Category Archive: ethics
The Atlantic, a 156-year-old publication, has been at the forefront of digital media. Its diverse blogs (I read James Fallows and Ta-Nehisi Coates) and online projects (InFocus, Atlantic Cities and the Atlantic Wire, for instance) have helped the Atlantic lead the push into the new media environment, all while making the publication profitable again. That’s what makes Jan. 14′s missteps, publishing an ‘article’ sponsored by the Church of Scientology in the same format as the Atlantic’s online news, so confounding and laughable.
Here’s what happened: The Atlantic is experimenting with models of funding online journalism. The Atlantic decided to start running paid content in line with its regular reporting, the first of which was something called “David Miscavige Leads Scientology to Milestone Year” (archive of article with a few comments) posted at 12:25pm on Jan. 14, 2013. This article and some associated sidebar content looked indistinguishable from regular Atlantic content (and showed up in searches of the Atlantic’s online archive), though they were marked with the words “sponsored content.” The Atlantic’s marketing team was monitoring comments on the Scientology article and deleted a number of negative comments. Criticism of the article spread across social media. And at 11:35pm, less than 12 hours after it was published, the advertorial was removed from the site and links to it forwarded readers to a message stating, “We have temporarily suspended this advertising campaign pending a review of our policies that govern sponsor content and subsequent comment threads” and saying “We screwed up.”
Advertising content that looks like editorial content is nothing new. You can see “special advertising sections” in many newspapers and magazines. The Chinese and Russian governments have been particularly persistent with advertorials that look like news reporting in international news publications, including the Washington Post and New York Times. But the Atlantic’s Scientology debacle was a step too far for readers, not least because the Church of Scientology has a reputation for being a threat to democracy and unfriendly to those reporting or sharing information about the church.
For more about the Church of Scientology, make sure to read the New Yorker’s piece about director Paul Haggis and the Tampa Bay Times series investigating the inner workings of the Church.
And in the vein of editorial independence in online media, earlier this week a CNET writer resigned after CNET’s parent company CBS forbade the writer from giving a technology award to a company that CBS is currently suing.
This week the Seattle Times Company, publisher of The Seattle Times newspaper, announced that they would be donating ad space in the newspaper to support two Washington State political campaigns: the “Yes on R-74 Campaign” (a referendum supporting Same-Sex Marriage in the state) and the Republican candidate for Governor Rob McKenna as a pilot project to prove the worth of paid political advertising in newspapers at a moment when such investment by campaigns is dwindling. The Times is the only remaining daily newspaper in Seattle following the Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s move to web-only in 2009. The first of the full page ads, which are considered independent expenditures and the content of which is not coordinated with McKenna’s campaign (or the Seattle Times’ newsroom, for that matter), appeared in Thursday’s newspaper and will continue this week. The value of the contribution of ad space in support of the McKenna campaign, at market rates, is $75,000 so far and it is believed a similar value will be given as an in-kind contribution to the Washington United for Marriage campaign which is advocating for the approval of Referendum 74.
The Seattle Times newsroom has a comprehensive article about the controversy: “Times Co. criticized for McKenna, gay-marriage ad campaigns” and The Stranger, an independent weekly newspaper in Seattle, also has strong coverage of the story on their website’s blog called the SLOG, including their news item about the ads, questions raised by Rob McKenna’s Democratic opponent Jay Inslee and responses by The Seattle Times company and some of the reporters in the Seattle Times newsroom.
The Times Company’s spokeswoman Jill Mackie describes this move as a “one-time pilot project aimed at demonstrating the power of print advertising” in an interview with The Stranger. The Times has previously endorsed both the Republican candidate for governor and the pro R-74 campaigns in this election cycle. Seattle Times Executive Editor David Boardman said in the Times’ article that the Seattle Times news department “was not part of the discussion or the decision to do this.” In the same article the Times quotes Roy Peter Clark of the Poynter Institute: “It’s not the newspaper’s problem; it’s not the publisher’s problem; it’s not even the readers’ problem; it’s the problem of the reporters who are covering these issues and these candidates. Their credibility at stake.”
