Good, Bad, and Ugly

Reader reaction to Reuters news

More on fire photos

doll-300.jpgRecently, this blog published some reader criticism questioning the validity of a Reuters photograph from the California fires. Here are the posting and subsequent reader comments. The issue continues to draw attention and debate, and today we are posting several other shots from the same sequence, below.

It is important to understand that accuracy and impartiality are central to our reporting, and to everything Reuters represents. We distribute approximately 1,500 pictures per day, and these pass through rigorous editorial evaluation and selection to make it onto our wire. We stand behind the authenticity and accuracy of both the original photo, and the additional images supplied.





funny … this has been posted for hours and the prior “expert” hasn’t said anything.

i honestly hope that no one from reuters allows that wannabe-expert any access to the in-camera captures; she doesn’t deserve it.

those photos are photos which all of us need to see. i know after i saw the website of the burning house i prepared what i need to quickly evacuate my own residence in the case of a natural disaster.

instead of trying to dispute a photo which is obviously NOT staged ms. shearer should have been trying to find the little girl whose room was destroyed and buy her a new doll.

my $.02.

great work as always il mio fratello. sempre.

Posted by chris weeks | Report as abusive

Dear Editors,

Mr. Weeks in his personal attack on me should have disclosed to the public that he is defending a friend, Mario, the photographer, who took the doll photo. His web page makes his relationship with Mario clear. “Darren” who posted also on this blog, and on Mr. Weeks site is also a plant. Darren writes on Mr. Weeks page:”I posted a nasty message. Let’s see if the [Reuters] moderator lets it through.”Posted by Darren on October 31, 2007 1:01 AM. Well, the message(s) did get posted here on the Reuters blog.

With that said, this issue about the pristine doll photo is not about personal attacks on me. It is about truth. I have asked Reuters for the higher resolution photographs of this scene so they can be examined by experts in fire science. I have not received these images. If there is nothing to hide, I fail to see why these images would not be provided to our group to forward to experts.

The Reuters editor writes above “It is important to understand that accuracy and impartiality are central to our reporting, and to everything Reuters represents. We distribute approximately 1,500 pictures per day, and these pass through rigorous editorial evaluation and selection to make it onto our wire. We stand behind the authenticity and accuracy of both the original photo, and the additional images supplied.”

The key words here are “editorial evaluation.” Note, there is no reference to Reuters contacting an independent expert in fire sciences–someone who can look at the photo(s) with knowledge of materials and fire that burns them. Determining whether or not a fire scene– as depicted– is authentic, is not an editorial process. This is done by experts in fire science and arson.Correct?

What method of testing has Reuters done? They compared other photos by the same photographer of the same scene. Showing more photos by the same photographer begs the question. I mean really, if someone staged one photo, couldn’t or wouldn’t they also stage two or three more? However, this one step of comparing additional photos of the same scene, has actually raised more questions about authenticity. Can just a door burn for 45 minutes and nothing else around it has smoke or fire damage? Can a brass knob remain untarnished after withstanding high temperatures and the wood door was turned to carbon? I don’t know. However, I know I can find people that do know. And that knowledge is not found by calling an editorial meeting.

I agree with those in the public that see these photo(s) as suspect. But much more can be known. The public has a right to ask such questions and to require complete transparency from Reuters.

We, at Art Science Research Laboratory, are unbiased and independent of both Mario the photographer and Reuters. We are not experts ourselves but seek out independent experts and will make the entire process transparent to all.

We again request from Reuters the higher rez images of this fire scene. We are seeking the truth. Only fire sciences can test or provide expert opinions on the authenticity of a fire scene.

Posted by Rhonda Shearer | Report as abusive

Reuters should be more then happy to provide high resolution photos to be analyzed. What is the harm in demonstrating their forthrightness and honesty especially in light of Reuters’ previous problems with staged photos. Scrutiny of the media should be encouraged because what is the harm? Lets say the photos turn out legitimate after being analyzed. What is the worst that happens, the photographer’s feelings were a little hurt but everyone apologizes and moves on. But lets say the photos are faked and Reuters is allowed to get away with it. The harm there is setting a dangerous precedent in allowing deceit of the public and disregarding journalists code of ethics.

It is amazing to me that people are okay with being manipulated. This photo prompted you to prepare your family for disaster and therefore it served a good so it does not matter how the image came into being. You have decided that this type of manipulation would be alright because it will inspire people to send money to victims or prepare their own homes for disaster but when will it go too far? Who is going to be in charge of that distinction? What if there is a war going on and photos are staged to make certain groups look more sympathetic and other groups look evil. Is that ok? At the end of the day is there really a difference between the two?

This is the proverbial camel nose getting into the tent. If the media is allowed to manipulate images and information to incite the public to act on one thing then who is to stop them when they do it on another?

