just be rumour.”