4.25 – who values a news picture?

June 8, 2009


A nice number 4.25, seems to sit easy on the eye, or should do except its 4:25 a.m. and the numbers are from my digital clock.

As Reuters’ chief photographer in Asia, I have a lot on my mind. The threat of conflict on the Korean peninsula after Pyongyang’s nuclear tests, fighting in Pakistan and Afghanistan, floods in India and Bangladesh, a bogus trial of Suu Kyi in Myanmar, crashing economies, H1N1, claims and counter-claims of corruption and racism, insecurity in Nepal and Sri Lanka, global warming, the risk of unrest in Tibet and of course, China, where just about anything can happen at any time.

With the decline of the traditional news market, however, I sometimes wonder who still cares about news pictures and why should they be paid for.

How can you put a value to a news picture? You can’t eat it. A picture doesn’t move financial markets, so you can’t make money from it like you can on a news story. We hear the news through word of mouth, on the radio or even on the television. Most pictures have a lifespan of no more than 24 hours anyway, and everyone can take them these days (or so they think). So why bother?

Simple answer: when it comes to integrity, honesty and trust, seeing is believing.
It is rarely understood that people are smart and should be left to come to their own conclusions. A still picture shot by a Reuters news photographer gives the viewer time to see the truth.

Take as an example when Sri Lanka declared that it had beaten the Tamil Tigers and a quarter-century war was over. A counter claim was made: “No its not, we are fighting on,” said the Tamil Tigers. The government said that rebel leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran was dead. “Oh no he’s not,” countered the Tamil Tigers.

A day later Reuters News Pictures get exclusive pictures of Prabhakaran’s corpse being carried through a crowd of government soldiers. A close-up image of his face told the indisputable truth – Prabhakaran is dead.

A colleague, who works in the financial news section of Reuters and was born in Sri Lanka wanted to study the picture for quite some time. His response after a few minutes of close scrutiny was “Oh my God! It’s really him. That man has impacted my life for over 20 years and now he is dead”. The undeniable truth. No-one can ever tell my colleague different, it’s a fact.

The story in a news picture taken by a Reuters photographer is irrefutable, unbiased and will form part of history for others to believe in too. This truth, like integrity, cannot be bought but has to be earned and then maintained at all costs – once lost it can never be replaced.

My fear, at 4.25am, is that not enough people value this precious commodity – maybe I should get back to sleep and not worry.


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The Reuters Financial colleague who got ‘awe struck’ by the picture cannot be an official endorser, as the article implies, since even most journalists have not met Prabhakaran in real life. However, since this is the first time an “open-wound” picture was published it generates more questions.- The real Prabhakaran have thick straight hair with no receding hairline (refer to recent hat-less pictures). The picture implies him having curls and a receding hairline around forehead- The picture implies that the corpse is clean shaven- There are no trauma in the face from the fatal attack and that could imply that the wound was caused by a post-death (using a machete) act. Also there are no blood stains beyond and aorund the wound. Was someone kind enough to clean him up and shave before photographers arrived?I understand these are theories that’ll go unanswered, unless the real man himself declare his demise or comes alive one day.

Posted by KR | Report as abusive

Major Newspapers,magazines,websites, and many government agencies have proclaimed about Mr.Prabhakaran!s death by massive ways.Till today, some political bodies says that He is alive.When all well known news,media net work team are not able to say correctly,what happened to him,whether he is alive or died by shooting, or suicide.I think that , in one day or other,we will come to know about his history.

Posted by krishnamurthi ramachandran | Report as abusive

I have a habit of seeing these Photographers-Blog Ar,then i came to arrive lot of proper conclusions of happenings in and around the world.These above photos are very touchy and appreciable.Thanks for publishing of these updates.

Posted by krishnamurthi ramachandran | Report as abusive

Who sees,view of these photos are debatable topic.As far as i am concerned, i used to see all natural,technical,innovative products,historical monuments, and any latest taken photos from all media networks.Yesterday,night, i discussed about world Top 25 cities photos with my wife and with my known friends.All your pictures are worth to see,worth to comment and worth to save for further brainy works.

Posted by krishnamurthir | Report as abusive

There was a lot of doubt earlier when loads of media networks started reporting that the terrorist leader was dead. Most people said that he was not dead & that the violance which shook the country will still continue even after the war. However after looking back a long time after the war it is evidant that it is over for good & that the terrorist leader is dead.
I guess this pictures would really be the evidence for the future to show the end of horrors.

Posted by Asanga | Report as abusive