‘Daily News’ cuts a big chunk of photographers from its roster

Alec Baldwin scraps with News shooter Marcus Santos. (Daily News)
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The Daily News is disbanding its pool of photo permalancers, employees who work full-time hours for the tabloid on set day-rates but are not salaried employees with benefits, Capital has learned.

A handful of these photojournalists—about five or six, according to people familiar with the situation—have been offered salaried positions with benefits starting Jan. 1. The remaining dozen or so will lose the regular full-time schedules they've had for years, sources said.

That includes Marcus Santos, the photographer who was famously decked by Alec Baldwin while on assignment covering the "30 Rock" star's marriage license acquisition last summer, said a source with direct knowledge of Santos' employment status.

The News already has more than a dozen existing staff photographers, but permalancers are a significant slice of the photo desk.

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"It's devastating. I don't know where else they'll get absorbed," one knowledgable source told Capital.

"Some great photographers are worried" about what they'll do for work now, said another. "It makes me very, very sad."

But a spokesperson for the News said the paper's freelance photographers weren't getting the boot altogether. Those not offered salaried positions will still be able to receive assignments, albeit much less frequently.

"The Daily News will continue to use freelance photographers," the spokesperson said, declining to comment further because the paper does not discuss personnel matters.

In either case, the decision to streamline the photo desk, which since July has been under the direction of former National Enquirer reporter Alex Hitchen (one of the journalists instrumental in breaking the John Edwards scandal several years ago), pulls the permalancers out of the purgatory they've been working in for the past 12 months.

They were expecting to either be cut loose or offered salaried positions around this same time last year. But then former News of the World boss Colin Myler was named editor-in-chief, thus putting the matter on the back burner. Months later, in July, the permalancers were asked to sign a new contract that many of them found to be onerous, and Myler noted during a companywide town hall meeting at the time that the News has 18 staff photographers, versus only five, by comparison, at British tabloid The Sun.

More recently, Hitchen has increased the amount of money being paid for third-party syndication.

"A lot gets spent on agency photos," said a person familiar with the budget.

The freelance photographers who are about to lose the "perma" aspect of their livelihoods are in good company, as various major news organizations are trimming headcounts in their 2013 budgets.

News Corp. recently shuttered its iPad publication, The Daily, resulting in roughly 100 pink slips. Newsweek is in the process of finalizing layoffs as it prepares to go digital-only. And The New York Times is implementing its third round of buyouts in four years.