Reader comments on Reuters photo standards

January 24, 2007

We’re living in a world where readers expect a conversation and a high degree of interaction with their news providers. I’ve been pleased with the responses we’ve received to the various editors’ blogs we’ve posted. Most have been thoughtful and constructive. Many have posed new questions, and we’ve tried to respond.

As part of this new environment, various people and organizations often start organized email campaigns or coordinated responses to blogs about issues that concern them. Sometimes we get dozens of emails; sometimes hundreds.

Recently, one website — Honest Reporting — suggested its readers send in responses to my posting on photo standards to raise the issue of Reuters 2007 calendar. The calendar became a topic of discussion because one month’s photograph was of a Palestinian militant. That photo stood out as most of the others selected for other months were of dancers, swimmers, performers or farmers.

All the pictures in the calendar, selected by a group outside Editorial. were taken by Reuters photographers as part of the extensive and balanced file of photographs we send to subscribers around the world and publish on the Web.

The many comments we have received about the selection will certainly be taken into account the next time any company committee puts together a selection of images for a calendar or other purposes.

David Schlesinger is Reuters Editor-in-Chief

Comments

Dear Mr. Schlesinger
I do not think that people like me – and they are many more than you think, non-Jews deeply offended by your slander, your bias, and your attitudes towasrds the State of Israel, are willing to accept your and thus Reuters’ sanctimonious copouts without a strong reaction.

Peopole like us demand (a) a public apology for your calendar (b) ther dismissal of the person or persons responsible (or may this have been condoned by top management itself?)and last not least (c) the recall and destruction of the offending calender.

Or maybe you might finally react when your corporate customers start turning away from your bread and butter financial data arm, wehose income allows the so-called news journalists in your outfit to live out their biases and prejudices?

Posted by Pedro Jacinto | Report as abusive
 

David,

Im not a fan of Reuters as a news organization, as you can see from my posts in the Report on Reuters actions after publishing altered photographs blog. But, I dont see a problem with the calendar. The photos in the calendar appear to be a selection of the more visually stunning Reuters photos. The Palestinian photo is a beautiful photo, and objectively should be included.

The pro-Israeli lobby will throw a fit anytime you show a photo of an Arab without a pejorative label on it. They are trying to push you into a bias against Arabs. Personally, I think you have a pro-Israeli bias. Both the Palestinians and the Israelis are, by their admitted actions, terrorists (the Israeli actions being things like blowing up the King David Hotel and terrorizing the Palestinians off their land at the birth of Israel, and then electing the man who carried out many of these acts Prime Minister). But, I have never seen you label Israelis as terrorists. Seems you should always label both as terrorists or never label either as terrorists.

Bottom line whenever someone complains because you dont put pejorative labels on a particular group they are trying to force you into bias. Ignore them. Just stick with the facts and let the readers come up with the labels.

Posted by Mike P | Report as abusive
 

Mike P,
You say -’Seems you should always label both as terrorists or never label either as terrorists.’

Exactly! Reuters never labels either as terrorists.
And I agree the photo is stunning. Me thinks that Honest Reporting doth protest too much.

Posted by JR | Report as abusive
 

Mike P:

I don’t agree with your post. The issue about the calendar wasn’t the use of the word “terrorist” or “militant.” The problem that many individuals had with the calendar, myself included, was the context and relevance of the photo. Including it essentially politicized what was until then an apolitical calendar. As Mr. Schlesinger said, “the photo stood out as most of the others selected for other months were of dancers, swimmers, performers or farmers.” The photos that do have some relevance to political events, such as the purple thumb/Iraqi voting picture, or the g8 summit, are not themselves political, if you understand my distinction. The only message they send is vague and innocuously positive, and they don’t attach themselves to any real political viewpoint.

The militant photo, on the other hand, is not of the same nature. This photo, of a palestinian militant who “marches during funerals for Palestinians killed by Israeli troops” sends a distinctly negative message and creates a negative tone. It is the only negative photograph in the entire calendar, and clashes heavily with the calendar’s otherwise positive tone. Artistically, it is a good photograph, though nothing especially stunning. I’m sure that Reuters could have found an equally beautiful photograph on a far more innocuous topic. Because the photo was so out of place with the rest of the calendar and theme, it bothered me, among many others. By including the photo, the calendar became politicized, condemning Israel’s behavior and associating Israel with a negative emotional and political charge. This creates an unbalanced political message, giving an unfavorable caption to Israel with no counterbalance, and most bothersomely, THERE IS NO REASON FOR IT in this essentially optimistic and positive calendar. Many of us would have been much happier if the calendar would have just stuck to its established theme, and remained cheerful and positive. The choice to include such a photograph must have been conscious, as this photo contrasts markedly with the rest of the calendar, and leads one to question the motives of the editorial board. The choice to include the photo seems to indicate an implicit bias and inappopriate bias on the part of the editorial board, because of the way it so markedly clashes with the peaceful and generally noncontroversial theme of the calendar, and introduces a needlesly harmful political slant to the overall publication. A lot of us would have been much happier if the editorial board has just followed the age-old maxim: “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”

