When the Subject Controls the Image, It Isn’t a News Photo Anymore

Stephen Crowley tackles the issue of hand-out photos coming from the White House over on the New York Times’ Lens blog. Well worth a read.

I particularly love this segment, referring back to reenacting photos at the White House (a practice that has now been stopped):

But a staged or restaged situation — often rich in absurdity and unintended humor — is a bit of stagecraft that should be celebrated for exactly what it is: sophistry.

This issue has been brewing for a while from what I hear and read and it’s one that we need to pay a lot more attention to. Would any reputable news publication take a release from the White House press office and run it verbatim? Of course not. So why would they take a hand out photo and run that?

Which brings me to something else that has been bothering me … my beloved National Press Photographers Association’s monthly magazine, News Photographer, which is the only true trade publication we have, ran a PR photo as one of its Opening Shots this past month. Of all the news photos created in the world, a publicity photo was the best thing they could find for that prime real estate?

There are a lot of people who question the value of the NPPA now. I am not one of them, but I have moments when I wonder whether there is a clear enough direction being given to the house organ. And, yes, I am fully willing to accept that News Photographer is, in almost all ways, a public relations publication for our industry. But PR is not a part of our industry. News Photographer should be loaded down with the best news photos from around the world, not PR handouts.

Back to Crowley:

Instead of succumbing, news organizations must recommit themselves to hiring and retaining professional journalists. Publications that use government handouts should be aware that they may be risking their own credibility.

Mark E. Johnson

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