Paid political advertising in our national newspapers is not new, and is not under oversight at this moment. We must look closely at the Seattle Times’ leadership and ethics as a company that intends to buy advertising in their own product to support one particular position on a electoral vote (R-74) and one partisan political candidate, while also attempting to maintain an effective and neutral newsroom. I, for one, am angry and confused about the handing of these expenditures (their planning, their placement, their timing) no matter the possible benefits each campaign might receive from the Times Company’s donation. I have positions on both of the campaigns that are at the center of the Times’ marketing stategry and that does not get in the way for a moment about my anger of how this is being done. It is not about the issues in the campaigns, I see the issue as how a newspaper company can so clumsily be trying to help swing races in this manner. The ethical shortcomings are vast and disheartening. But it remains to be see if this is a smart business decision, as I cannot help but admit, that might be the only avenue the Seattle Times Company has left: growing its business of selling political adverts at the cost of further undermining its own editorial divisions. This could indeed be a smart business decision, that least the newspaper’s readership and in turn our democracy in a far less informed place.
There are a lot of questions, and way too many speculations to indulge in here. But have any of our readers heard of similar programs which blur the business of a newspaper so much as the Seattle Times Company placing their own branded ads into their paper alongside editorial pages? And what must the staff think about this inside work-around on political fundraising and expenditures? There are rumors of a Seattle Times staff rebuttal to how they are being treated (for example: this momentous decision happening behind their backs) but also expressing their concern for the future of their reporting careers in this city in the possible wake of the paper losing credibility amongst some sources and voters.
This will be a test case to watch. Can you think of any other ones like it that we can see and compare with? Interesting times in my home town, no matter.
More than a year ago my friend John Malsbary and I began trading emails about a couple of films and some ideas that they inspired. I suppose it is a follow-up to our first post together: Dvafoto Book Club, Vol 1: The Hurt Locker. This discussion started when he told me to watch Winter’s Bone and after I saw it I started drawing a lot of connections to my fascination with the documentary Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus. So I asked John to watch that documentary. This post is an edited form of the ongoing discussion John and I have been having, and jumps around quite a bit to other bits of art and society that we’re interested in. We hope you find it interesting. Watch the trailers for Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus and Winter’s Bone.
I think the most important thing that sticks out to me personally with Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus (directed by Andrew Douglas, 2003), in concert with Winter’s Bone (directed by Debra Granik, 2010) is the different approaches to telling stories that I’m interested in. I could see myself working on the stories at the heart of either movie, but I don’t know how I would do that with still images.
Watching Winter’s Bone, I kept thinking .. could I do something like this? Take a very realistic story and use some fiction to be able to communicate the story better? Would it allow me to give the audience more than they could see if I shot it ’straight’ as a documentary? For instance, some of the stories I’ve heard in the Roma camps (I spent much of 2009 photographing the destruction of a Belgrade Roma community), there is no way to show all of those elements in still images made at the moment. These were things that happened in the past, things happening where I can’t photograph, or mental images described to me. It seriously makes me think about doing some work on films some day, to explore that itch to tell a more complete story than “purely” what is in front of my lens. Or maybe there is indeed a way to do that within documentary photography.
It is the same thing with Wrong-Eyed, it makes me dream about making a documentary film. What they are able to pull out of the story, with some scripting, some crew, some lighting, is different than what I would get with my still photographs if I were standing there the day before or after with the exact same idea or perspective. Likewise, their way of telling a story would probably not work at all with the stories I have done. My stories exist because I’m one guy moving quickly with one small camera, really no equipment, and just shooting what happens in front of me, no set-ups at all. That movie can not exist without those setups. It took a crew of people to set up access and equipment, to get those people (in jail, in the bar, the preacher) to say their deepest thoughts in those particular tableus. We could both get in to these places, but our way of working changes what we will get on film. And making the decision about how you physically approach a story changes what you will record.