Also, your reference to the “pro-Israel lobby” is completely unconstructive, and I find it somewhat offensive, as it trivialized my complaint. It makes it seem as though people who have pro-Israel views are just a part of some massive, conspiratorial PR firm–cogs in an unthinking political machine that has a vendetta against arabs and will stop at nothing to get their interests appreciated. I am an individual who is pro-Israel, and I feel I have a legitimate complaint of bias. But your dismissive remark stifles true discussion, because now suddenly I become not an independent, rational individual, but just an agent of the “pro-Israel lobby,” and thus, dismissable as irrational and irrelevant. What’s more, it is a self-fulfilling claim, because any complaints or posts that are pro-Israel can just be chalked up to the influence of the “pro-Israel lobby,” inherently negating their validity.

Posted by Ron M | Report as abusive
 

REUTERS PUBLIC RELATIONS STAFF RAISE MORE QUESTIONS THAN ANSWERS ABOUT CALENDAR

Reader comments # 2 and #3 contend that the only purpose of the Reuters calendar was to present visually stunning and beautiful photographs without regard to any underlying theme. However, in all fairness, wouldnt it make sense to first check with Reuters and see if that was indeed the case rather than to comment on the organizations behalf without justification?

Well, thats just what a number of us did. Reuters PR staff was courteous enough to issue a rapid reply. Contrary to the assumptions made by the two aforementioned readers, Reuters did in fact claim that there was an underlying theme to the pictures included in the calendar. However, the canned replies (they can be found posted on the Honest Reporting home site) are very puzzling in themselves.
According to Reuters’ Head of Global PR for Editorial and Media:
In putting this calendar together we sought to portray the theme ‘Eyes on the World,’ which is meant to look back at events and issues that marked 2006, concentrating on pictures with eyes.
I suggest that readers take a second look at the calendar and judge for themselves whether this remark makes any sense. Perhaps four photos can be identified as having themes related to pictures with eyes. Given a very generous degree of artistic license it might even be possible to identify another one or two. What do pictures about farming or the back of a bodybuilder have to do with eyes? Furthermore, how do cranberry fields and sunflower crops represent “events and issues that marked 2006?
I personally received a different canned response that claimed some of the images are:
…more political in nature than others, including the front cover of a woman voting in Iraq and one of the G8 summit meeting. We understand that some people viewing the calendar find that the photograph of the Palestinian militant appears to be the most political
The only problem is that the photos of the Iraqi woman and the G8 meeting simply do not contain any political commentary. The only image that does is that of the Palestinian militant. Furthermore, it includes the only caption in the entire calendar that expresses a negative or politicized message.
As other readers have suggested, why couldnt Reuters have found something more positive in keeping with the tone of the rest of the calendar? For example, a very important event which marked 2006 could have been a picture depicting Palestinians voting in their own election. It is truly difficult to believe that given the organizations enormous photo archive it simply could not find another suitable image.

The responses issued by the Reuters PR staff, however, did not answer the one critical question: How did this image come to be used and, more importantly, why was it singled out as the only one to depict a negative or militaristic theme? With all the conflicts and mayhem loose in the world today and given the enormity of it all, why single out this one as the only recipient of negative political commentary in the entire calendar?
This is an important question in light of the recent the controversy that called into question Reuters entire modus operandi and the apparent lack of supervision that allowed Adnan Hajj’s doctored photos to get past the photo editors this past year.
In addressing this matter I would recommend that readers refrain from pejoratives such as those used in reader comments #2 and #3. Remarks such as the Israel Lobby, Zionist Conspirators, Jewish Cabal or whatever do absolutely nothing to further discussion about an already sensitive issue. Nor does it reflect flatteringly upon the intelligence of individuals who are foolish enough to use such loaded terms.

Posted by Eric | Report as abusive
 

Ron M:

Nice post. Thoughtful and well stated. I respect your views, though I think we will disagree.

