Sunday, October 9, 2016

Do not tamper with reality.

There was a time when tampering with reality was questionable at papers.

Back when I worked at The London Free Press I was asked to shoot a quick picture of strawberries to illustrate an article on the ripening local crop. I deked out for some berries; they were from California. I told myself that berries are berries. Editor Sue Greer disagreed. Sue rejected my picture. The berries were not from Heeman's, the berry farm mentioned in the story. I drove across town to Heeman's for some berries before reshooting the picture.

In the early days of my career in the newspaper industry, faked and doctored images were always 'questionable'. I use the word questionable carefully. The pictures might make it into the paper or they might not. Such pictures always raised questions. No more.

Today pictures are all too often filler, page art, illustrations. The idea that pictures are simply shims on a  page has never been more true. I have tried to broach this subject with local journalists but have found they completely ignore my comments.

When I got into the newspaper business there was a distrust of those with degrees in journalism. The editors at the first paper at which I worked believed many graduates had picked up bad habits at school along with big egos. It was difficult and time consuming retraining them on the job. A graduate with an English degree was preferred over one with a journalism degree.

The clown image that accompanied a local news story.
Today fake pictures abound in our papers and online and our university trained journalists see no problem with illustrating their stories with stock photography.

Recently in London, Ontario, high schools were threatened with trouble from clowns. The police arrested two kids too young to even attend high school. The paper should have seen this coming; kids, not clowns, are often the source of such threats.

The paper illustrated the story with a cliché image of a horror story clown and my guess is that neither the award-winning, degree carrying, journalist, nor the local university that once granted MAs in journalism saw any problem.

And why is the clown image so wrong? Because it illustrates not just a story but an attitude. And that attitude leads to stuff like the stock art photo used on the left. It's certainly not a news picture. I'd call it soft porn.

And once the ability to question has been blunted the next logical step is faking pictures in-house. When a Sun Media paper couldn't find topless sunbathers at the local beach to illustrate a story, the paper simply hired a couple of models. 

The models took different poses, with one being posed topless, but it was all very tasteful. The topless model was always shown shot from the back. The resulting pictures got wide play. One even ran in The New York Times.

And some at newspapers wonder why more and more readers are questioning the decisions being made by our newsrooms. Heck, if the folk in the media won't ask the questions, some readers will.

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