We are talking about journalism ethics and the way information is disseminated in this country not an art show. I for one am not ok with being manipulated.

In the interest of full disclosure I am Rhonda Shearer’s daughter.

Posted by London | Report as abusive

I agree that any journalistic enterprise should be willing to reveal its practices for the sake of verifying the truth of its claims, and I fail to see why anyone asking for such should be subjected to personal attacks.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am not Rhonda Shearer’s daughter.

Posted by Seeker | Report as abusive

of course RS admitted in her above post she has no professional qualifications to judge the actual authenticity of the photograph other than the fact she doesn’t like how it looks, and that she’d probably be able to find “experts” who conveniently agree with her.

and what would her “experts in fire science” know about the mathematics and computational science required to detect alleged digital image manipulation?

In terms of the other posts on the page critical of RS – the back story is that she has essentially insulted a close-knit cadre of professional photojournalists with an accusation that is based purely on her personal taste rather than any substantial evidence of digital or scenic manipulation. If you look at Chris, Darren or Mario’s portfolios of personal and professional work, these are guys who pride themselves on the exact knowledge of available lighting conditions, film speed (or digital equivalent), lens aperture and shutter speed of each shot they take, as well as the less measurable quality of being in the right place at the right time. They also vet each other’s work extremely closely, so for RS to make such a significant accusation against their professionalism with such little evidence is a huge deal.

Posted by t.c. | Report as abusive

Ms. Shearer: I don’t quite understand why Reuters needs to supply photos on demand without any of your own evidence to dispute the photo in question. I also would like to know what your thoughts are on the additional photos from the room that were released. Do you now question your previous accusations but fear losing face in front of your “art” friends? Manipulation of the press is a serious accusation to just throw around. Perhaps think before you speak the next time you threaten a career.

Posted by Question | Report as abusive

Two points from me:
1) What right does some random person have to demand the in-camera data for these shots. Reuters has the responsibility to investigate any issues, and certainly has access to the expertise to investigate. The response of “If there is nothing to hide, I fail to see why these images would not be provided to our group to forward to experts.” is the typical response of a fascist attitude towards privacy and corporate intellectual property rights. A blind suspicion is not enough grounds to drag a photographer’s name through the dirt. Some initial evidence from experts would be warranted before I would feel that Reuters should release the data.

2) My cousin’s rented apartment burned down a number of years ago in London, Ontario while he was attending Western University. I recall seeing some of the aftermath, including a pair of plastic rollerblades that were stored side-by-side. One had almost completely melted, the other was by and large intact (though smoke damaged). Weird things like that happen. Heat distribution in a fire is far from even.

Posted by Jeremy | Report as abusive

Plus Shearer is proposing to conduct an investigation where
a) she will have sole control of the evidence and there will be no way to verify whether on not she tampers with it.
b) she will have sole selection of the so called experts involved, with no way for any third party to ensure a lack of bias.

sounds sketchy to me…

Posted by concerned | Report as abusive

Ms. Shearer, if you expect Reuters to go through a fire science specialist for this image, I imagine that the same treatment should be expected of any aspect of every other scene. The fact that you are NOT an expert is all the more reason to not give you the images as requested. I may not have an art discussion board as you do, but I am just as entitled to the full resolution images as you are, which is to say, not at all. It’s up to Reuters to decide if they feel that Mario is a good photojournalist or not rather than calling each image he produces into suspect. The fact that you say you are not experts but still want to examine the images and THEN had them over to experts draws into question your intentions, and I for one am very glad that Reuters does not support you in your claims by even doing their own investigation.

As Mr. Weeks as said, you were not there, you do not know. Photography’s purpose is to show you the interesting, the strange, and that which you don’t fully understand. There are a thousand possibilities of how this scene could have happened and the simple process of looking at an image will not uncover for you what exactly it was that happened, or more over, if Mario caused the scene or not.

Yes, I am friend to Chris Weeks, no, I am not a plant.

Posted by Zilchius | Report as abusive

Who made Rhonda Shearer the photo police?

Posted by Rodolfo Ruffatti | Report as abusive

I know Mario’s the doll photographer’s friends are worried about their colleague. But this does not entitle them to write me and my daughter nasty emails on our private emails.

Can you imagine George Will at Newsweek friend’s when he is criticized, openly campaigning with insults and personal attacks against the individuals who criticizes him –while Newsweek stands by and posts their comments?

Does Reuters have a policy regarding this? Is this acceptable behavior for Reuters employee’s “friends”? George Will apparently does not have such friends– or is it that Newsweek would not cotton such nonsense and would investigate to see if their employee is behind the campaign? Perception or real, the appearance of Reuters condoning such attacks upon me and my daughter by friends of a Reuters employee, is there.

