The photos we used in Greensburg came from fired photographer

In our zeal Saturday to get some content on while we waited for stories from our local staff, I spent a good deal of time surfing blogs, YouTube and Flickr. I wanted to write a story reflecting how members of the distributed media were covering the event.

Among the blogs I found was one by Allan Detrich. I soon discovered Detrich was a storm chaser, former newspaper photographer, and had several photos from Greensburg immediately after the tornado hit. I forwarded the link to a member of my staff and asked that we get permission to use a photo or two.

We used a photo on this story and this one.

Today, Editor and Publisher did a story about the great job the Greensburg staff has done on getting a web site up and getting stories online despite having its offices destroyed.

Well down in the story, writer Joe Strupp includes:

Among the photos posted is at least one by Allan Detrich, a former photographer for The Blade of Toledo, Ohio, who was fired several weeks ago after it was found he had altered numerous photos. Anderson said he was not aware of Detrich’s past problems, but said he believed Detrich had approached the Tribune with the photos, apparently at no charge. Easterday could not be reached for comment on Detrich.

The former Blade photographer, who is also an avid “storm chaser,” said he offered the images at no charge because “I didn’t want to make money on the hometown paper.” As for his past problems in Toledo, he declared in an e-mail, “I learned my lesson, and I am moving forward with my career with honesty and integrity.”

I actually first knew this was an issue because of this post, which takes GateHouse Media to task for not recognizing Detrich’s name.

I’m sorry, this one is my fault. I had not seen the coverage of Detrich’s doctored photos (I don’t think it made Romenesko, but if it did, I missed it).

If I had known about Detrich, would I have still have used the photos? I don’t know. It would be good for me to say, “of course not,” but that is 20-20 hindsight. As I think about it, I have no reason now to believe the photos are doctored.

Contrary to the implication of the E&P story, Detrich did not approach us. We contacted him. Everything about his web site indicated (in the realm of common sense) that he is who he says he is and does what he says he does. I would have to believe he was and is on the scene and the photos are real.

If you look at the links to our stories, you’ll see that the caption I wrote are carefully worded to note that these were non-staff contributions.

We didn’t pay for these photos.

It would be hard to believe that Detrich created a fiction in this case. There isn’t a terribly big self-promotion angle for him to play here. He had no idea at the time he posted his photos that we would call on him. He maybe has an angle to get back into professional journalism, but at the time, I’m not sure I would have seen his coverage as angle shooting. I think he is doing something he has an obvious passion for.

Am I justifying? I’m trying not to. Just explain. Just be honest.

Another aspect of this is: To me, I saw this as citizen contributed content. My approach to CitJ is to treat it as honest until proven otherwise. Using CitJ in MSM coverage is a high-wire act. You’re going to get burned some times. But to me, the benefits far outweigh the dangers. Again, note how I carefully worded the caption to give the source of the photos. Some, I know, would now argue: “See, don’t use CitJ.” To me, that’s not an option. Use it, but use it with caution, and note the source.

Meanwhile, we have our own news service staff on the ground in Greensburg now and we are posting their stuff with more to come. I haven’t seen it yet, but I hear it’s good. Check it out.

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4 thoughts on “The photos we used in Greensburg came from fired photographer

  1. Oh, hell, Howard. I would have done it, too. Perhaps I believe too strongly in redemption, but it doesn’t pass the sniff test that he would have altered photos in this case. And I’m with you: I recognized his name — it was on Romenesko — but it was certainly cit j. It’s not like a tornado didn’t occur and didn’t destroy a town.

    Don’t let the second-guessers who’ve not had to make such a decision get you down. You did the right thing, which was bring serious journalism to readers hungry for information.

  2. Thanks, John.

    I posted this in a hurry before getting on a plane.

    On the plane, some vague memories were coming back about a guy and a photo and more later being found … not sure if I’m remembering Allan or not.

    The “sniff test” is what I was trying to get at in my post — I think it passed that.

    The only thing that bugs me is that I wish I had remembered — then I would have been making a fully informed decision.

    That said, right now, we have no plans to take down the photos. I currently have no reason to believe they are not authentic.

  3. Dietrich is an excellent photographer who made a string of mistakes. If you’re not paying for content, what control do you really have over it? The only control you have is whether or not to publish it. You exercised that control without even entering his name into Google to see who your content provider was.

    Not sure how Dietrich will build a new career by giving photos away, but in your case I think you got more than you paid for, so you should stop whining. Dietrich has done nothing to harm you.

    Any mom with Photoshop can take the pole out of her kid’s head before she submits it to the paper, so you probably run doctored photos all the time. You just don’t know about it or don’t care enough to check.

  4. The question isn’t whether it’s CitJ or if user-submitted photos are regularly doctored or any of that.

    The question is whether someone who has been fired by another newspaper for unethical journalism practices can then be picked up in any form by your newspaper.

    I don’t have an answer to that question. I’m with John in my belief in redemption. But I’m also a believer in consequences.

    Unfortunately for readers of the Toledo Blade, Dietrich lied to them with small, visual white lies on numerous occasions. An audit of his work done by The Blade after his firing proves that.

    So if it turns out that Dietrich has now lied to your readers by erasing a little something here or there in the tornado photos, then what will be the consequence? He’s not a paid person. So, what then?

    My guess is once he’s actually burned your readers, he might be banned as a contributor to your newspaper regardless of whether he’s paid.

    So the assumption in your decision to post Dietrich’s work is that it doesn’t matter that he’s lied to other readers, as long as he hasn’t lied to your’s. Is that your standard?

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