Here's what everyone needs to know: When on assignment, do not turn to friends, family members, freelance producers or foreign fixers and ask them to take a picture to go with the digital version of your story.
This has been happening in recent months and as the Visuals team notes, it's a problem. Among the issues:
– In most cases, the people being asked to take photographs are not trained journalists, so NPR may not be able to vouch for the journalistic integrity of their image-making.
– In some cases, the person who's been asked to take a photo is being employed by NPR to do a very specific job. Because the photo-making is not negotiated ahead of time, it's asking someone to do more work than they've signed on to do.
– Why not just pay them another $50? Well, the budget for photos is limited, so Visuals must carefully weigh whether to hire a photographer to cover any particular story. If the budget gets drained by ad hoc arrangements, we may not be able to hire professionals for other stories.
– What's wrong with having your son or daughter come along to take photos? Asking minors to work for us raises child labor issues, liability issues and ethical issues.
We understand that it can be hard to collect tape and make images and do everything else that goes into being a multi-platform journalist. Here's what the Visuals team asks:
"If reporters think they won't be able to handle gathering images in the field on their own, they and their editors should come to us and we'll figure out a solution. If a story warrants original imagery, that decision and hire should be made by a photo editor on the Visuals team."
Meanwhile, everyone should be on notice that photos taken by "my friend Buzz" or "my nephew who's really good with a camera" will be turned down for one or more of the reasons above.
Bottom line: It's important to remember that all assets for stories gathered in the field should be collected by NPR journalists, or NPR-commissioned journalists. The images that go with our reports are important. Think about it this way: Would you hand a microphone to that precocious niece of yours and have her do some interviews?
(Written with guidance from Kainaz Amaria, Ariel Zambelich and Emily Bogle of the Visuals team.)