As someone who is not for either the Israelis or Palestinians, I have no problem looking at a photo on the basis of its visual appeal alone. I think the photo in question fits the calendars theme, which I dont see as happy dancers, swimmers, performers or farmers or the like. I see the theme as photos with plays on bold rich colors and contrasts. The photo which does not seem to fit the theme is the one following the Palestinian photo the one with those jumping guys in white (not enough contrast to fit). There are other political photographs in the calendar as you noted, and, just as those can be viewed for their visual appeal, so can the Palestinian photo. The Palestinian photo is less innately political than the G8 photo. You wouldnt even know it was a Palestinian if not for the caption. So, I assumed the caption was the problem. The caption seems to me to simply be a statement of fact. I see nothing negative about the caption. Some Palestinians got killed by some Israelis and this guy was marching at the funeral. Is it a secret that Palestinians sometimes get killed by Israelis? Not to most people, who also know that sometimes Israelis get killed by Palestinians. But, this photo was taken at a Palestinian funeral so that is what the caption says. Is it bad of the Israelis to have killed some Palestinians? I dont know, and the caption doesnt go into, who got killed. The current caption is neutral. If it had said it was Palestinian militants who got killed then I would have seen it as positive and making the Israelis look good. If it had said it was Palestinian children who got killed then I would have seen it as negative and making Israelis look bad. But it was neutral.

Those of us not for either side get tired of both sides taking every innocent thing and reading intent to slander their side into it. Sometimes a pretty picture is just a pretty picture.

Posted by Mike P | Report as abusive
 

TRUE ART IS MORE THAN SKIN DEEP

With regard to posting 6:

I am a detached observer (being neither Jewish nor Muslim) with regard to the conflict, as if that matters a hill of beans, and completely disagree with posting 6. I would wish this fellow would stop with the ridiculous generalizations, such as Those of us not for either side get tired (who elected you to speak for all of us) and the Israel lobby (see his posting in 2). I take it that, apparently, this is anyone who says anything positive about Israel or the Jews and is therefore automatically part of some conspiratorial cabal? If youre so tired then why read these blogs and even bother responding to them? It sounds to me like you are neither tired nor neutral.

The fellow in posting 5 was actually forthright enough to ask Reuters what their intention was and quite simply didnt get a straight answer. Thats not intent to slander. Thats trying to get the facts and asking good questions. I have to admit, Reuters response does sound very fishy. As was pointed out, responding for Reuters (as does posting the fellow in posting 6) doesnt amount to anything more than putting wishful words in their mouth. I think the organization is perfectly capably of speaking for itself.

The theme of the picture is clearly not neutral. All the other pictures deal with light and positive motifs: fields of sun flowers, smiling children, people at an international conference having a civilized discussion, etc. July is the only month that deals with death and violence. Furthermore, it deals with a conflict over which Reuters has recently found itself embroiled in a very serious controversy that questions their own honesty and ability to report the news.

I point out that the picture is unfair not only to Israelis, but it is also a less than flattering depiction of Palestinians. Why is it that the only images to portray Palestinians in the news show them as militants and extremists?

It is not only fair to question Reuters about this matter, it is the obligation of any person who lives in a free-thinking, democratic nation who understands that accurate news and information is necessary to sustain their civilization. We depend on this knowledge to make informed decisions on many matters, not the least of which includes how to spend our hard-earned money or how to vote in free elections.

Posted by Dan | Report as abusive
 

The Honest Reporting campaign over the Reuters calendar is a bizarre piece of intolerance.

From what I understand, the photo that some people are claiming to be offended by, isn’t even part of the news cycle, but is a corporate calendar distrubuted to Reuters clients for their personal use.

For those not determined to find offense, it’s clear that the photo is included for a fairly obvious reason – it’s a visually stunning photo.

It would be disappointing if Reuters was to censor it’s in-house calendars because of a vocal minority who can’t tolerate seeing a picture of a Palestinian – not even in someone else’s calendar.

 

In reference to posting #8:

As I read the other postings I honestly dont see how your statements have anything to do with the discussion at hand.

Please be so kind as to not put words into other peoples mouthseither the folks responding on this site or Reuters itself. On this matter, allow me to offer a few words of advice:

1. No one has raised any objection to seeing a picture of a Palestinian; theyre only objecting to the particular event that the image represents because of the political message it embodies. In looking over all the other pictures and their positive themes, this one is it is definitely an outstanding oddball.

Whats more, contrary to claim of posting #8, writers have actually offered constructive suggestions on images of Palestinians that could have been included which would have also fit within the general theme of the calendarimages that would have actually depicted Palestinians in a positive light.

2. Contrary to the claim of posting #8, the writer of posting #5 actually communicated with Reuters and ascertained that, by their own admission, they did not simply select pictures on the basis of whether they were visually stunning. Apparently, there was supposed to be a theme: pictures with eyes (hence the name of the calendar: Eyes on the World) and major events that marked 2006. However, it is very clear that very few of the pictures in the calendar have anything to do with eyes (certainly less than half) or with major events of 2006.

