San Antonio Express-News retirements cut paper's photo staff by 1/3

The departures include a highly decorated photo director and three photographers with decades of service at the daily.

click to enlarge Retiring Express-News photographers strike a pose with City Council after being honored by District 4's Adriana Rocha Garcia. - Facebook / Robert Owen
Facebook / Robert Owen
Retiring Express-News photographers strike a pose with City Council after being honored by District 4's Adriana Rocha Garcia.
Four senior San Antonio Express-News photojournalists have taken early retirement packages, the daily revealed in a Monday column praising the longtime staffers' contributions.

The departures include Luis Rios, who served as the paper's photo director for 13 years, along with Jerry Lara, Kin Man Hui and Billy Calzada, each with decades of service at the paper.

Express-News brass declined to confirm the departures last month, when rumors of the buyout first circulated. Editor-in-Chief Marc Duvoisin was unavailable for comment Tuesday.

However, people familiar with the paper's staffing levels said the departures leave its newsroom with roughly half a dozen full-time photo desk employees.

Monday's column noted that the staffers took part in Express-News owner Hearst Corp.'s "voluntary incentive separation program." The departures come as the daily "continues to invest in other areas of coverage," columnist Nancy M. Pretor-Johnson noted.

District 4 City Councilwoman Adriana Rocha Garcia honored the retiring staffers during a recent meeting, according to the report.

Robert Owen, an Express-News photojournalist who retired three years ago, said the paper will likely need to scale back photo assignments with the departures. He also credited Rios with helping raise the profile of an already solid photo staff. The senior photographers will be difficult, if not impossible, to replace, he added.

"Over the past 10 years, the photo department at the Express-News has been the envy of many other newspapers, including [fellow Hearst property] the Houston Chronicle," said Owen, who also spent decades at the paper. "It had been recognized nationally by other news desks and photo editors around the country."

Rios directed Express-News staffers who were named as Pulitzer Prize finalists for Feature Photography in 2015 and 2018. Lara and Owen were among those 2015 finalists.

The retirements are the latest cuts at the Express-News, which has dramatically shrunk through buyouts, layoffs and attrition. A 2018 round of layoffs included both senior journalists and employees in its business operations.

Other media organizations have also cut back due to declining subscriber numbers and ad revenue. In October, the Washington Post announced plans to get rid of 240 staffers through buyouts, and the online Texas Tribune this summer said it had cut 11 employees. The Current jettisoned more than half its staff at the outset of the pandemic but since refilled some of those positions.

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