That’s the essence of what I’m interested in this conversation: the nature and method of story telling. And how choices about a medium, given their specific limitations and advantages, can reveal new elements of the story.
Since watching the film the first time I’ve read up quite a bit more on Wrong-Eyed and have fallen deeply in to Jim White’s music (see the embedded video below for one scene of White playing some music and telling a story while driving around). If you like his tunes and want to hear him talk about the making of the film there is a great live set and interview from KEXP in 2005. There is also a nice press kit with much info about the film, found on the website of the distributer.
The White interview on KEXP gave me some interesting perspective on what they set out to achieve. In response to one of the things you raised in your reading of the film, the whiteness of it all. They say that they chose to focus specifically on the rural southern poor white perspective. And for me, that is something that I haven’t seen much real documentary of. My experience with this population is mostly just jokes about rednecks and northern snootiness. Man, I want to just go drive around the south now. I don’t think I have the balls or emotional space at the moment to actually open myself up to these experiences and go to all of these places right away though. Something I’ve realized living and working abroad: it really can be easier photographing away home. Less personal baggage that you hear off the cuff. Not knowing the nuance at first (though I am obsessed with finding it over time, this is why I am five years in to my project with barely an end in sight). You can photograph and not feel so bad not knowing word for word the details of their life story.
I have no idea why you would be afraid of these places. You are straight, white and male. People would make fun of you for being northern/west coast, but that would just be their way of trying to know you. The struggle would be to put up with the hateful shit they’d say, and keep your cool, and not judge them or fight it. Or maybe you would feel you have to fight it.
You know, I think you’ve put yourself at such a disadvantage by talking to people in a foreign country. In America I sometimes feel like narratives are a dime a dozen. Part of my job, as I’ve told you before, is just being where people are aching to be heard. My supervisors occasionally say that people with literally no money only have their story to trade. No one wants a hand out from me. So I receive stories like they’re legal tender.
For me it’s a pleasurable job. But I get a kick out of incoherent pandemonium. I think the hard part for a story teller would be sewing it all into something coherent.
We recently wrote about unblurring blurry photos a couple weeks ago. Now comes video (embedded above) showing real-time, dynamic, and easy-to-do insertion of fake objects into any photo. This is part of research led by Kevin Karsch, a PhD student at the University of Illinois / Urbana-Champaign. The user makes a bare-bones sketch of objects and lighting in the photo, and then drags an object into the image. The software then realistically places the object into the photo with proper lighting and collision. It’s difficult to describe, so you really should watch the video. Look for animations going through photos, bouncing off walls, casting proper shadows, and interrupting complex light patterns in a very natural way. Ordinarily, this sort of composite work would take expertise and hours, but the narrator says that one example in the video was done by a novice user in just 10 minutes.
I found this video via James Fallows’ blog at the Atlantic. Fallows calls this the latest, “What hath God wrought?” moment for technology and links to a short essay worrying about the democratization of image manipulation tools.
With only a few clicks, a blurry image is quickly analyzed, allowed Photoshop to discern exactly how the image was messed up (sic). That is to say, if you accidentally moved your hand slightly to the right and down while the shutter snapped, it’ll pick that up. And then it reverses it—and that’s the totally magical part. – Gizmodo
I came across this very strange story about a Dutch documentary filmmaker embedded with US Special Forces who, when his video camera died, decided to pick up a rifle instead and fight alongside the soldiers. The video report here is very thin, a lot of the story feels like it is missing, but it is potentially a unique twist for embedded journalism. I can’t recall ever hearing about another case of this happening, and I know tons of folks will react negatively to this in a heartbeat.
The filmmaker is Vic Franke and the documentary is called On Killing: The Aftermath. He says of the project,
This documentary portrays the private lives of two US Special Forces operators in Afghanistan as well as in the privacy of their homes stateside.
Filmmaker Vik Franke experienced all of this, while making “09:11 Zulu“, a documentary on the Dutch and US special Forces in Afghanistan. Riding with them in the desert for two months, hunting for the Taliban, he even had to pick up a gun himself in a huge ambush. The impact of the experience on his own life and having become of the ‘Fraternity Born in the Smoke of Danger & Death’ was enough to look up the only guys that he could talk to about it.