Having read the above postings I happen to think it is Reuters response which is bizarre, strange, and inconsistentonly serving to substantiate the suspicions raised by Honest Reporting. Note that all of this comes on the heels of the recent scandal involving Reuters oversight in releasing the faked photos of Adnan Hajj. However, even prior to this event, it is well known that Reuters faced accusations of covering facts and coloring information according to the political whim of its editors. The calendar and the Adnan Hajj photos certainly do not help Reuters claim to the contrary.

3. My final word of advice: It would be wise of you to compose yourself and formulate a thoughtful and intelligent position. Whether you are aware of it or not, you are putting words in other peoples mouths and then arguing down what you claimed they said. This is actually referred to as setting up a false scarecrow. Furthermore, it would do you well to refrain from spouting off meaningless pejoratives such as Theyre nothing but an intolerant and vocal minority. Its really not much better than referring to people as the Israel Lobby or the Jewish Cabal, as earlier postings have done.

With all do respect, if you follow this advice in the future I promise that your position will be listened to and respected (even by those who disagree with you) and you will appear to be thoughtful and intelligent. Anger, irrationality, and distortion of facts have already brought enough trouble to the world. There is no need to contribute any more.

Posted by Alex | Report as abusive
 

Alex that’s an interesting suggestion that replies should be “thoughtful and intelligent”. You must have missed the earlier comments that made allegations of “slander”, “bias”, “prejudices” against Reuters for using the photo.

The campaign by HonestReporting has relied on a number of false arguments. The first you mention is that the image is ‘political” where as others in the calendar are not. This is simply and demonstrably false. What is an image of George Bush at the G8 summut, but ‘political’?
Or the photo of Tibetans on a railway line? Partisan supporters of Chinese nationalism would probably see this photo as objectionably ‘political’ too. Claims of bias usually tell us a lot more about the claimant than about the object of their claim.

And secondly the ‘Theme’ argument is equally flawed. Reuters claimed that the theme was “Eyes on the World”, ‘on’ being the operative word – it’s not ‘eyes of the world’. To say that because some photos don’t show eyes is grounds to object to the calendar, is a pretty lame attempt to rationalize the objection. Even if this really was a valid argument, it would support the inclusion of the photo you object to, and question others.

I’d be equally disappointed if Reuters was to re-consider its calender because of calls from opponents of George Bush criticising the calendar for being political, or supporters of China’s claims to Tibet objecting to the photo of Tibetans.

My sympathies lie with the staff of Reuters who have to deal with this nonsense, which is little more than partisans of a particular cause expecting their strident position to be reflected by news organisations. And what really demonstrates the silliness of the campaign is that this isn’t even about a Reuters news product.

 

In response to posting #10 and other matters:

1. It was never suggested that replies should be thoughtful and intelligent; only that if you wanted to be thought of as a serious commentator it would most likely help your cause. Its certainly better than distorting what people have said and/or appealing to anti-Semitic loaded pejoratives such as nothing but an intolerant and hateful minority as you have previously attempted.

Incidentally, something is beginning to become apparent from these remarks– which Lobby do you happen to represent?

2. Unfortunately, you are still placing words in peoples mouths. Referring to posting #5, Reuters clearly states the images were literally supposed to have eyes in them (hence the name of the calendar: Eyes on the World) and major events that marked 2006. However, I repeat, it is very clear that very few of the pictures in the calendar have anything to do with eyes (certainly less than half) or with major events of 2006. Your argument, as such, changes absolutely nothing.

3. No one has argued that there arent other pictures in the calendar that could be seen as political in nature. However, none of themtogether with their captionscast a negative light on anyone. July is clearly the only exception. Indeed, this flies in the face of another claim by Reutersthat the calendar was supposed to have an overall positive theme. How do militants mourning at a funeral comply with this standard? You can try and distort and twist information as creatively as you want, but there is no absolutely getting around this fact.

4. Please indicate where Honest Reporting itself has actually demanded a recall of the calendar? They have never made such a demand. Again, please stop placing words in peoples mouths.

Furthermore, raising questions, voicing opinions, or even offering objections is not akin to censorship. I believe that people are intelligent enough to know the difference.

5. I think that your position is best summed up by your very own words in your previous posting: For those determined not to find offense In other words, regardless of whatever the facts will or will not show in the end, youve already started off with an apriori.

6. Although I honestly admit my suspicions about Reuters inclusion of the picture in the calendar, I also leave the possibility open that the organization may very well have meant no offense and all of this could be a misunderstanding. Therefore, I am grateful they have provided this blog site as a forum for dialog with them and look forward to what further responses they have to make on their own behalf.

