Truth in Journalism

Truth in Journalism

by Ron Leach

We heard an unsettling report on the radio last night regarding an awarding-winning Toledo Blade photographer who recently resigned after admitting that he digitally altered the content of a photograph that was published on the newspaper's front page. The image by Allan Detrich showed members of a basketball team kneeling in prayer before playing their first game since one of their teammates died in a bush crash last month. Detrich used Photoshop to remove the legs of a person standing in the background behind a banner.

According to Ron Royhab, the Blade's Vice President and Executive Editor, many readers wrote in to ask "Why is this such a big deal?" Royhab's simple answer: "It is dishonest."

After an internal investigation it was determined that since January Detrich submitted 79 digitally-manipulated photographs. Of these, 27 were published both in the newspaper and on toledoblade.com. An additional 31 only appeared on the website. Many of the changes made by the photographer involved removing distracting background elements; tree limbs, telephone poles, electrical wires, etc. In a few cases, though, Detrich actually added tree branches and shrubbery to enhance the images.

In one sports photo Detrich added a hockey puck and in another he added a basketball, each suspended in mid-air. Neither of these images were published.

According to Royhab, the Blade has removed all of Detrich's photographs from its website and has blocked access to all of his images in the newspaper's archive. Similarly, the Associated Press removed all 50 of Royhab's photos from its archive. The bottom line: "Reader's expect an accurate record of the event."

We all know that honesty is a fundamental value in journalism and that applies equally to images as it does to the printed word. As Royhab said in his announcement, "Reporters and editors are not allowed to change quotes or alter events to make them more dramatic. Photographers and photo editors cannot digitally alter the content in the frame of a photograph to make the image more powerful or artistic."

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