After looking at his website, the trailers for his films and the way he describes the work (including in this video piece), it appears to me that he seems quite eager to join the fight as a bit of a thrill. It comes off very inappropriate and rather offensive, and from what I’ve seen with these examples it really calls in to question the point of his films. Can you ever pick up a gun and still call yourself a documentary filmmaker? Can we take this work seriously? And what the hell does the US military have to say about such a thing?
(via War is Boring. Video report by Een Vandaag, Radio Netherlands Worldwide)
Mishka Henner has a new project on the Panos Pictures website, made with Google Street View, called No Man’s Land. It purports to be a series of pictures of women who “appear to be soliciting sex”. We knew there were going to be a lot more of these Google-based projects coming, following the controversial World Press Photo award given this year to Michael Wolf. But this one impresses me a lot, though in pushing more boundaries raises a new set of questions.
About his project Henner says,
No Man’s Land explores the margins of our urban and rural European environment as experienced by what appear to be women soliciting sex in liminal, post-industrial and rural settings, captured by Google Street View cameras.
Occupying liminal spaces in post-industrial and rural settings, the focus on these women also casts a critical eye on the Street View project itself and on photography’s indelible link to voyeurism and surveillance.
The Street View project heralds a new age of street-level cartography that offers a vast, regularly updated archive waiting to be mined by documentarians seeking to make sense of our contemporary condition. …
I think the project is terrific, especially in the visuals, and it is interesting to hear how Henner contextualizes the issues of using Google Street View immediately in the introduction to the work. I’m still working through some of the implications of the work, and I’m curious about your reactions. For example, these blurred faces imposed by Google itself… I’m sure there are legal implications for displaying peoples’ likenesses but in this context of possible illegal activity, it adds something else. It draws some parallels, in that fine line of documenting accusations, with Donald Weber’s project Interrogations, and many of the same issues of consent and imposition.
Overall I’m struck by the consistency of this project, photographically and conceptually: 64 images (on Panos’ site) with remarkably similar compositions. An amazing, consistent collaboration between Google’s ‘unseeing eye’ and Henner’s curation. The banality of the scenes is so strongly undermined by the repetition, the ubiquity and the scope of these images across Europe. I’m also struck that it would be nearly impossible for a photographer on his or her own to create such a project. Can we really imagine someone driving around and capturing as many scenes, as consistently, on their own?
Henner is showing me that sexual trafficking (as he implies, or maybe just a phenomenon of women sitting by rural roads) has a particular pattern consuming Europe; I am not accustomed to seeing anything like this with my full eyes nor before in an arts project. That is useful I think. This is perhaps journalism in a new form, it is informing us about something after investigation and we can likely rely upon it. Screw the medium, this is showing us something new in our communities and in an eloquent and democratic manner.
Passing this link to some friends I heard some very interesting, and critical responses. Ranging from the idea that a photographer should really just go out and make their own pictures (ideally, sure, but I think that it is clever to use the mass resources of Google photographing more places in less time than an individual could) to the very serious issue of Henner painting all of these women near the streets as street-walkers. Does he have any evidence to make such an accusation? Is this project interesting only because it is voyeuristic and speculative? I don’t have the answer, and Henner does not really give any firm answers in his own words about the project .. so again, I suppose we’re just asking questions but not coming to any conclusions. Interesting questions, but still troubling.
In 1969, Haeberle told The Plain Dealer that he had made no effort to photograph actual killings. He evaded the issue during interviews with Army investigators.
Last week, he said something distinctly different. “I shot pictures of the shooting,” he said. “But those photographs were destroyed.”
By the Army?
