Thursday, September 23, 2004

People's names are important

Andrew Batt, chief photographer at The Wokingham Times series in the UK, asked a question in the comments section of the last swimming photo. He asked about getting subject's names in America (as opposed to UK policies). Because it's an important question, I'm answering here rather than having it lost in a comment section below.

If a person isn't identified (named), it probably won't run at most American newspapers. IF we get someone committing murder, then it's a different deal. However, any image can run as an "unnamed person" in the cutline under our byline name (called a "credit line"). I don't want this because it means I failed our readers.

Because most publishers are strict about names and spellings, PJs fight extra hard to get names so the image can run. Otherwise, we're wasting time.

With children, I normally ask the child to point out a parent or guardian. They know the child's name (spelled correctly). If they have a problem with giving out the child's name, there's always another cute kid somewhere who would love to be in the newspaper.

I don't appreciate it when PJs deny people the right to have their name in the news. People like to be in newspapers, magazines or on TV. They also tend to like their names. By denying a person the honor of asking their name, it's akin to saying their name is insignificant.

It's an honor to get into the newspaper. Not everyone can do it. I want people to know they won't die unobserved. Each person is important and deserves to have their name known. If they turn down this honor, it's their choice. Not mine.

Normally, it's all in how the subject is approached to get names. If the PJ smiles a lot and explains who s/he is and why s/he shot, the subjects normally give their names.

Here is exactly what I say to people as I directly approach them with pencil and paper, "Hi. I'm Mark Hancock, and I work for The Dallas Morning News. I made a photo of you a moment ago while you were (doing something), and I need your name please."

This statement answers most questions and doesn't give them much room to escape. I've given them my name. Common courtesy is for them to give me their name. I've let them know for whom I work (a big, legitimate newspaper), and de facto why I made the image. I let them know the image is already done. At this point, they would need to turn back time to make it disappear.

Most importantly, I told them I "need" their name. This is true. I do need it so the image can run. It's not that I want, desire or would like to know their name, I "need" it. If they choose not to let me know their name, then they're turning down a person in "need." Tsk tsk...

Then, I cap it off with a polite "please," smile again and put my pencil on the paper. I show them what I've written so they can see I spelled their name correctly, and we're both good. Meanwhile, other people have seen what I've done, and they can drop their guard a bit. They know I'm working and doing my job.

I'm not harming anyone or doing anything bad or unusual. Just letting people have a chance to shine. Maybe they'll get to cut out a piece of paper to stick to their refrigerator for a while.

Although it wasn't specifically asked, I'll address another issue with getting names. People want the PJ to commit that the image will run. We don't know. We don't make the final decision. If a PJ says, "This will run," there's potentially a huge problem. What if it doesn't? Then the PJ is a liar.

Instead, say it "could" or "might" run, but let the subject know the PJ isn't the publisher and doesn't make the final decision.

Enough for now,

1 comment:

Mark M. Hancock said...

Maybe I shouldn't post so late at night. My appologies to Andrew for the temporary error.