Sun-Times Layoffs of Video Staff Come Amid Journalism Industry’s Video Boom
February 6, 2015

The Chicago Sun-Times laid off its two-person video production staff this week, a move that seemed surprising since it came as other news outlet have been expanding their video production and interest appears to be growing in the power of visual storytelling in news.

The McClatchy Company, for example, recently developed a plan to intensify its video journalism at its chain of 28 newspapers. McClatchy posted job openings for four new video slots and announced plans to hire additional video-related staffers in coming months.

Andrew Pergam, who is heading up the video project for McClatchy, told American Journalism Review in an email that despite the Sun-Times downsizing, in his opinion media companies seem to be investing more in video.

“At McClatchy, video continues to be a major priority,” Pergam wrote. “Our newsrooms have been producing video for years, and we’re in the process now of building a central team of video journalists, real-time editors, even technologists working in a Video Lab.”

BuzzFeed and The Huffington Post also have been investing heavily in originally-produced video. HuffPost Live, a video streaming network, launched in 2012 and was racking up about 92 million views per month by late 2013, according to the Wrap.

BuzzFeed also formed a video department in 2012, and has been pushing out native content that “regularly rack[s] up hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube,” Digiday reported in September. Original BuzzFeed videos are making a splash on Facebook, too. (Check out “Humblebrags That Aren’t Even Humble,” which attracted 2,241 “Likes” one hour after being posted.) Andrew Gauthier, executive producer of BuzzFeed Video, said he was looking at new ways to experiment with “longer-form, serialized content” to add to the already-successful short-form video archive, according to Digiday.

So why, if Internet audiences are gobbling up good video, would a news organization scrap its video staff?

Neither Wrapports, owner of the Sun-Times, nor the newspaper responded to requests for comment from AJR. The Sun-Times layoffs on their face appear to run counter to what the company said less than two years ago, when the newspaper laid off its entire 28-person photography department and said then it planned to bolster it video content.

Other media reports suggested the more recent layoffs were related to a company reorganization.

Poynter and media blogger Jim Romenesko reported the two staffers laid off were executive video producer Dustin Park and senior video producer Peter Holderness.

A spokesperson from Wrapports told Poynter the two positions were cut “as part of our reorganization after the sale of suburban titles to the Tribune.”

Poynter reported in October that Wrapports LLC had plans to sell 38 suburban newspapers to a another company, Tribune Publishing. Wrapports also told Poynter that the Sun-Times will continue to put out photo and video content and use “outside resources for certain projects.”

In an email to AJR, Park said he continues to believe there is a “place for strong video-centric storytelling, to not only complement existing reporting, but to stand on its own.”

“As that type of documentary storytelling continues to disappear from television, I think it can find a home online and I look forward to working toward that goal,” he wrote.

Holderness did not to respond to AJR’s request for comment, but tweeted his farewell to coworkers on Tuesday.

Christopher T. Assaf, visuals content editor at The Baltimore Sun, said cutting multimedia staffers who create unique content only hurts a publication.

“Nowadays, what sets you apart from other publications isn’t just the writing, it’s really the visuals,” Assaf said. “That’s what draws you in, and I think that’s what really makes the difference.”

“If you are only showing the same content that can be found anywhere else, why should I come to the Sun-Times for that? You need to have people who specialize in that kind of visual content creation.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect Christopher T. Assaf’s title as visuals content editor.