This story’s a bit old, but it’s the first I’ve encountered it. Ron Haeberle, US Army photographer during the Vietnam War, told the Cleveland Plain Dealer in 2009 that he took photos of soldiers in the act of killing during the My Lai massacre but destroyed the negatives. Haeberle’s photos of the event were the first published evidence of the massacre, but did not show any identifiable soldiers. In the video embedded above (and on the Plain Dealer site) Haeberle states that he destroyed any such photos, not wanting to point fingers at particular soldiers and feeling a shared sense of guilt for being part of the coverup of the incident.
David Quigg’s post on the subject, where I first heard about this, makes an interesting point about the journalistic value of the remaining photos: because photos showing clear evidence of the killing were destroyed, the remaining photos no longer serve to tell the full and true story of the event. As Haeberle says in the interview, the surviving photos “aren’t worth anything unless somebody actually talks about them.” This provides a clear example of how factual and unmanipulated photos can nevertheless deceive the viewer into thinking a full account has been given when the real story, in fact, remains hidden or obscured. I should be careful here to acknowledge that Haeberle’s decision to take any photos and come forward with some remains an important, courageous, and valuable act.
Over the last week or two I’ve read a number of great posts that I haven’t been able to really write about, but I wanted to make sure to forward them on. Well worth a read.
Asim Rafiqui on his blog the Spinning Head writes about (and questions) ‘dissident’ photography in the US: “The Dissenting Photographer Or How American Photographers Turn To Intelligence In Times Of Intransigence”. He profiles some interesting ‘political’ work coming out of the States, and it buttresses nicely with A Photo Editor’s recent interview with Nina Berman.
The Basetrack journalism experiment, created by Teru Kuwayama and featuring photographers Balazs Gardi and Tivadar Domaniczky, seems to have hit a final wall, with accreditation/embeds scrubbed for the final months of the project. BJP has a solid report “US Marines pull the plug on photojournalism experiment” and Wired Magazine’s Danger Room Blog covered the story as well.
Duckrabbit also has a challenging post about concerns with photographer Marco Vernaschi’s work, which has previously been called in to question. This is an important discussion and it is well worth thinking about the issues at play with the photographer, our industry and the awards we look up to. “Faking it – how to win a World Press Award but get banned from a wildlife comp for life”
The new photojournalism crowd-funding project Emphas.is has just launched. We’ve written a bit about the site before, especially their interview series on their blog. One of the featured proposals is Aaron Huey’s ongoing work about the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, which was the subject of an influential TED Talk that Huey gave last year. Pete at Prison Photography writes more about Huey’s project and his emphas.is proposal: “Aaron Huey’s Pine Ridge Billboard Project and Prisoner of War Camp #344″. A great summation of the issues involved in the work, Huey’s commitment to the project and the possibilities that can come from his emphas.is project being funded.
I have been documenting the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation for the past six years. Recently I have realized how inappropriate it is for this project to end with another book or a gallery show. [...] Your involvement will help raise the visibility of these images by taking them straight to the public—to the sides of buses, subway tunnels, and billboards. I want people to think about prisoner of war camps in America on their commute to work. I want the message to be so loud that it cannot be ignored. – from Huey’s empha.is pitch
“I think a large part of our future will be the curating of all these images. Can you imagine the number of images stored in our world today? It’s unlimited. In 100 years, there will be jobs such as ‘hard-drive manager’, which will be in charge of finding a hard-drive from 2010 and 2011 and will have to develop software to sort these images. And then there will be art projects and sociological projects done out of these images. The whole idea of curating this limitless mine of images that’ve created has a huge potential, and I’ve just scratch the surface with Google Street View.” – Michael Wolf in an interview with the British Journal of Photography
A new day, a new controversy in photojournalism awards. Photographer Michael Wolf was just awarded an honorable mention in Contemporary Issues in this years World Press Photo awards for a series titled “A Series of Unfortunate Events”. This is his third award from WPP, having won first prize in Contemporary Issues stories in 2004 and first prize in Daily Life in 2009. He’s also a diverse photographer that both Scott and I have been interested in for a long while (maybe you’ve seen his pictures of Hong Kong?) The vitriole is rising during this year’s annual kibitzing about award winners, with the group A Photo A Day writing on twitter: “Oh Mr. Wolf, yeah, about those google images you’ve appropriated and call your own. Fuck You“. While a nice twist back at the photographer, I think its also totally off-base, in similar ways to the arguments we’re discussing in the POYi/iPhone debate earlier this week.
