Thursday, March 25, 2004

PJs require a background check

When parents and teachers use their point-and-shoot cameras to make images, they call themselves photographers. When scumbag p*rnographers do the same, they also call themselves photographers. Because PJs use the same tool – a camera – the logic follows that we must also be photographers and therefore p*rnographers.

Consequently, parents and teachers want to shoot the school function and submit the (out-of-focus, poorly-framed, etc…) photos for publication. But, by this logic, doesn't this make the parents and teachers p*rnographers as well?

Never mind the fact that most PJs have college degrees and extensive police background checks. Actually, most of us have Secret Service clearances to cover national and international politicians (presidents, prime ministers and such).

The fact is, PJs are required to be great citizens. They must pass and exceed every social scrutiny test. School board members are held to some (but not all) of these same standards because they're elected officials. Parents, teachers and school administrators aren't held to these same standards. If they were, we'd have a lot less news to cover.

Keep your background clean

In blunt terms:   Those with legal convictions need not apply.

Newspapers have access to perform criminal background checks. They do so for all politicians and all new (newsroom) hires. If a PJ has a felony or even a misdemeanor, their resume is removed from the pile. The same isn't true for politicians.

When a PJ is restricted from certain activities because of previous behavior, the PJ is worthless to a news organization. There are plenty of applicants with clean backgrounds and access to everything. Editorial publications won't waste their time on a PJ with access limitations.

Some young people don't completely consider the ramifications of their actions. Until they're 18, they believe they're legally bulletproof. They're not, but they think they are. Some also think they're immortal and omnipotent, but that's a post for someone else. :-)

However, it's critical for future PJs to keep their police records clean. The easiest way to accomplish this is to be a good person and don't break laws. Feel free to fight to change the laws, but don't break them.

Yes, during emergencies PJs "bend" laws severely, but we don't absolutely break laws on a daily basis. We know it would limit our ability to cover our community. We also understand it's impossible to make deadline in a jail cell.

When was the last time a working PJ actually did something heinous? I don't personally recall anything. I did a quick search on Google for "photojournalist convicted," and I only found links for Hiroki Gomi, the Japanese PJ for Mainichi Shimbun, who caused the death of Sgt. Ali al-Sarhan, a Jordanian air security official, when a "war souvenir" exploded after it was discovered in his luggage on his way home from Iraq.

He was tried, convicted, and sentenced to 18 months in jail for "illegal possession of explosives that led to an unintentional death." King Abdullah II pardoned him and sent him home. He was fired from the newspaper.

PJs cover folks breaking laws. Our images document conflicts. The actions of our subjects don't make PJs criminals by proxy. The actions of the subjects make them criminals to those making the law of the land. Depending on the location, sometimes those making the laws are criminals in other countries.

PJs don't get to determine which law is correct. We must obey the law of the land, fight to correct unwarranted laws, and document those who break and/or enforce the law.

This would be a long-winded way to say most PJs undergo more serious background checks than most elected officials. We also often deal with more substantial issues than those trying to limit our access.

Enough for now,

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