WDBJ Shooting – It could have been me OR any of my colleagues!


I have to say I am speechless. I am having a hard time articulating how much this is bothering me. This blog post is by no means trying to make this situation about “me”…but it could have been me. Yes…I was that guy, that photojournalist. They had no idea…none!

This comes almost a few days after the ten year anniversary of Katrina. I was a part of a crew that covered Katrina for Belo Corporation, who owned WWL-TV. Yes, we flew helicopters over areas where people were stranded, many of whom were trying to get our attention hoping we would help them. Some used guns to shoot at us while flying over, mainly to get our attention…we could not land because of the location and the danger.

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Pictures are worth more than a thousand words or even a few.

There are so many things about this photograph that haunt us, make us wonder, and make us question. But that is the joy of photojournalism…and the act of capturing these moments in time. What is it about this photograph that make us question the photojournalist’s intentions?

1) Why did he not help?
2) Why take the picture instead of helping?
3) Why take the picture?
4) Does capturing the moment out-weigh human life?

Or, is it the words on the image of the New York Post front page that really haunts us the most? The words integrated into this instant online meme has the social space in complete conversation. If you take the words away…what would we think? Would it strike us as much? For all we would know, there is a subway and a man in the way.

The word “DOOMED” indicates fear and a final resolution that questions the person’s life is against time. Time to get out of the way of this subway.

Pictures have been brought into our living rooms, business, and now electronic devices providing context of life around us.

How about this image from photojournalist Kevin Carter and his 1993 trip to the Sudan.

“The photograph was sold to The New York Times where it appeared for the first time on March 26, 1993 as ‘metaphor for Africa’s despair’. Practically overnight hundreds of people contacted the newspaper to ask whether the child had survived, leading the newspaper to run an unusual special editor’s note saying the girl had enough strength to walk away from the vulture, but that her ultimate fate was unknown. Journalists in the Sudan were told not to touch the famine victims, because of the risk of transmitting disease, but Carter came under criticism for not helping the girl.”

How about this picture from Saigon in 1968?

“A fitting quote for Adams, because his 1968 photograph of an officer shooting a handcuffed prisoner in the head at point-blank range not only earned him a Pulitzer Prize in 1969, but also went a long way toward souring Americans’ attitudes about the Vietnam War.”

Later, Eddie Adams admitted he regretted taken the photograph which earned him a Pulitzer Prize in 1969.

His regret came from the context of the image and the lifelong impact it had on his life. But, we might now ask…could he have saved General Nguyen Ngoc Loan from being shot as he was standing there handcuffed?

For years, we photojournalists have debated these situations. If we were pulling up to a car wreck and noticed someone in the car that could be saved before the fire engulfed the scene…would we capture the moment with our camera or save the person?

Some say they saving the person’s life outweighs the ethics of the profession. Some say that capturing this moment in time for others to see far outweighs the short term impact of human life. Many people in this debate have used the phrase: “short term impact of human life.”

Some even say they would set their camera down to automatically capture images while they were attempting to save the person’s life. Best of both worlds solution?

So many of us have an opinion, but none us know the answer until we are put into those situations. To me…this is a similar debate to the whole controversy over the death penalty. We might stand for or against the death penalty, but we never know until it is time for us to be the one to pull the lever that sends the electric charge through another person’s body. How will we know we would react until we are put into that situation. Would we pull the lever?

Mr. Abbasi, the freelance photojournalist who took the subway image, admits he was caught in a situation with compromising time sensitive, split decisions to be made.

For me, the controversy lies in the use of text in the photograph. What made the editors feel the need to add words? Poynter Institutes Kenny Irby feels there were other photographs from the subway to use that were less disturbing. I think the discussion should be pointed more towards the usage of words in the photograph on the front page of the New York Post that bring emphasis to the tragedy.

I ask…was it really necessary to use words that may or may not represent the moment in time?

Regardless…there is a big story here and it has the attention of the masses. I guess they achieved their goal.

Here are references for this blog post:

Vulture Stalking a Child – Blog Post

13 Photographs That Changed the World

Poynter: NY Post photog: ‘Every time I close my eyes, I see the image of death’


Who is really telling the story, your story? Thinking Outside Disclosure and WikiLeaks.

So the other day, I posted this one Twitter. I wish I could find the Tweet that prompted this response, but you can read above. Yes, I have been thinking. My brain does work sometimes outside the online world of mindless 140 characters…my synapses are in full brain activity.

So I have been thinking…there is definitely a difference between the one who is telling your story and the one who is capturing that story that is being told. Big difference. So my friend Gregg Morris (@greggvm) askes:

Good question Gregg! And I responded with this Tweet:

We are just proxies…we are displaying what we see, hear, feel, smell, understand, and comprehend through our point of views!

Thanks Mike (Mike Bell @ProformaGuy)! You are talking about delivery and how people view those who are delivering.

So here is my real thought to this little Tweet and Blog combo explanation. Coming from a journalist background, I always felt that our views were skewed. Even though we were supposed to tell a story with an unbiased position, they are always going to be skewed. There was only hope that we could get closer and closer to the purest position in the way we tell stories, with each piece we produced or story we told. We were always looking through the lens, a bias based on news of the week, the politics of the organization, the financial potential from ratings/readership. So who can really tell our story from an unbiased position.

Storytellers are proxies, delivery mechanisms for the story we are telling…those we are trying to re-create for others to view. Now I am staying away from the advertising world, becuase here we can create the realities we want audiences to view. This is more of a PR position or even a journalistic/documentary position.

