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Wednesday, 27 February 2013


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Excellent summary.

I'm starting to wonder whether anyone self-righteously nitpicking about captions even looked at that picture. It was a picture of an ex-military guy wearing a screaming American eagle t-shirt, carrying a military-style "street sweeper" shotgun and a bandolier of shells, in a neighborhood the subject proudly claims as completely safe. I wouldn't want to be anywhere near a guy like that, in any neighborhood. It fully supports Pellegrin's photo essay's thesis about how people contribute to the culture of gun violence. Splitting hairs over the accuracy of the location in the caption misses the point entirely. It's even more relevant as captioned though, as attitudes and actions of people outside the Crescent zone in question contribute to the actions of those inside it, and vice-versa. Why would commenters like to believe that the subject could not be part of the story due to being outside some imaginary neighborhood boundary?

Leaving aside the Pellegrin affair, which is ambiguous, I disagree with you, strongly, when you say:

"The reason it is customary for reporters to contact the subject of an article is to make sure they haven't gotten any facts wrong. It is not because the subject is entitled to a forum in their article, and it is in no way about giving them free reign to spin their version."

The reason is precisely because the subject is entitled to tell their side of the story. If X says Y is a crook, a reporter has an obligation to call Y and say, "X says you're a crook. Do you want to respond to the charges?" Otherwise, it's X who has "free reign to spin their version". I have, on several occasions, contacted someone accused of something, only to find that they had a perfectly good explanation, or a plausible denial. And sometimes they didn't.

In the end, a reporter's job is not to be fair to the people they're writing about, it's to present the fullest and most accurate account of the situation to their readers. That usually entails getting every side to a story.

As I say, this doesn't necessarily have any bearing on the Pellegrin case. Sometimes the evidence speaks for itself. But on the whole, more information is always better than less.

That's why I love this site : that's a post that's about as straight down the line as it gets. Thanks, you've made my day!


The most compelling reason to contact the subject is also the simplest: to get the story right. Not just in its facts but in its substance, tone, and implications, as well. This is done for the sake of the reader, not just as the duty of the journalist or for the benefit of the subject of the story. Shaw didn't have to change his story after contacting Pellegrin, or give him a free forum for his side of the story. But most of the time when you contact a subject you come away with a more accurate story. Which is the goal.
I'm proud to say that at the publication I work for we always contact the subject of the story before publication. We send them the quotes, the pertinent part of the text, and the photograph showing them. If we have conflicts of fact we iron them out prior to publication. We don't back off but we try very hard to get it right.
Finally, when the consequences of the kind of allegations being put forth in this story are so potentially injurious, then I do believe there is additional responsibility on the part of the journalist to make every effort to get things right. To imply the the facts alone are the only messages being carried by this story is ingenuous. Much more is being said that just the details of the case involved. For Mr. Shaw to think otherwise would be naive, at best. (And claiming that this story was just the work of a "critic" plying his trade just isn't believably valid to me.)
There is no imperative in any of this to back off, or use kid gloves. I'm not defending Pellegrin. But journalism and the public interest are not well served by avoiding the messy business of hearing a subject out.

I'm in complete agreement with you. I felt Pellegrin's rebuttal smacked of guilt; he was a little too aggressive, and quick to call the Marine's integrity into question. But I didn't fact check, I'm just offering my opinion.

Those who are excoriating Shaw because his article wasn't "balanced" by giving Pellegrin's take are buying into the attitude that is the heart of the problem with modern journalism. It is not necessary that a news story, much less a critique, be "balanced." It is only necessary that it be accurate, and that is not at all the same thing.

As an author I struggle to get the facts and details correct. Pellegrin should have contacted the subject in the photo to get his facts and details correct, or taken them down at the time of the photo shoot. By not doing so his photo is not related to the text, and the text is not related to the photo. It is a fraudulent misprepresentation of all the components, and the theft of the intellectual property shows his lack of creative writing skills. He took a photo--big whoop--that is all he did that was a creative moment. Oh wait, actually the camera took the photo.

I for one think that Pellegrin's photo perfectly depicts US gun culture. Regardless of where exactly it has been taken.

Oh, well, it was fun, useful and informative while it lasted. I got along without looking forward to Wednesday's column before it existed; I can again.

I hope Ctein the photographer, printer and technical writer about those things returns one day. He is quite good.

Catalogs use photographs to display their wares. Failings in choice of product, descriptions, layout, organization, quality of products and service have nothing to do with photography. Can you imagine a column about those things here?

Journalism existed long before photography. It is a separate field, which happens to use photographs, along with interviews, documentary research, videos, surveillance, etc.

There are no complaints that the photo itself is plagiarized, Photoshopped, of inadequate quality for its purpose, unclear as to its objective content, as opposed to who and where, etc.

