Thursday, November 13, 2003

Repercussions of a PJ's actions

Mark M. Hancock / © The Dallas Morning News

Trophy Club firefighter Shawn Scott (left) decontaminates the feet of Keller firefighter Brad Daugirda (right) during a procedural practice at Fire Station No. 4 in North Richland Hills on Tuesday, November 11, 2003.

The firefighters are part of the Northeast Fire Department Association (NEFDA) comprised of 14 northeast Tarrant County cities. The NEFDA member fire departments cooperate on bomb calls, hazardous materials (HazMat), fires and training as well as other cross-community needs.

I shot firefighters yesterday. There were firefighters from many different cities training for hazardous materials (HazMat) decontamination certification. I needed to show the firefighters from the different cities were cooperating together.

In our terms, we call it an "overall shot." Typically we make sure to get an overall shot, the normal shot and a detail shot (small, interesting close-up). Once we have these three items, we can start working the actual scene.

Today's blog is about the repercussions of a PJ's actions. This overall shot clearly shows all the participants as they get instructions. Many had their back to the camera while they listened to the instructor, but the shirts had the names of the fire departments to show the diversity. It also makes it easy for their fellow firefighters to identify the participants.

Here is where repercussions, responsibility and a smidgen of ethics comes into play. I forgot until a while later that firefighters have an almost universal agreement in this area to buy ice cream for all the other firefighters at the same fire station if they appear in the newspaper. Incidentally, they must buy steaks for the fire station if they appear on TV.

So, here's a hypothetical ethical dilemma: do you run the photo with 20 firefighters from 15 fire stations to show the overall cooperation? By doing so, you're directly causing 20 firefighters to pay for ice cream for their brethren. If not, you're denying 600,000 readers the total view of the story.

Luckily, I don't make the final decision of what goes onto the page. The editor and I agreed on an overall which included all but two of the firefighters present, a standard image of two firefighters in chemical environment suits and a detail shot of one of the jointly-owned vehicles. The Metro Editor or sometimes the page designer makes the final decision and s/he is probably unaware of the ice cream penalty.

Matt Rourke didn't get the same (fun) situation today. He covered a police standoff, which ended with a gunman and two others dead. Matt was there most of the day and got the shots of S.W.A.T. officers whisking away children of the gunman who had held them as hostages.

The police did their job and rescued the kids. Matt did his job and got the images. The photo editors did their job and chose the most compelling images. Then, it's out of our hands as to what runs in the paper and what doesn't.

They made a good decision and ran the most compelling images of the children being carried away by two officers in battle gear. It's currently on the Web site as the lead image, but it isn't currently repeated in the story link.

Consequently, tomorrow the compelling image will be replaced by some other image and the story will only contain a map and a mug shot of the gunman. I'd imagine the newspaper will have Matt's image as the lead on Page 1. However I don't know if the compelling image will be available for the online world after tonight.

Is it right? Is it wrong? I don't make the decision.

Enough for now,

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