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RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

The Reuters News Agency retracted a photo this past weekend, that it says was altered electronically. The picture, taken by a freelance photographer, shows thick, black smoke rising over buildings in Beirut. In the original, undoctored image, the smoke is less intense and the color is lighter.

This photograph was released on Sunday and published online by various newspapers, including Israel's Heretz, and it quickly found its way onto the Blogosphere. The photograph became yet one more example of a photo, of a news event, yanked from circulation after it was discovered it had been doctored.

Garry Hershorn is a photo editor for Reuters in New York. He says, after the Beirut photo was spotted, the news agency went back and discovered a second altered photo by the same photographer.

GARRY HERSHORN: It was a picture of an Israeli jet releasing flares. And the picture, as it appeared on our wire, had three flares, but in the original there was one.

MONTAGNE: How did it come to Reuters attention that this last one, the one from Sunday, was altered?

HERSHORN: We saw it immediately after it was transmitted to the wire, and it was immediately noticed by a number of people.

MONTAGNE: You know, looking at it, and I'm looking at it right now - the darkness is one thing, but it looks like the cloud has been repeated five times. It's almost amateurish.

HERSHORN: Yes. I'll be honest with you, this one slipped through the system. It just came in, a photo editor looked at it, coded it, and sent it to our clients.

MONTAGNE: Did it enter into Reuters's thinking that this is, of course, a war with feelings running high on both sides, and that in this case, and also in both photographs, the attack was made to look worse?

HERSHORN: Certainly. I personally looked at a lot of Adnan Hajj's pictures...

MONTAGNE: Adnan Hajj, the photographer.

HERSHORN: Adnan Hajj, yes. And I believe that he was trying to take a picture and make it better, rather than trying to take a picture and make a statement.

MONTAGNE: Where do you draw the line between enhancing to make a nicer picture and manipulating?

HERSHORN: Well, there are, within the business of photojournalism, some very accepted practices. If you take a picture and somebody's skin tone is purple by mistake, it's very common for a photographer to bring the skin tone back to a proper skin tone color.

A photographer is never allowed to change content. You can't add information, you can't take away things.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for talking with us.

HERSHORN: Oh, it's my pleasure.

MONTAGNE: Garry Hershorn is a photo editor at Reuters speaking to us from New York.

One photo, two versions. You can see both at npr.org.

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