The issues discussed here are all about misrepresentation of the content and location of the photo and plagiarism in the words to which it was conjoined. For the purposes of the controversy, the photograph is irrelevant. It could as easily be a drawing, a video, an audio description of witnessing supposedly live events, a witness report ...

There are plenty of other places to read about the ethical, moral, political, whatever, aspects of journalism.

I come here to read and interact about photography. Forays into culinary matters of tea and coffee are unfortunate, a let-down. Jumping into this morass is really annoying to this regular reader of TOP*.

News and commentary about misrepresentation in/of photographs that win contests are of little interest to me, but clearly about aspects of photography, and thus on topic for a photography blog and/or column.

Op-Ed should be in another section.


* And buyer of Ctein prints here. Oddly enough, I was just perusing one last night.

"... as attitudes and actions of people outside the Crescent zone in question contribute to the actions of those inside it, and vice-versa."

fizzy- Ordinarily, couldn't agree more- but (and it's a big one) that particular photo came about as a direct result of the photographer specifically requesting him to brandish those particular weapons.

Dear Jim and JL,

You construe my phrase "make sure they haven't gotten any facts wrong" far too narrowly. As Jim put it, "...to get the story right. Not just in its facts but in its substance, tone, and implications, as well."

To me, that's all "facts" of the story. And that's all I meant.

I sincerely don't think either of you has said anything different from what I did.
It is the prudent thing to do, because if you don't, you risk getting something wrong.

That's nothing more than making sure you haven't made a mistake. It's good practice; it's dangerous not to do this. But... if a mistake hasn't been made, then no harm and no foul.

(aside: Pretty much no commentary or analysis pieces I read in the papers ever include content from "the other side.")

pax / Ctein

Dear Fizzy,

Because it misstates facts. In other words, it lies.

Yes, it may be pertinent to the larger story. But it tries to be so with falsehood.

pax / Ctein

Dear Moose,

Sorry to tell you that you are likely doomed to a life of disappointment [s]. Your pleas fall on deaf ears for the following reasons.

My mandate is to write on the topic of photography 75-80% of the time and on any damn thing I like the other 20-25% of the time.

85% of the readers like it that way-- Mike's polled them twice. I don't think he's going to do it a third time, and a minority crying out in the wilderness ain't gonna make any difference.

I like it that way. I am not going to limit myself to the topics that interest any individual reader unless I am writing for their magazine and they are paying me to do so.

Mike likes it that way-- it was all his idea, from the get-go. As for what's on topic and what's off, he and I have only disagreed once, and that was very mild (I think actually he came to agree with me after some discussion, but that might just be ego-memory [g]). This column is considered to be "on."

I totally agree with you that it would be wonderful if this turned into a full-blown magazine with separate sections. I fear that would require Mike to be so successful that he could afford a staff, so I'm not counting on it. But it's a lovely dream (speaking as an end-user).

pax / Ctein

People should be more concerned about the journalistic integrity surrounding what is reported as fact in Washington DC. Politicians are not the only ones bought and paid for.

I would agree with Moose's comment here if were talking about parrots or tea. But Ctein writes about a PHOTOGRAPH. Good column

It might just be possible Pelligrin just got lazy on this one and cut corners, but I don't think we know. Perhaps he got lazy many more times and just cut a few corners here and there and was only caught once.

I am not at all surprised at this though, and I certainly don't think it is a rare occurrence in journalism to sorta fudge the facts. Maybe subtract a few pertinent facts here or there, or perhaps intentionally word something to be misleading. Maybe rearrange the order of questions and answers in the printed version of an interview to add a little impact.

Having years ago been exposed to journalism almost daily in my job (law enforcement) at the time, I've never had much of an impression that a story had to be about facts and accuracy over entertainment value. There may be reporters who truly value facts and accuracy over entertainment, but that does not mean their editors do. This is most especially true for TV news.

Oh, the stories I could tell. I assume inaccuracies and half-truths in news reports. The difference today as compared to back then is that these inaccuracies and half-truths are much more easily exposed. No more "We stand be our story" regardless of facts to the contrary denials.

That is the change and an important change. Journalism can now find itself subject to the same scrutiny as they subject others to. I am sure many will claim this is unfair because journalists may occasionally be victims of inaccuracies and half-truths, but they can publicly repsond as they always could. That wasn't true of the victims of shoddy, misleading, false news stories in the past.

Ctein's missing the whole point, everyone over 40 seems to be missing it.

People are tired of shitty opinions and tabloid journalism on the web. This is a perfect example of the web fighting back against lazy reporting...sorry, "critiquing."

