Tuesday, April 10, 2007
A Picture's Worth a Thousand Words ... Just So Long as They're the Truth
Photojournalist Allan Detrich resigned from his job at the Toledo Blade yesterday amid controversy over a doctored photo published recently in the paper. The photo, taken at a Bluffton University Baseball game, depicts the players kneeling in prayer prior to their game, their first since a tragic bus accident killed five teammates on March 2nd. Several photographers captured the moment from remarkably similar angles, and each picture shows a pair of legs behind one of five jerseys hung along the fence in remembrance of the fallen students – each picture, that is, except Detrich's.
After some investigation, curious journalists at other newspapers found out that the legs in question belong to freelance photojournalist Madalyn Ruggiero, who was working for the Chicago Tribune during the game. Ruggiero insists that she never left the scene, a story confirmed by other photographers at the scene.
When confronted with the inexplicable differences, Detrich initially denied doctoring the photo. After he met with his editors and they inspected his laptop, he changed his story, admitting to doctoring the photo. He claimed to have inadvertently sent the photo to his editors after changing the picture for his own personal use. He had no explanation for why he would change the picture while under deadline without the intent to submit the doctored version, and said that he had forgotten about doing so when he was first questioned.
Detrich's distinguished career spans a quarter century. His work garnered him recognition as Photographer of the Year from the Ohio News Photographers Association, and his photo essay, "Children of the Underground," was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for Feature Photography.
It is unfortunate that such a long and lauded career should be cut short by an incident like this, but as Mindy McAdams writes in her Teaching Online Journalism blog, "the moral of the story is that in a 24/7 digital world, a journalist is always one click away from a serious error that would put false information before the public." Detrich's story should be a cautionary tale for future journalists. You may think that changing something trivial is too small a lie to matter, but your audience demands absolute integrity and has a right to expect it.