When Smartphones Are The Wrong Tool For The Wrong Job

Normally I am all for using smartphones to make you better at your job or businesses more efficient. But sometimes things just cross the line.

The Chicago Sun-Times, a newspaper with a long and rich history, just fired its entire staff of photo journalists. It their place? The Sun-Times is going to teach every reporter the basics of iPhone photography. 

"In the coming days and weeks, we'll be working with all editorial employees to train and outfit you as much as possible to produce the content we need," said Sun-Times managing editor Craig Newman in a memo to the staff, according to media critic Robert Feder in a Facebook post.

This comes under the category of, “just because you can do something and it will be cheaper and easier, doesn’t mean you bloody well should.”

I take a lot of photos for articles with my array of smartphones. That doesn’t mean all of them are any damn good. Sometimes it can be damn hard to take a professional photograph of something with a smartphone for publication. You become a lot more aware of lighting conditions, distance, hand movement and stabilization. These are things that a good photo journalist with a decent camera just knows how to take care of to produce much better quality work than me and my point-and-shoot smartphone hack jobs.

In comparison to large newspapers, ReadWrite’s staff is small and we can only do so many things. Yet, we have a person on a photo desk (that serves other SAY Media-owned properties, as well) and we have been trying to be more proactive with original pictures and visual elements in our story. The Web is more and more a visual place, and quality photos are what make publications stand out from the dreck of social media and amateur blogs. Add in the fact that the Chicago Sun-Times actually prints a paper newspaper, and the matter becomes complicated. You ever seen a pixelated, blurry iPhone picture blown up and printed on newspaper parchment? No? There is a reason for that.

If newspapers are going to turn reporters into “backpack journalists" (where everything they need from camera, to notebooks to computer,smartphone and tablets is in  backpack), then they need to equip reporters better for photos than just a smartphone. The industry has made tremendous strides with smartphone camera technology (with Samsung, Nokia and HTC’s recent flagship smartphones all boasting terrific digital point-and-shoot apps).

For the most part though, they just aren’t going to be good enough for the professional-grade photography a major American newspaper is supposed to have. It would be better if the if the Sun-Times reporters issued high-quality digital cameras like the Samsung Galaxy Camera. They would be much better equipped to enter the fray than just with their smartphone. 

We can extend the bad decision of the Sun-Times to a variety of industries. Just because mobile might be cheaper, that doesn’t necessarily mean it is going to be better. The right tool for the right job makes everybody’s lives easier and more efficient. Sometimes, perhaps most of the time, that tool is not going to be a smartphone. 

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.