On the eve of the Super Bowl, legendary US-based sports publication 'Sports Illustrated' has laid off its remaining six full-time staff photographers. According to Sports Illustrated director of photography Brad Smith, speaking to News Photographer Magazine, the decision was made due to 'economic circumstances'. 

The cover of the current issue of Sports Illustrated, which today fired all six of its remaining staff photographers. 

NPM quotes Smith as saying that the plan is 'to re-evaluate what's best for the magazine, not just financially but also content-wise. Our commitment to photography is as strong as ever, and we will continue to create the best original content possible'.

The news that Sports Illustrated - which has been in continuous publication since 1954 - has now dispensed entirely with staff photographers has been greeted with shock and dismay among industry professionals. We spoke to Jordan Stead, staff photographer for Seattle PI.com, to get his reaction.

Jordan, you’ve worked alongside some of the Sports Illustrated photographers at various sports events - how do you feel about this news?

People are used to hearing about photo staff at newspapers being cut, - the obvious example being the Chicago Sun Times which cut its entire photo department in 2013, and then actually hired back a couple of their staffers, once they realized what a mistake they’d made. But this is different. We’re losing an historic, picture-powered publication.

People in the newsroom have very little power over this sort of thing. This has nothing to do with the people over there producing the magazine. You look at Sports Illustrated, and what does everyone always say? Its about the images. And I don’t mean any disrespect to the writers but everyone who knows what Sports Illustrated is, knows the magazine because they’ve been running big pictures for years. They’ve been running color, and big double-truck photos for longer than anyone else.

Jordan Stead, staff photographer for Seattle PI.com. Picture by Robin Layton

The other thing that’s interesting about SI - and I was just talking about this with my co-worker Josh Trujillo after last week’s game - is that we see the SI photographers at the big games, and we’ll often be shooting side-by-side with them. And when you compare everyone else’s work to the SI shooters - even when they’re literally shooting from right next to you - their images just have this look. The players are jumping just a little higher, maybe, or the composition is just a little better. Everything is just… premium. Their sports photography is legendary and the photographers that were just laid off are living legends too.

What will those photographers do now?

Well the good news here I think is that they’re so well-known, and they’re such high-calibre photographers that I doubt they’ll have trouble finding another job whether it's as staff photographers or freelancers. I really don’t think someone like Robert Beck is going to stay out of work and not be able to make another dollar from here on out just because he just got laid off from Sports Illustrated. Things change, and he’s such a good photographer and he’s been a legend for so long that I don’t think he’s going to have a problem. And the same goes for the other five photographers.

And what do you think will happen to the magazine?

What do I think will happen? That’s an interesting question. Obviously the SI will be using freelancers and wire imagery but the whole beauty of a team of photographers putting out consistent work, working together is that there’s a consistent look to the coverage. And when you start hiring different freelancers and using wire content that intermixes with everything else… there’s nothing wrong with that, but the sports coverage is going to start looking like everyone else’s. Because the guy who’s shooting for SI today might have shot for Getty yesterday, and another place the day before. 

The magazine is saying that quality of coverage will be maintained - do you think that’s realistic?

Of course they’ll continue to publish amazing content. There are amazing photographers everywhere, including amazing freelancers. And I’m sure they’ll hire some of their former staffers as freelancers, so they’ll probably still get their work in SI often. Do I think it’s going to be as consistent as it’s always been? That’s what I think is still up in the air. 

Are the cost savings worth it, for a publication like Sports Illustrated?

From a strictly financial standpoint I suppose it’s possible but I’d go back to the personal style, the consistent voice and the consistent product that has made SI so unique. This is Sports Illustrated, you know? The premier sports publication.

The name of the magazine is literally 'Sports Illustrated'! Who’s illustrating the sport? It’s the photographers.