I haven't read one post defending Pellegrin. Everyone who responded negatively to Shaw, including me, were frustrated that he was so decisive in his condemnation of Pellegrin without even bothering to find out if anything the two college students said was accurate. He completely took their word for it. Then, when people reacted negatively to his post, he went back and fact checked it and posted Pellegrin's comments to OTHER journalists. In essence, he did the very same thing Pellegrin did, used someone else's words, without bringing any of himself to the original article.

I think this is a pivotal moment in the history of the Web. I think we will begin to see more pushback from users when they come across negative "critiques" about another human being when they see that there has been a lack of diligence on the "critiquer's" post.

And FYI, from Shaw's own website. "BagNews analyzes and reports news and media images." So they are reporters? Shaw broke this story. Under those circumstances, he has an obligation to do the work, or give the info to a real reporter. At least he does if he continues to want people to read his blog and take him seriously.

I saw nobody ask for a explicit position from the entities that give him the awards. I commented a lot about this issue and others critics that I don't share about the aesthetic of the images in Lens blog and Lightstalkers. I am a professional and part of the editorial machinery. If this happen is not only by a mistake of the photographer, there are editors that want more punch or some clichés pictures like the one in discussion because yes, is a cliché. A man with a eagle in his t shirt, a baseball cap and a gun. The meaning that some judges of x award give a price of the photo alone give you an idea of the editorial participation. For example, the first publication (accord Bags News Notes) was Die Zeit from germany. They didn't publish this photo and the story is saw and understood very good include if you don't know german. In base of Paolo Pellegrin explanations I think he did a mistake. We are humans and all that. But is well to recon when we make something wrong, not only from the photographer side, in this case from the awards. They need to put this issue clean in an explanation. This is my call.

D. Hufford- Absolutely right, all around... My childhood mind still recalls a newspaper account of a simple neighborhood incident that got half the facts either wrong or distorted- lesson learned. This may have been Pellegrin's first shortcut, or not, either way- that would be speculation.

Michael- Yes, it would be great to have real reporters, real journalists report on incidents such as this, particularly incidents involving their own. And you'll be well past a senior before that happens.

Fortunately, M. Shaw stepped up to the plate. The over forty year old who genuinely screwed up in this whole affair was the professional journalist who decided to fill in the blanks with plagiarized copy and images of his own imagining. Do you think a "legit" reporter will now investigate if this was Mr. Pellegrin's first foray into journalistic shortcuts?

Hello Ctein,

Well said, well said. Hats off to you.

Unfortunately "a huge load of bullshit" keeps coming.

When I went to journalism school I learned this: "If your mother tells you she loves you, check it out with two independent sources." (found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/City_News_Bureau_of_Chicago)

That idea may be old fashioned, but it guided my journalism career.

In the Reuters Guidelines (found here http://handbook.reuters.com/index.php?title=A_Brief_Guide_to_Standards%2C_Photoshop_and_Captions): Reuters Journalists:

Always hold accuracy sacrosanct.
Always correct an error openly.
Always strive for balance and freedom from bias.
Always reveal a conflict of interest to a manager.
Always respect privileged information.
Always protect their sources from the authorities.
Always guard against putting their opinion in a news story or editorializing.
Never fabricate or plagiarise.
Never alter a still or moving image beyond the requirements of normal image enhancement.
Never pay for a story and never accept a bribe.

From what I can tell both sides went against more than one of these. So the truth is somewhere in the middle and there are some questions that have not been answered from my point of view. When there is bias and conflict of interest you never get a straight story.

That is the job of the journalist, always.

Hi Mike and Ctein,

So at the risk of becoming tiresome allow me one last clarification. It may seem like a small point to some, but I think this item bears upon the perception and discussion in an important way, though it probably won't alter the course of his by now.
So going back to the matter of "captions" for the contest entry, and the charge of plagiarism. Here is what the rules of the POYi contest call for in the picture story division. "Summarize the story (2,000 characters or less) in the story summary field of the registration form. Each photograph within a story must include a caption."
So there are captions that go with each picture and there is a summary of the story. The contest rules make a clear distinction between the two, and for good reason.
The part of the entry that Shaw refers to as being plagiarized, the bit lifted from the New York Times, is in the summary. It is not in the caption. But he consistently refers to it as a "caption" or an "extended caption," which it is not. The summary is not meant to be a caption or an extended caption for the story. It is meant to give the contest judges context by which to judge the story. It is not meant to be a published as journalism outside the confines of the contest. If I were a judge in the contest I wouldn't much care where he lifted it from if it gave the general drift of what the story was about. In my experience judge only refer to these summaries occasionally, when they are uncertain about the intent or content of the story. To suddenly demand that these summaries be original works of journalism is a demand not made by the rules of the contest.
I would be interested to know if Shaw read the rules or if he understood what the purpose and role of the various parts of the entry. Or if he contacted the contest officials for clarification about how the summaries are meant to be used and by what standards they will be judged and scrutinized for originality, if at all. Shaw uses the two phrases indiscriminately and without sufficient understanding of the difference thereby subjecting the summary to a different standard.
Now, none of this should be taken to excuse the actual error Pellegrin made in the caption of the photo, which should rightly be scrutinized for its factual accuracy. Nobody seems to be claiming that the summary wasn't accurate.
Finally, Shaw used the shield of "analysis" and "criticism" to deflect the need for journalistic rigor. Well, in this matter he didn't get it right. The distinction matters. When you are publicly charging someone with plagiarism you ought to get it right.
And it has been bothering me. A lot.

