by Dick Kraus

While I really wasn't looking forward to this gathering, I didn't want to be late. Knowledgeable people would be there and I desperately wanted to know what was going on. Since the announcement a few days earlier that Newsday was dismantling its Photo Department, rumors had been flying. My e mail in box was filling up with requests to know "What's happening?"

I called Dave Pokress, a senior staff photographer at the paper who was also a representative of the union that represented the editorial employees. I was preparing an opinion piece for the December issue of The Digital Journalist and I wanted to have my facts straight. Dave was nearing retirement age, but was still employed. He had come to Newsday 37 years ago as a Photo Department Intern. He filled me in on what he knew, which was still sketchy at the time. He told me that he would have more information and would fill us in on the latest developments at the upcoming Dinosaurs' Brunch.

The Dinosaurs state on their web site: "The Dinosaur club consists of a group of retired old fossils who have eaten all the leaves from the top of the trees.

We are former newspaper and TV cameramen and women who gather together once a month at the Spartan Diner in Farmingdale to have brunch, cuss, spit on the floor and bemoan the fact that our beloved profession has gone to the dogs in our absence. We have worked for Newsday, The NY Times, The NY Daily News, The NY Post and NBC-TV News and we are freelancers."

The Dinosaur Club was started in 2002 when a few of us Newsday staff photographers retired, or were close to retirement. Word got out and soon we were inundated with requests from photographers who had retired from several New York City papers and TV stations. And then reporters, editors and darkroom staffers asked to join. What had started out as a handful, quickly grew into a mob. Not everyone made it to our monthly brunch at the local diner. Many had moved to Florida or other warm climes. Some became too aged and ill to make it every month. But, they all checked the web site every month, to see who had attended.

That Friday, I set out early to get ready for a concerned and inquisitive group. Our waitress, Pat, placed a cup of hot coffee before us as the first Dinosaurs began to arrive. There were about six of us seated when Dave Pokress arrived. We didn't even allow him to get his coat off before we started hitting him with questions. He wanted to wait until there were more people present before beginning, but we wouldn't let him.
Dave told us about a meeting that he had with management and the Photo Staff to discuss how the announced cut backs would be handled.

In a nutshell, he explained, the entire staff of twenty photographers would be let go. Buyouts would be offered to everyone. Some dismissed photographers could interview to be re-hired; not as Photographers, but as Visual Journalists and Assistant Photo Editors. Dave said that while no specific number of such re-hires were given, he sensed that it would be no more than three. That's a far cry from twenty and a dramatic decrease from the 50 or so that were employed in the '90's. More Photo Editors would be added, which seemed odd, since there would only be 3 staff photographers to edit. Dave said that the ratio would be about three editors per photographer. I don't know what the thinking is behind that, but it certainly adds up to overkill in my mind.

Some of the fired photographers could apply for the new editor openings. It was pointed out that these editors would also have to cover photo assignments a couple of days a week.

It was going to be worked out so that everyone who wasn't re-hired could collect unemployment benefits.

Dave also felt that he and about nine other senior photographers weren't going to be considered for re-employment. It seemed obvious that top management had no concern about the dedication, loyalty and length of service involved with these older newspukes. Dave's opinion was that management felt that these older shooters were a health insurance risk. Newsday was self-insured as far as health benefits were concerned. Older people were more prone to health and injury problems. That may well be, but it has been my experience that the loyalty and dedication of the older segment of the paper's work force showed them coming in to work on a more regular basis than the younger segment. Health issues rarely stopped them.

Two more of the affected photographers joined us at the brunch as Dave was talking. Everyone there was shocked at the expressions on the faces of Al Raia and Audrey Tiernan. They looked stunned. They certainly weren't prepared for this sudden cessation of their careers. We all felt their pain. Even though most of us present had secure retirements and were comfortable with our lives, we could imagine what it must feel like to wake up one day and be told that your job, your lifestyle, your security was about to end.

Al Raia had started at Newsday in 1961. He still handled his assignments in a professional manner in spite of being in his mid-70's and is one of the most beloved and respected members of the staff. Although he is certainly eligible for full retirement and Social Security, he loves his job and had planned to continue working for as long as he was able. Dave and Audrey had worked for 20 to 30 years. Dave has about 10 more years before he can collect his full retirement. Audrey has even longer to go. Who would hire them in the meantime? Even if there were photographer's jobs available, it's unlikely that any such positions would be offered to senior photographers.

We drank our coffee and ordered our pancakes and our eggs. We talked about the "good old days." "Remember when," someone would say. And then would recall some assignment that we had covered well. We spoke about the camaraderie that existed among all of the journalists who had been present at the scene. That kind of unity and friendship would likely not be seen again.

It was time for us to go. The diner was filling up with the lunch crowd. We stood in the parking lot in small groups, recalling more "remember whens." And then we got into our cars and drove home, with the realization filling our minds, that the journalism that we knew was a thing of the past and would never be again. That is so sad.

I passed the Newsday building on my way home. On a whim, I pulled over and made a photo. Who knows how long that will be there, the way things are going.

Next month there will be another Dinosaur's Brunch. There will surely be more discussion of "what's happening."

The title of this piece is The Last Dinosaur's Brunch. The title referred to the fact that it was the most recent Dinosaur's Brunch, not that there would be no others. There will be more and now we will have more people able to attend. It's just such a shame that their lives had to be altered so dramatically in order for that to happen. We all could have waited.

Dick Kraus



Since I wrote the above, several weeks ago, some new facts have come to light.

Management has dropped the job title, "Visual Journalist," and two photographers, not three, have been re-hired as Staff Photographers. Audrey Tiernan, mentioned in the story, was one of them. Five former Staff Photographers, all of them senior staffers, were hired as Assistant Photo Editors. The rest of the staff were given buy-outs.

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Dick Kraus




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