Maybe It’s Just Me……..

For years some folks at newspapers have looked down their noses at those in the TV/Radio business. Primarily the object of their scorn was those darn folks in TV news. “Oh that’s not real journalism” and “you folks never let facts get in the way of a good story” I was told over the years by some of these “Holier Than Thou” newspaper types. I never understood why these people appeared to be so contemptuous toward those in the TV world. Of course this was back in the day when newspapers were still in their glory with huge staffs where individuals had specific beats compared to TV newsrooms where everybody had to be (and still are) versatile enough (you hoped) to cover everything from crime one day to environmental topics the next and then do a feature the next. I never saw newspapers and TV competing with each other as much as they were complementing each other. If you wanted to see what was going on with the weather or why traffic was at a stand-still you turned to TV. If you wanted details you read about it in the newspaper. If you really wanted in-depth analysis you turned to the news magazines.

Of course along the way newspapers discovered that readership was dropping off and they started cutting staff and some like the Commercial Appeal started depending on freelancers to flesh out their staff as they cut back on the reporters and photographers. And along the way, some newspapers discovered that there just might be something to this video thing as they started sending out videographers to (gasp) shoot some of those “moving pictures” to place on their newspaper web pages. I’m sure that move had some long time newspaper folks and some newspaper purists practically retching. Heck some newspapers even formed partnerships with TV stations.

Which leads me to the point of this post. I was browsing through the Commercial Appeal Sunday morning and ran across the “1,000 Words” part of the Viewpoint section. For those of you who missed it, here is the photo along with the caption and his commentary.

“For TV, world’s a stage”

When I am photographing assignments for The Commercial Appeal, people often find it hard to believe that it is a violation of the National Press Photographers Association code of ethics for news photographers to stage or manipulate a photograph for use with a story. Some people even seem offended when I refuse to stage a photo. Perhaps their attitude is shaped by the sensationalism they are used to seeing on TV broadcasts — such as this reporter who went a step further this month and used debris from the site of a Mississippi car crash that injured actor Morgan Freeman as props for his stand-up. “1,000 Words” is a weekly pictorial commentary on events in Greater Memphis and around the world. Today’s “1,000 Words” was written by Mike Brown, a photographer for The Commercial Appeal.

Now, I’m not sure what news value this particular tidbit had for the newspaper other than filling space so the editorial page wouldn’t appear so thin. Plus I wasn’t there and I don’t know who this video news crew represents or what they were doing. They could have been from some local TV station, a syndicated tabloid news show, or they could have been from a local college. As I said, I wasn’t there and I don’t know. And those who read my rants know that I’m no fan of the tabloid “bent” that local TV news has taken over the years. But anyone who has worked in TV news knows that a walking, talking “stand-up” for a news story is more interesting than standing in a static pose with some mundane scene in the background. In fact, those are encouraged by those who run TV newsrooms. Is that staging. Not in my opinion. But it apparently is with Mike Brown who apparently has some issues with TV news. I don’t know Mr. Brown and I’m sure he’s a nice guy who has won numerous accolades from his peers for his outstanding work. But IMHO, you “stooped” on this one. I’m not sure of these reason that you felt compelled to shoot this photo or to have it published with that caption but you stooped a bit on this one. I think it would have been a lesser sin if you staged something rather than have this photo published. It didn’t accomplish much in my opinion. That’s just my opinion mind you.

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5 Comments on “Maybe It’s Just Me……..”

  1. Newzgrl Says:

    The picture shows reporter Nick Kenney and photographer Jermaine Black from WMC TV-5. It was a standup headline/tease.

  2. joelarkins Says:

    Thanks for jumping in with the who and the why of this photo. I will correct my original assumption in my blog post and will look more closely at future photos.

  3. Fade to black Says:

    That is, indeed, Nick Kenney. And Joe, you are absolutely correct that reporters are encouraged to add visual interest to their live reports. Of all the things a newspaper person might criticize TV folks for, this was not a good example. Kenney was not misrepresenting (iirc) the facts nor manipulating them. He was holding up an actual artifact from the fire/carwreck/whatever, in an attempt to make the report as compelling and thought-provoking as possible.

    I think Mike Brown was way off base on this one.

  4. the tall tv guy Says:

    I don’t watch much local tv news anymore. Instead of reporting events accurately and objectively, it’s common practice to dramatize and hype the stories, especially with the breaking news graphics over the least little thing.

    With readership dropping, the newspaper industry is slowly fading away. But rising costs have cut the profit margins at tv stations, so both are fighting to get through tough economic times.

  5. Mike Brown Says:

    Since a co-worker was kind enough to pass on a link to this post I’d like to chime in here to defend myself and the intention behind my recent 1,000 Words.

    First, 1,000 Words is a space for the photographers to provide visual editorials. Much like the rest of the editorial page they are opinions intended to provoke thought and/or discussion. They are not news stories. And when it comes my turn for a 1,000 Words I admittedly try to stir the pot a little bit.

    I deliberately did not include the names of the WMC crew. This is not a personal attack on them or any other TV journalist, as I have been told some took it. It’s about news delivery in general.

    I’m sorry that the staging comment was taken out of context as I did not mean to imply that the TV crew was staging their shot. It’s a stand-up after all, what’s to stage. Those comments were to address a very common misperception with our readers that we set-up or stage our photographs for the paper.

    The point I was trying to make is that I do find it sensationalism (and rather tacky) to use debris from an accident scene that required someone to be airlifted in critical condition as a prop. I’ll be quick to point out that both stand-ups I saw being taped used “props” not just WMC (another reason why I did not single them out by name or affiliation) they just happened to be the only ones I shot a picture of as I was trying to work a news story. In hindsight, I should have stated that in my cutline.

    I’ve worked alongside Jermaine at other stories, and it’s always a pleasure. I don’t think what I do with stills is any better or worse than what other TV journalists are doing with video. It is apples to oranges. I do not look down my nose at any of them.

    In retrospect my wording could have been better to convey the point I was trying to make. Perhaps that is why I chose photography over writing as my profession.

    I’m sorry you feel I stooped and I understand why you think that, but based your post and other comments I’ve received I’m glad the 1,000 Words made people stop and talk about it. That is its purpose after all.

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