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Sword and Pen: Chicago Sun-Times photojournalist Anthony Vazquez

By May 25, 2023Features, Podcast

by Lori King, host of Sword and Pen

Back in 2013, a year before Snapchat added video capability and the same year Instagram launched video sharing, the Chicago Sun-Times decided to jump on that video bandwagon. But rather than rely on skilled photographers to provide quality video, the Sun-Times canned their entire photo staff and forced its reporters to shoot video using iPhones.

Visual journalist Anthony Vazquez poses for a portrait at the Chicago Sun-Times, Tuesday, June 23, 2020. | Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

It was a bold and unprecedented move that sent shock waves and panic throughout the photojournalism world. It was the first time that photojournalists, including myself, realized we could be replaceable in newsrooms. I remember that day well because we were fearful that we could be next.

It’s been 10 years since that bad decision, and I’m still teaching about that mass layoff in my photojournalism

classes at the University of Toledo and Wayne State University (Detroit). I do not want history to repeat itself.

So, when I met marine veteran Anthony Vazquez at last year’s MVJ convention in Washington D.C. and he told me he was a photojournalist at the Chicago Sun-Times, I immediately invited him to be a guest on the Sword and Pen podcast. There was no better person to give our Sword and Pen listeners an update on that situation.

On this episode of Sword and Pen, Vazquez certainly talks about how the Sun-Times currently deals with video, but we mostly chat about his life as a “small town Iowa boy” who enlisted in the marines as a landing support specialist after community college and ended up at one of Chicago’s two competing newspapers.

Vazquez describes the moment he realized he wanted to be a journalist. It was in Afghanistan, and he had witnessed a horrific scene: a local Afghan boy whose leg was blown off by an IED. He watched as the boy’s younger brother frantically ran after him.

“That was his brother, and he was crying and trying to keep up with him as he was carried away on a stretcher by Afghan soldiers,” Vazquez recalled.

A bloodied fan talks back to officers after being injured by police officers after Mexico’s victory celebration in Mexico City, Sunday, June 17, 2018. Mexican fans celebrated around the Angel of Independence monument after Mexico’s victory over Germany in the World Cup. (AP Photo/Anthony Vazquez)

“He was in his flip flops, running across the rocks, and I just remember that whole scene made me realize that we’re here for a certain reason, that we’re impacting the lives of other people,” Vazquez said. “I wanted to write about what was going on in Afghanistan at the time and how war was impacting the locals. That’s what got me interested in journalism.”

It was a defining moment that inspired Vazquez to leave the military to attend journalism school at the University of Iowa. Though his initial intention was to be a writer, he took a few photo classes and joined the school newspaper, The Daily Iowan, which led him to pursue visual journalism instead.

He also talks about how his military experience played a key role in covering one of his first big breaking news stories for the Associated Press in Mexico; makes a case for veterans working in newsrooms; and explains how he went from working at a grocery store to becoming a member of Report for America.