It has been announced today that The Independent newspaper is to close its doors to traditional printed publishing, but will continue to run digitally online.
I have to say that purely from a photography point of view this makes me sad. Us photographers, particularly ones like me who originated in news, have been watching the slow and steady decline of print journalism over the past five years. Many jobs have been lost at regional papers. Specifically, photographers have been shoddily axed in favour of public contributor content. This shows a distinct lack of understanding, and respect, for the art and skill of photography, as if it is easily replaceable with mobile phone images submitted by the general, untrained public, or even journalists.
My first paid work as a graduate photographer was to shift for the Southern Daily Echo. I was only paid £80 per day, but it covered my bills in those days, and helped me learn my trade on the job, instead of doing temp work, which I would've hated. I'd cover local events like school nativity plays, 'Soccer Schools' summer team photos and such like during the summer. It wasn't portfolio quality work but it taught me to think on my feet, for myself, navigate my way to a job, organise and arrange people and make sure I came back with the goods according to the brief I was given. Experience is everything when you make your living as a photographer - you call on past events to manage assignments, you learn, always by doing. Now there is a whole generation of would-be photographers, who sadly won't be, because they won't have the chance to start at that level and progress onward as so many photojournalists have done over the past century of publishing, simply because those jobs won't exist.
In 2014 I heard from a young photographer who'd recently graduated from Salisbury College, where I'd also studied. She came to me for advice about how to get on with her career in what was then the wilderness of graduation hangover. I'd been told on the grapevine that she was very good and was leaning towards a career in photojournalism. Naturally, I was happy to help so I suggested to her to get in touch with her local paper, get some work under her belt, gain experience and then when she was ready to move on to being a freelancer maybe 2-3 years down the line, like I did. To my delight they offered her a staff job - even two years ago these were hard to come by - and she thanked me for my advice. I heard from her next a year later to be told she'd been made redundant, the newspaper, owned by Newsquest, were cutting all their photographers and were to proceed using reporters phones and readers' submitted photos from the scene. I was gutted for her, but I was also gutted for the photography community. This is sadly the era we now live in where photojournalism, at least among the regional press, is on borrowed time.
The brutal truth is that newspapers are a dying business. I have photographer friends working in news who are actively putting together plans for the next phase of their careers, some of them are seeking a life outside of photography altogether.
Today sees the very first time that a national newspaper of note has announced it's to close (before you say it, News of the World was a different case). The Independent has always been a favourite among photographers because of its respect and appreciation of photography, and being aware of its importance to telling a story. In the 14 years I've been doing this job, one of my proudest tearsheets is my first double page spread in The Independent on Sunday. Their use of bold and striking magazine-like layouts, utilising large scale images, with terrific reproduction values are (or were) a dream for us photographers. I remember opening this particular edition up and venturing to the sports section, as I knew it was to be used that day.
I was so proud that they'd deemed my work of sufficient standard to use across two pages, it did wonders for my confidence as a 25 year old agency photographer. It also proved that I'd been right to frame the portrait the way I did; off-centre, because it encouraged them to spread it across the pages.
I do hope that with their new digital approach The Independent will continue at least to commission good photography and maintain the values that they did with the printed edition. Let's hope this won't be the first of many closures. We shall see.