Friday, April 20, 2007

Detrich damages Blade's rep

The National Press Photographers Association president Tony Overman publicly condemned the practices of Toledo Blade photographer Allan Detrich. (See examples and NPPA story)

Detrich, for whatever reason, cloned out a significant portion of a Page 1 photo. On his blog, Detrich claims he did so to make a personal print for his wall and didn't intend to transmit the photo. Additionally, he claims it was a one-time occurrence.

Detrich states on his blog, "While transmitting on deadline, I sent the wrong photo, plain and simple. I made a huge mistake, and I have expressed my regrets to my editors at the Blade. It is something that will never happen again."

At least part of this is a truthful statement. Detrich resigned on Saturday, April 7, 2007.

At this point, we could let this issue drop. According to Detrich, he made a one-time mistake. He accepted responsibility for it and resigned. He's now moved on to chasing storms for a living.

Since his departure, all 50 of his images were removed from the AP archive. All of his images were removed from and access to his images were blocked internally.

Why such a reaction? Gosh, from the reaction we might think these images were contaminated with something deadly. Some are. Some are contaminated with the death of newspapers - lies.

Toledo Blade's executive editor Ron Royhab had his staff look through Detrich's older images. According to Royhab, "dozens" of images had been manipulated.

Overman states the extent of this problem precisely, "The Blade reports that a subsequent internal investigation of his work showed evidence of manipulations in 79 photos so far this year, an unprecedented amount of violations."

I really want to give a beaten photographer the benefit of the doubt. Possibly someone is counting typical (acceptable) spotting as "evidence of manipulation."

Unfortunately, the comparisons between the original files and those in the system are kind of - you know - outrageous.

"The changes Mr. Detrich made included erasing people, tree limbs, utility poles, electrical wires, electrical outlets, and other background elements from photographs. In other cases, he added elements such as tree branches and shrubbery," Royhab states. Royhab also states a puck and basketball were added to other images.

According to the Blade, Detrich has won "hundreds of newspaper photography awards" over the years. He was also a Pulitzer finalist in 1998. This means literally hundreds of truthful stories were not awarded because they had to compete against his questionable images.

It's injustice.

Reason for anger

Why am I so mad about one photographer at a different paper in a different state doing something unethical and just plain wrong?

I have 14.5 million reasons.

$14.5 million is the average difference between my annual income over the last 15 years and one of my university classmates. My classmate is a top full-time commercial photographer.

I have no problem with his profession. He does what he does better than most. He creates stunning visual fiction. He is handsomely paid to do so. I applaud him because that's his profession, and he doesn't claim to tell the truth.

I chose to tell the truth for a living.

When people in my profession produce fiction and pass it off as truth, I take issue. It's a lie. When a PJ's image lies, the public could think all of us are liars. Yes, it ticks me off.

I could have earned $14.5 million if I chose to make fictional images for a full-time living. I didn't because I believe in telling the truth. It's not something I think is "nice" or "quaint."

It's a PJ's honor and duty.

So, the next time anyone debates whether they should Photoshop the truth, consider sending $14.5 million to each and every dedicated PJ who works their tails off to tell the truth.

If the price is too high, they need to ask themselves what they would pay $14.5 million to do. I've already paid that much to tell the truth. It's a high price. But I'll continue to pay it.

Enough for now,


Bryon Houlgrave said...

Thanks for this post.

Journalists, whether shooters, writers or copy editors, should be upset about this blatent marring of ethics. It's unfortunately something that keeps coming up year after year, and for a week or generates a buzz throughout the community which prompts discussion of the value behind ethics. Then, focus shifts back to why newspapers are dying. Are you flippin serious?

Should it be mandatory for award panels to view the original, raw photo and compare it to the published version to deem if any ethics have been broken? Is that even a possibility?

Possibly if PJs were required to submit the original alongside the published version to contests that would make a difference.

For that matter, maybe publications should start publishing both versions too.

Maybe there needs to be an "Honesty in Journalism" award; something which trumps the Pulitzer.

I nominate you, Mark.

Mark M. Hancock said...

I'm all for side-by-side images for competition. :-)

I don't want to win any award that would make people gun for me. I have enough stress now.

When the game is over, I'd rather be called a solid PJ with high ethics than an award-winning cheater. I'd hope others would want the same.

Marie said...

"Side by side competition" sounds like the most fair and awesome idea ever. Photoshop is an excellent tool but has tempted the PJ monsters.