I felt really bad about the Chicago Sun-Times photographers being laid off. I have an idea of what it's like to be in their shoes. When the economy tanked in 2008, my industry got hit hard and I eventually had to look for another job. I'm very thankful that I did. For these photojournalists, I can imagine it being much harder due to their shrinking industry. Photojournalists aren't the only photographers who are suffering. Other professionals, such as wedding photographers, have also been hit due to the democratization of photography.
I think one solution may be to require licenses in order to charge for photography.
Photographers invest time and money in order to learn their craft and buy the equipment needed to realize their vision. If there are no barriers to entry, they are being disincentivized from making that investment. The end result is that there will be fewer professional photographers. Of course, with so many people having cameras, there will always be people ready to take your photos for little or nothing. The issue for us as consumers is that, on the average, the quality will probably not be as good. Even talented amateurs who have the skills to produce good photos would find it hard to compete in a marketplace where someone is always available to offer their services for free.
We require licenses in several professions partly for health and safety, such as for doctors and engineers. But there are other professions for which a license is required even though there is no physical danger to consumers, such as lawyers, accountants, or even gardeners. Simply because we want someone to do the job competently. I think consumers would benefit from a similar assurance of competence for photographers.
I think the fact that a license has generally not yet been required for photography is because the skills and equipment required for photography served as a natural barrier to entry. But because the photographic industry changed virtually overnight, the law hasn't kept up. Eventually, if almost all competent photographers switch jobs and enough consumers are burned by ugly photos, consumers themselves will probably ask legislators for some sort of license for photography. I'm just suggesting we do that before we lose the talent of this unique generation of professional photographers who have used both film and digital cameras.