At the end of May, I heard the disappointing news that the Chicago Sun-Times had laid off its entire 28-person photography staff. According to a Sun-Times statement, the paper “continues to evolve with our digitally savvy customers, and as a result, we have had to restructure the way we manage multimedia, including photography, across the network.” Instead of staff photographers, the paper will use freelancers and train their reporters to take photos with their iPhones.
It’s the iPhone plan that really got my attention. I am a proud graduate of the Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University. There, I studied some basic things, such as grammar and information finding, and more complicated ideas, such as journalism ethics and statistics. During my studies, I never once took a photography class. In fact, I still can’t shoot a decent photo, let alone take a picture that could adequately illustrate anything that I write about.
“Marketplace” featured an interview with Pulitzer Prize-winner John H. White, a photographer laid off from the Sun-Times. “We’re part of, and we cover, the heartbeat of humanity,” he said. “That’s going to suffer.”
Of course, the newspaper industry isn’t what it used to be, with advertising money falling and the reduction or elimination of many print editions. In April, the Newspaper Association of America released “The American Newspaper Media Industry Revenue Profile 2012.” A key finding is that about 40 percent of the industry’s revenue now comes from non-advertising sources—a substantial shift for newspapers that once generated about 80 percent of revenue from print advertising. The report also reveals that circulation revenue is up for the first time in almost a decade, with digital-only and bundled print and digital circulations driving this increase.
Here’s where I think supply chain and operations management professionals in any industry can relate to the quandary of those at the Chicago Sun-Times, which is one of the only newspapers in the United States that still has a cross-town rival in the Chicago Tribune. I can conclude from the news reports that the newspaper’s decision makers examined their core competencies, and photography wasn’t included. The APICS Dictionary, 13th edition, defines core competencies as “bundles of skills or knowledge sets that enable a firm to provide the greatest level of value to its customers in a way that is difficult for competitors to emulate and that provides for future growth.”
I’m left to wonder: In this age of adding value and services for customers, will readers miss photos that reflect “the heartbeat of humanity?” Is the Chicago Sun-Times making itself too lean, and will its leaders find they can’t adequately serve their readers? These are the queries of someone whose life as a journalist has intersected with supply chain and operations management. Serving your customers
If balancing lean and customer service is something you encounter in your work life, consider attending APICS 2013 September 29–October 1. With the theme “The Supply Chain Experience: Leveraging the Power of the Customer,” APICS can help you find a successful balance. More information is available at apics.org/conference.