Posted by Alex | Report as abusive
 

1. “anti-Semitic”!! Oh dear. Where on earth does this come from?? Your imagination it seems, as the phrase nothing but an intolerant and hateful minority which you attribute to me, in quotation marks, appears no where in my comments on this subject.

Just the kind of “utterely false and disingenuous” (the BBCs response to HonestReporting) charges that litter HonestReportings work.

2. Sorry, unlike yourself (as the above demonstrates) I don’t place words in people’s mouths.
Again the Reuters statement was “we sought to portray the theme Eyes on the World, …… concentrating on pictures with eyes.

“Concentrating on”, not ‘to the exclusion of all else’. Again this is a ridiculous quibble, that only confirms the place of the photo of the Palestinian in the calendar.

3. Negative in your opinion. But how is it “negative”? Entirely in your, and some others, subjective view. And even then it’s “negative” by connection only. There’s nothing negative about the subject of the photo itself. Those who are determined to be offended, find their offense by extension and inference – the caption refers to a party not actually depicted in the photo, whom you perceive to be the victims of the negativity.

4. I’ve never claimed that they did. What HR say is that this was an “error” that they requested Reuters to not repeat.

5. Another HR moment from you Alex. You quote me as saying “For those determined not to find offense”.
I actually wrote “For those not determined to find offense…’. Quite different.
Isn’t it interesting how you manage to make ‘errors’ that conveniently enable you to criticise me?

HonestReporting have a very similar affliction with regard to quotes and facts.

6. I feel very sorry for David Schlesinger, who must, out of professional courtesy, put up with these nonsensical complaints.

 

Sorry — I read the postings (especially 5) and I think Reuters definitely has more explaining to do here.

Posted by Alex | Report as abusive
 

I am a subscriber who received a copy of the desk calendar from Reuters and feels a bit uneasy about the July photo.

Artistically the photograph is very nice. However, I find myself agreeing with other people who are commenting that their uneasiness comes from the subject matter as presented by the caption.

In my case, however, I am personally very far removed from the conflict the represented by the picture and hold no particular opinion regarding it. I simply dont find the violent subject matter something I can stomach seeing glorified as a work of art. I certainly dont want to see it sitting on my desk for a whole month.

Thank you.

Posted by Erica | Report as abusive
 

I was actually stationed in Iraq during Saddams recent execution and saw some really colorful eye-popping celebrations among the Shite community. How about it Reuters–got any images in that hugh photo archive you’d be willing to use in next years calendar? Hey–they’re only pictures!

Posted by Bishop | Report as abusive
 

Erica, in what way is the “violent subject matter…..glorified”?? I only see a photo of a participant at a funeral.

Is it really the case that photos relating to violent incidents or death must be technically poor photos?? ie poor light, dull colours, uninspired composition, etc.

The bottom line is that a Calendar of Reuters photos relating to the events of 2006 will include photos that relate to events some people might find causes them “uneasiness”.

A solution is simple, buy yourself one of those ‘cute kitten’ calendars and don’t use news organisations calendars.

 

question?
why do all the photo captions on your gitm piece,say cubans unaware as prisoners languish in jail.every caption,a man rests on the side walk people walk by and prisoners languish,a boy rides his scooter in the rain and prisoners languish,a father and son wait for the rain to end as prisoners languish.just tell me and i hope others why…

Posted by robert pleasants | Report as abusive
 

Pure objectivity is impossible. One can not please everyone. If you are neither Israeli nor Arab, you truly have no right to pass judgement on “bias” or “Pro-Arab” or even “Pro-Israeli” lobbys and this militant’s photograph.

History is written by the victors, and Israel clearly won the war that made them a nation. Israelis were not GIVEN the right to call arabs terrorists, they FOUGHT for it. Anyone who doesn’t understand this concept should refer to their history books and the American Revolution (or any “Revolution” for that matter)

The Rebels are cosidered terrorists until they win, and after winning, they can call themselves whatever they want.

In regards to the Calendar, what I am trying to put across is simply this. A picture is worth 1000 words, but sometimes its best to keep those words to yourself. As Freud himself once said, sometimes a cigar is JUST a cigar, and this picture really doesn’t show bias either way.

Posted by Adam | Report as abusive
 

Bonjour !

Personally, this is how I portrait your calendar, a beautifully face with a pimple on the nose. Frankly, what do you expect, if you had put on a picture of someone of the opposite group you would have the same response from the other religious group. If you want good reports, well portrait the good news…

Posted by Pierre N. R. | Report as abusive
 

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