I am attacked by Mario’s friends (aka Chris Weeks and his friends) only because I want to have the photographs examined by experts since Reuters has failed to do so themselves. Beyond Reuters saying the photos are fine and the public saying maybe not–opinions can tested by facts and the truth known. Reuters can use fire science experts on their own, of course, but have not.

Why? They say they prefer a “editorial process” to test whether or not –say, a door knob should be sooted covered but is not and was likely wiped off–than using a fire science professor at a leading fire engineering dept.

I dare not (now) name the experts I am consulting here on this blog for fear they too, like my daughter and I, will be personally attacked and flamed by emails and comments by Mario’s friends.

Reuters can obviously contact and work with any fire science experts in the world…yet they offer none to the public to quell the doubts. Again, I ask why?

I first learned about the public’s questions regarding Mario’s photo right here on this blog.

I have never declared it staged. There is not enough information– yet– to know. I am seeking transparency and truthfulness from Reuters. Their ethical duty is to make the photos, and information regarding them, transparent.

Why doesn’t Reuters make the 5 images now at question available right here on this blog at higher rez for all the world to see. If they have nothing to hide, providing larger images than 200×300 that are here now, will allow us, or anyone in the public, to determine their opinion regarding the facts.

Posted by Rhonda Shearer | Report as abusive

Rhonda: you have to understand that even if you were featured on forbes magazine, it doesn’t means that someone owes you anything at all, reuters doesn’t has any obligation to give anything to you, even less obligation to do it when you don’t have ANY solid proof to back up your accusation.

As said before in the other comments, if you don’t have solid proofs and you start to say that the photos “have been tampered” “are fake” “staged” or any other adjective you may use, without any proof you are doing slander, which is prosecuted by the law.

This also leads us to other conclusions too your website listed in your name stiny journalism dot com… wait?? are you trying to get attention to your name and your website with these photos?? doing PR to be known?? slandering so people go to your website???

Hey in this post now they aren’t “your” experts? funny….

Well sorry to see you and your daughter are getting flame mail, but what could you expect if you started such an accusation without valid proofs?? how would you feel if your daughter was the victim of slander???, while some of us are more educated, other will not follow any rule, this is real life welcome to planet earth.

If they give you the photos, they would have to give to ANYONE their photos, they don’t owe you nothing, and until you don’t present a hardcore piece of evidence, reuters owes you anything at all.

Ethics? you are one to talk… you were the one slandering and talk about ethics?? shame on you.

Posted by Ed | Report as abusive

I am in a state of shock over the fact that you are still beating this very dead horse, Ms. Shearer.

What are you expecting high resolution images to show you? Whether or not the doll was Photoshopped into the scene? Marks on the door knob where the soot was wiped off? What the hell are you expecting to see?!

Once again, you seem to be assuming that the scene was untouched until Mario got there to shoot it. Maybe some soot was wiped off the door knob when a firefighter touched it. Ever think of that?! It seems like a VERY LIKELY occurrence at a fire scene, but you’re still asking for high res photos as if they’re going to help you prove some great wrongdoing.

I’m convinced that you’re simply addicted to your own hot air. If you are so interested in bringing the TRUTH to the People, why don’t you turn your attention to something that REALLY matters, such as the crimes perpetrated against the American people by the current administration, or maybe the truth behind the relationship between pharmaceutical companies and the health care industry.

The work you put into THOSE investigations could actually help some people, and I would fully support your incessant digging in that quest. But in this case, you are wasting your time and mine, every time I read one of your useless whiny posts and I feel like I have to reply to simply help you to MOVE ON, and drop your useless with hunt.

I’m sorry that people are sending e-mails to your personal account. I don’t know why they’re writing your daughter, but I can speculate that they’re writing to you because you are pissing people off and they want to let you know. Take it as a sign that, just because you have your doctorate, and some public recognition to go with it, it doesn’t mean you are incapable of acting like a boob — which you are. I’m sorry, but you are.

Please step outside your thought-box and realize how useless and silly your requests are.


Posted by Darren Abate | Report as abusive

There is hundreds of medias who has these photos in high resolution and has the opportunity to analyze it. I really don’t think it is a matter of PhotoShop.
It’s quite easy to see that that is not the case. The case however may be that it’s a tunnel-vision of a scene that looks very dramatic. The photographer decide what to shoot, the editors at Reuters decide to distribute it and the media decide if they use it.
In the case some newspaper or magazine use it, it will have a dramatic effect that may or may not be warranted by the actual event that happened (the fires).
One can choose to focus on the positive (such as all the people who help each other in such a situation, the firefighters who risk their life on long shifts, etc) or the negative and emotional (such as people loosing their homes, people dying or getting hurt, the hopelessness of it all, etc) or the facts (such as numbers and figures). Or one could document a single family’s story from the beginning to the end, with the ups and down that may offer.
One can do many things. And many photos has been taken. But in the end, it’s an editor who decide which will be used.
I understand if someone can disagree with the way stories are told in todays media: Medias tend to focus on the hopelessness, the catastrophe and such. Which is not a truthful description of events. Reading any of todays newspapers you can easily get the impression that the world will go under within two weeks.
All wires has a policy and an instruction to photographers as to what they are allowed. If you read those you will see not much alteration is allowed and that even rearranging a scene is not allowed.
So if this photos was altered is not my concern. I think it was not. What worries me is the editors who use it to illustrate their stories.
From a photographers viewpoint it’s a logical photo because it sells. It’s the type of photo editors like because they think it sells papers. It has many of the emotional qualities that make you decide to buy a newspaper.
I understand why everybody tends to get personal on this. It’s really not about the persons but about the way medias work.

