Toledo Editor Issues Note on Altered Photos
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
The Pulitzer Prizes were awarded yesterday, and two photographers were included on the list. In chronicling tragedy or triumph, news photos help us understand our world by allowing us to examine a single moment frozen by a lens.
A recent incident in Toledo, Ohio, raises questions about whether news photographers should be allowed to alter the reality captured in their pictures, even in small ways. A photographer with the Toledo Blade resigned this month after the newspaper discovered that he had altered at least 79 pictures that had appeared in the paper and on the Blade Web site.
Ron Royhab is vice president and executive editor of the Toledo Blade, and he joins me now.
Welcome to the program, Mr. Royhab.
Mr. RON ROYHAB (Vice president, executive editor, Toledo Blade): Well, it's good to be here, Michele. Thank you.
NORRIS: The photographer in question is a man named Allan Detrich, a former Pulitzer finalist. How did you actually alter those photos?
Mr. ROYHAB: Well, he altered them by removing things from some of the images. He erased people. He erased tree limbs, utility poles, electric wires, electric outlets and other background in photographs. He also added things, such as tree branches and shrubbery. So these are things that are just simply not allowed by anybody's code of ethics. And it became a problem.
NORRIS: And he did this digitally.
Mr. ROYHAB: That's right. He was able to use a digital program called Photoshop. And in Photoshop, you can do some remarkable things. The technology has really grown since the past 10 years. And when it's done by an expert, it can be flawless.
NORRIS: Now, in discovering this, you noted how digital photography standards make it very easy to do, particularly in the hands of a professional. Are you now at all concerned about other photographs that have appeared in your newspaper, on your Web site, or the state of news photography in general if it's so easy for someone to do this?
Mr. ROYHAB: Well, obviously, this case has raised a red flag. We met with our photography staff. Everybody was certainly upset that this happened. The National Press Photographers Association has a lengthy code of ethics. And all kinds of trade groups have codes of ethics that have a common theme, and that theme would be fairness and accuracy in words and in pictures.
NORRIS: If you can't digitally alter a photo - and you've made it clear that that is not allowed - what is allowed in terms of setting up an image and shooting someone from a particular angle, shooting them from a lower perspective to make them appear larger as opposed to their background, or altering the lighting in what way? What are the rules and the protocols there?
Mr. ROYHAB: Reasonable adjustments in Photoshop are acceptable, such as cropping. Every photograph isn't a full frame of what the camera saw. So when you crop out certain sections of the photograph, what is left has to be an accurate representation of what the camera saw. So cropping is acceptable. Dodging and burning, color adjustments that would restore the authentic nature of a photograph - these are really the basic rules.
NORRIS: Do you think that this will spark a conversation in newsrooms all across America right now about photography standards and what photographers should and should not do, especially when it's so easy to alter photos?
Mr. ROYHAB: Yes, I do. This is sparking discussion in newsrooms and even out of newsrooms. People I see on the street will say to me, you know, what is this all about? Some people say, well, what's the difference if you take a pair of legs out of a picture or you put a basketball in the air where it didn't belong? I mean, what's the problem with that? Well, what I try to do is I try to explain that it's dishonest.
NORRIS: You have an interesting phenomenon here, because the same software that Allan Detrich used is available to most individuals, and people alter photos all the time on their home computer. So I guess that's why they ask, what's the big deal? I do this all the time.
Mr. ROYHAB: But the difference is that if you publish it in a newspaper and it's been altered, then it's not a true representation of what happened.
NORRIS: Mr. Royhab, thank you so much for your time, sir.
Mr. ROYHAB: Well, thank you. It's been a pleasure.
NORRIS: Ron Royhab. He's the vice president and executive editor of the Toledo Blade.
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