Is Sun-Times scapegoating Kirk for firing photogs?

Jim Kirk

Jim Kirk

The controversial decision by the Sun-Times to eliminate its entire photography staff continues to bring negative exposure to the struggling newspaper and its parent company.

With nerves still raw from the layoffs of all 28 full-time photojournalists from the Sun-Times and its sister publications on May 30, publisher and editor-in-chief Jim Kirk found himself bearing the blame this week for the unpopular and demoralizing action — thanks to what may have been a misstatement by his boss.

The episode unfolded Tuesday when Tim Knight, CEO of Wrapports LLC, and other top managers of Sun-Times Media met with the Chicago Newspaper Guild leadership and members of the union's bargaining committee for Knight's annual state of company address and question-and-answer session.

The Guild posted an account of the meeting on its website Wednesday, including the following passage, which began with a question from Craig Rosenbaum, the union's executive director: "Why did you let the photographers go?" Rosenbaum asked. "Management made the decision that we could find photography through other resources," Knight answered. "Who made the decision?" Rosenbaum responded. "It was management's decision," Knight said. He looked over to Kirk. After Kirk nodded, Knight clarified, "It was Jim's decision."

Reached late Wednesday, Kirk would say only: "The statement is inaccurate." He said he planned to follow up later in the week with the Sun-Times staff.

Wrapports released the following comment from Knight: "I wanted to clarify the statement regarding our decision to part with the photographers. This was a decision made by senior management after much input and discussion and one that then Jim had to execute." In a subsequent interview, Knight told me the Guild's account of his remarks was a "truncated version" of what he said at the meeting, which was not recorded or transcribed. "The answer is we all reached the decision and Jim had to communicate it to the affected employees," he said.

Kirk never discussed the decision publicly or answered media questions about it at the time. Although the layoffs made headlines around the world (and even provided fodder for "The Colbert Report"), the Sun-Times never acknowledged the unprecedented cutback online or in print. Additional fallout ensued when Sun-Times editors ordered reporters to begin mandatory training on "iPhone photography basics."

Kirk, a veteran Chicago journalist who held editorial management positions at the Chicago Tribune, Crain's Chicago Business and Bloomberg News, joined the Sun-Times as senior vice president and editor-in-chief under Wrapports ownership in April 2012. Last June, one month after the photographer layoffs, Kirk was promoted to publisher of CST Group (including the Sun-Times, SouthtownStar, Joliet Herald News, Northwest Indiana Post-Tribune, Splash, Grid and Chicago Reader) while retaining his position as editor-in-chief.

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