Posted by Thorsten Overgaard | Report as abusive

In every case of reporting is views.. not news…this will explaine in part the demise of the so called main stream media.
news consists of facts with out editing in any way includine tonalities facial expressions or mannerisms

current news is a part of the competative views business.News should be a result of a investigation fair and balanced, why not post opposing articles with disclosures including photograps.

Posted by bob | Report as abusive

Miss Rhonda Shearer,

You live in a country where your president lied to the world and invaded a sovereign nation, causing much death and destruction, all with ‘big media’ compliance. Yet, your grand stand for journalistic honesty is a complaint about a door knob having soot or not? May I suggest that your good intentions be employed at fighting real issues of journalistic honesty?

Posted by Rodolfo Ruffatti | Report as abusive

The brouhaha over these photos is certainly excessive. I do not think it is an important enough example of possible media manipulation of a newsworthy image to warrant the full blown investigation Rhonda Shearer demands.

After looking at the additional photos above it is clear that the fire did not scorch everything at the scene, and it is entirely plausible that the doll wound up getting sucked there by air pressure during the ceiling collapse, which could have occurred after the fire was extinguished. With 100mph winds in the area during the fires, it is also entirely possible that the doll blew into the ruins of the house from another location, perhaps dropped by a child evacuating a hilltop house the whipped away by a strong gust. I can imagine many scenarios explaining the relatively clean doll lying on the charcoal that do not involve a petty fraud by the photographer.

I suppose the famous photo of Rosa Parks sitting in front of the white guy, who was actually a UPI reporter, Nicholas C. Chriss, must really anger some sticklers for “objective” photojournalism because that photo was staged to look like a candid shot. My perspective is that particular UPI photo is still emotionally true, and a valuable historical document, despite the inclusion of a member of the media in to frame to lend it a more handsome composition. That Rosa Parks photo is much less staged than any of the many photos of George Bush II in a flight-suit during his “Mission Accomplished” photo op. In that case the media took true unmanipulated photos that served to tell a big lie.

More philosophically: Every time a photographer makes an exposure he or she is deciding what parts of the world to leave out and what subject to include. Black and white photos leave out the color we see, so they are never accurate representations of what was perceived at the time with human vision. Even color photos and video do not represent three dimensions and only show a moment of time. While photography appears to be an objective media it can never be entirely truthful.

In summary, I think this controversy is to trivial to continue.

Posted by Steven Keirstead | Report as abusive

@Steven Keirstead: It is interesting that you should bring up Rosa Parks, a woman who confronted bad policy and won. I am sure that in the day of Rosa Parks people who took the side of whoever was the most powerful had many bad things to say about Rosa Parks. She was sticking her head where it did not belong! Who was she to defy the law? Was she a lawyer? Did she have expertise? How dare she???
This may seem like a small matter, and yes, absolutely, the main stream media has lost their way. The function of a free press is to act as an informant to the people so we can make decisions about our leaders.
I would not say that this photo is “staged” nor do I think Ms. Shearer said it was. It is possible that the doll was in the attic…it was the only thing in the attic…the roof collapsed and there it was, unscathed in a little girl’s room. It is possible that someone other than the photographer put the doll there. The main point, I think, is that the editors at Reuters should have known better. The photographer took some nice pictures, The editors at Reuters failed. Dolls in the ruins? Duh!
They should know better. But no, they consulted their editors and…Mission Accomplished! Case closed!
I think Ms. Shearer’s point should actually appeal to you. This example may seem small but why should she not, as a private citizen, ask questions? What if Rosa Parks had no questions? Do you expect people to passively accept everything that is fed to them by the same people who brought us the “Mission Accomplished” banner? Do you accept everything you read and see just because it comes from a reputable news source like….emmm…can you think of a news source that has not had a credibility problem lately?
We all have to support accuracy in reporting. If we do not we will be in the back of the bus.

Posted by nottrivial | Report as abusive


We have removed links in this thread because some pointed to discourse that we felt was not appropriate. The comments themselves, of course,remain: GBU Editor

Posted by Robert Basler | Report as abusive