The arguments against the work, or at least against awarding them in the World Press contest, are familiar to anyone who’s followed 20th century art (Duchamp’s Readymades, Warhol’s Brillo Box, Richard Prince, et al) but now it’s photojournalism on the block. The thrust of these arguments can be boiled down to these: He didn’t take the pictures, Google did. He didn’t use a camera (or, even if he did technically use a camera, what we see in the pictures didn’t happen in front of his camera). The project is not photojournalism (perhaps due to the previous two points, but perhaps for other reasons).
M Scott and I have gone back and forth on a number of reasons why we think it’s great this series was awarded, ranging all the way to Plato’s mirror metaphor in the Republic. And it should be mentioned at the very start that this method of culling the massive Google Street View archive for photographs is not new: M Scott wrote about some of these fantastic projects here on dvafoto in August 2009. But in my simple reasoning, to answer BJP’s question “Is Google Street View Photojournalism?”, is that Wolf has made a photo-reportage of events that he thought worthy of our gaze. In the same way any other photojournalist records a moment, this photographer found a scene, interpreted it, photographed it and is sharing it for us to think about.
So far I have left out an important part of this discussion, the distinction between the “real” world and the “virtual” world that Wolf photographed. Wolf photographed inside the semi-automated and semi-curated Google Street View universe. This was the limitation Michael Wolf placed on himself, and I think it works in beautiful and interesting ways: to find pictures and moments in an already photographed space*. It touches much more directly than many other photo series on the omnipresence of cameras and the constant surveillance we are essentially under, knowingly or unwillingly. That is without a doubt a “Contemporary Issue” and Wolf used a very innovative method of teasing out that story.
*Since everything is photographed in Google Street View, nothing is. It’s a mirror with no intention, art, journalism, or perspective. The photographer, by choosing what he makes a screenshot of (and we’d be fine with this winning if he only made screenshots, by the way) is making the photographs, framing them, choosing what to show. Google did none of those things. Even a screen-grab, if you are composing and choosing a moment, is a photograph.
These are real events and the photographer is reporting on them: showing us events that happened and he thinks are worth looking at. You could argue that the scenes he is showing are not real (people have hoaxed Google before), but if we accept these scenes as reality (and I haven’t heard anyone argue otherwise, I guess we could cross that bridge when we get there), this is an artist/journalist reporting those events. And he’s probably the only one who did report on any of these moments. How is that not journalism, in one of its important senses?
Is publishing a screen-shot of a surveillance video of a murder suspect in your newspaper an act of journalism? I think so. Even more if you chose to look at all of the possible surveillance videos and pull out all of the important details from across a city, for a report on crime city-wide or a broader report on what these cameras unintentionally capture (say, the incidence of people accidentally tripping and falling on a curb outside a Serbian hospital). The journalism is in the curation and interpretation of information, the photography is the medium in which you convey that report to the world.
It is street photography by any means necessary. What is the difference in curating hours of your own wandering for those odd moments that make comedic or epic sense and curating hours of someone else’s “wanderings” to find your own moments in their material? Some people say these images should be credited to Google.. but Google simply ran a camera through the street for automated documentation for one purpose only (its Google Maps site). The artist re-appropriated it for an entirely fair and novel use, one for which we can presume they were never intended. Brilliant. And it can be photo reportage and journalism at the same time: He is reporting on the world as it happened, and doing so in ways that no one else has done.
It seems that every year we look at World Press Photo and have a collective “WTF?” moment. I, for one, am quite happy that this year it is such an interesting project to discuss. We could keep going on with a list of the other points to argued about: Duchamp, Warhol, the ideas behind the film Synecdoche NY, journalistic tourism, the nature of a photograph (do you need a shutter?), etc. Where do you take it?