Perhaps I should just have one huge post on user-generated content that gets updated as merited because, to continue with the theme of UGC from the last update, this example shows what happens when a newspaper assumes everyone has the same knowledge and standards.
|Image: James Parks|
The photograph on the right appeared in the Standard-Examiner in Ogden, Utah, recently - two trains, one new, one from bygone days of steam, captured barrelling along under a crisp blue sky.
Taken by a 'trusted contributor' who submitted it to the newspaper, it was published on the front page of November 27 edition.
Then, on December 17, the Standard-Examiner's Behind The Headlines column carried what amounts to a long explanation for misleading readers.
In the column, staffer Andy Howell explains that the photograph was in fact a composite, Photoshopped by the person who submitted the image and published in good faith (albeit without checking) as a genuine shot instead of a cut-n-shunt of two photos. Howell states:
The photo was taken by a "long-time train enthusiast", whose work had been published by the paper before, and who deliberately set out to capture two shots that would when manipulated, show the old and the new in harmony.
The photographer believed that his composite image told a story in the best traditions of photo-journalism:
The column apologises for the deception (although one could question the depth of the apology after reading the whole column); it doesn't accept responsibility for checking the provenance of the image, however.
The big mistake James [the photographer] made was not telling us the image was a composite. If we had known, we might still have run it... and clearly identified it as such.... James is sorry he didn't tell us.There should be a mea culpa from the newspaper at this point rather than a 'James is sorry' (the photographer misled by omission, not through an intention to deceive the newspaper).
The column says the lesson for us all is that "sincere motives can still lead to bad journalism". Actually, not checking sources leads to bad journalism, and readers know it - read the comments accompanying the column (90 of them last time I looked).
Mistakes happen all the time but when a publisher is dealing with people who supply work (in this case it appears the photographer provided it free - his 'payment' being to see his work published) it cannot take things at face value. It says:
Possibly a simple (humble?) "We are sorry and we have tightened our procedures so this cannot happen again" rather than an explaination as to why the newspaper was not to blame would have played better with the audience....we need do a better job of educating the public as to the role and ethics of journalism if we want them to be regular contributors.
Behind the Headlines state one of the principles of journalism is: Never Deceive Your Audience. Perhaps it should remember another: Check Your Sources.