Since we're all having our farthing's worth: I am a journalist and film critic by trade, so this debate is fascinating. I have some sympathy for Shaw's argument about critique versus news report, because it's true: I criticise films weekly, and there is no right of reply except through the usual channels - letters to the editor, or phoning me and screaming abuse, which is rare...My opinion is presented as that, a critical perspective, and so was Shaw's. And yet, I think those who say he needed to confront Pellegrin have a point - accusation deserves a chance to respond - although has anyone not heard Pellegrin's rebuttal? Where has that been denied? If you haven't read it, you're not trying.
Still, finally, these are side issues. Ctein gets to the sole issue here, which is whether the photographer misrepresented his subject or not. I agree absolutely that he did. If you think that that is minor, I could not disagree more. It is the issue of photography in our times, as it was in the Crimean War when Roger Fenton moved the cannonballs.
And the idea that a photograph is 'separate' from journalism, Moose, is hilarious. All the photographers I have ever worked with have been journalists too, with a camera instead of a typewriter (yes, I go back to those days).
The whole reason I read TOP is that it ranges wider than a randy bull. That is the unique thing about TOP. It is not just a gear site, it's a site about aesthetics, arguments, art, film and occasionally, cars and coffee. Grace a Dieu. Is anyone's life about just one thing? There are enough gear sites.

Shaw did the right thing in challenging Pellegrin. The photog's weasel response was pathetic, the final evidence that the charges are probably true. The more these practices are exposed, the better.

"Dear Moose,

Sorry to tell you that you are likely doomed to a life of disappointment [s]."

LOL! Not to worry, Ctein. My life is far too sweet for that! Every day when I get up just across the Bay from you, I go out on the porch and express my thankfulness for another glorious day in Paradise.

I must admit to having had more than a little enjoyment in writing my post. Not that I disagree with anything I said, although my tongue may have slipped into my cheek a little in the serious tone.

I do much enjoy your columns on photography, and find those on beverages and psittacines of little interest. Nothing wrong with finding a way to enjoy an otherwise dull post, and trying to improve the mix to my taste, I hope. {;~)>

Marc, "But Ctein writes about a PHOTOGRAPH." and Paul "And the idea that a photograph is 'separate' from journalism, Moose, is hilarious. All the photographers I have ever worked with have been journalists too,", I believe there are inherent fallacies in your positions.

First, imagine yourselves in the days before newspapers could reproduce photographs. The visual in question could have been a woodcut, similarly commissioned by the reporter, misrepresented in exactly the same way, and accompanied in the same way by plagiarized material. Or, rather than a visual, it could have been a falsified eyewitness description.

The issues of falsification and plagiarization would be identical to those raised here, ergo, the fact that the falsification happens to be a photograph is irrelevant. Acting as though the controversy is about a photograph only obscures the true issue.

Second, Paul, that your statement is a fallacy is easily seen if it is stated clearly: "All the photographers I know are journalists, therefore, all photographers are journalists."

As it happens, I know many photographers. None are currently journalists, and only two were formerly in that profession.

I still believe that it's not about a photograph, it's about lying, cheating and stealing. How very old fashioned.


Dear Jim,

I don't think you're being tiresome. In fact, I'm asking you for a clarification. How is the unattributed "summary" not plagiarism? I don't read anything in the rules you stated

"Summarize the story (2,000 characters or less) in the story summary field of the registration form. Each photograph within a story must include a caption."

that suggests to me that it's not supposed to be the supplier's text-- especially not in a journalism-related contest.

The reason I'm asking is that I'm not personally familiar with the contest nor its customs. Is there a tacit (or explicit) understanding that the summary may be pulled from all sorts of sources without attribution? If this is, in fact, a normal practice in this competition, then Shaw (and I) got it wrong. In which case, you're right-- the peril of writing without checking an independent source.

If not, I don't see how it's anything but plagiarism and I don't get how you'd think otherwise.

So, please elaborate on this?

Mike usually doesn't like extended discussions in these comments, but I think this is an interesting and important enough question that he'll indulge us.

pax / Ctein

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