Each time I pick-up the camera and work with a client, I try to maintain the message of the story and organization. When I write a story, I stay away from supposition and try to stay as close to fact as I can…or interpretation of fact. So why should we care who is telling our story? Because it is important to understand the lens they are looking through. You have to see how they might perceive the story, even your story before they even begin the project. Do you want them to create a reality that does not properly represent your message…ultimately divesting time spent in a message.

These biases can be considered conflicts of interest. But is storytelling one of Fiction or Non-Fiction, and can we create that dichotomy so simply? And if we are paid to tell stories, document those stories, provide a proxy view-point of those stories…how should handle and disclose our view-point.

Now that Social Media has entered the picture…more and more individuals are providing view-points, telling stories, and using these outlets as means to reach audiences. As proxies of these stories, we should disclose our pre-dispositions, our conflicts, our view-points that are statement of fact.

In October of 2009, “FTC Publishes Final Guides Governing Endorsements, Testimonials” where “Changes Affect Testimonial Advertisements, Bloggers, Celebrity Endorsements.” FTC states, “Under the revised Guides, advertisements that feature a consumer and convey his or her experience with a product or service as typical when that is not the case will be required to clearly disclose the results that consumers can generally expect.”

Should we as storytellers be subject to these guidelines? Yes, I say. But to what capacity? Everytime I work with an organization to help tell a story, I should disclose to the organization my viewpoints and conflicts. Everytime I finish producing a story for an organization and post the link to my Facebook wall or even Tweet about it, I should have to disclose my relationship to the organization.

In an article by NPR, Laura Syndell looks at bloggers and disclosure of paid endorsements. Laura writes, “Kelly McBride, of the nonprofit Poynter Institute for journalism, says this is an important step: While many consumers can tell a commercial from a program on television, she says they can be naive when their Facebook friends say they’re a fan of McDonald’s.”

This is why when I work with organizations to create and establish a Social Media or New Media plan/strategy…it is my position that I do not Tweet, update a status, or communicate on behalf of the organization. I talked about this in a recent post. I typically do not follow those who are Tweeting, Blogging, Facebook”ing” on behalf of an organization without disclosure.

Social Media is such a progressive new area of digital publishing, should it held to the same professional standards as traditional marketing/pr/news outlets? Why, because it is “Social Media.” It is place for people to speak freely socially, to interact, and to build relationships. Why is this an issue, because organizations have been abusing this idea, acting on behalf of “a brand’s message” to influence a decision. Thus, de-socializing “Social Media(s)”.

So is the WikiLeaks idea/site privy to these types of ethics? The whole concept is that they are publishing information that typically not disclosed to the public in an open-source mentality. Many of the individuals providing information for WikiLeaks are not disclosing who they are and there relationships.

The Poynter Institute recently posted a link to their website that “Stars and Stripes Journalists are barred from viewing WikiLeaks documents.” In the article, Mark Prendergrast from Stars and Stripes writes, “Journalists are supposed to report before they write. That means gathering as much information as they can – in breadth and depth – and consulting primary sources whenever feasible. That might mean an editor clicking on Wikileaks to verify information in a wire story. Or an art director doing a screen grab to illustrate that story. Or a reporter reading a document in full for context in assessing a statement about it.”

Bottom-line, journalists need to know where the information came from, the source of the information. How do they know in this “public domain”? How do they know where the information has come from and if it is truly accurate.  This primal thought process should be the same as the we work we as “marketers do” for our clients everyday…we should disclose relationships, our predispositions, and why we are working with an organization when telling our stories.

I have recently joined WOMMA, the Word of Mouth Marketing Organization and been reading through lots of the resources offered not only to it’s membership but also to the public. I find this information a great guide for people like myself when navigating this world of client based work that leads us to tell stories on their behalf.

So where do we go from here? Well…I know that we must question our intentions each time we “Write” or “Produce” a story on behalf of a “client” or organization. We must also question or intentions when we distribute these “stories” and what message we are sending when we distribute. The intention of distribution is just as much a part of the storytelling process as is the actual story itself.

Finding stories in your organization. Where are they?

As the year begins to come to a close, what are the stories you have told over the last year. Now, I do not necessarily mean what book have you read out-loud to a group of people…but stories have you sought out to find and share? In the world of marketing, branding, and pr…we find ourselves wrapped up in mission statements, branding guidelines, and style guides. Stories break all conventions…they tear down the walls of the status-quo.

I recently connected with a talented photojournalist on Twitter. Her name is Debbi Morello (@debmorello) and she is one hell of a photojournalist. Take a few minutes to check out her website here: http://www.debbimorello.com/. To me, it is hard to find people that share the same visual interests in the visual storytelling medium, taking a documentary style approach to marketing and pr…to bring the human element into the visual medium, provide a voice for those who know the story best.

When I was a young journalist, I attended many workshops with the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA.org) and Poynter Institute. These groups helped break down all the conventions and instill in me the need to always listen for the story. Think about it for a second, how many times did you think you wanted to tell a story one way, and it ends up taking an evolution of it’s own. The subjects/people shape the story.

When I walk into situations, I always listen for the story…not just look for the story. Now I realize that I am visual storyteller, but our ears are the most powerful sense. I remember going out to Wenden, Arizona after hearing reports of a town being flooded after a big rain. You see…when it rains for an extended period of time in the desert, the dry ground does not soak up the water…it has to flow somewhere. It typically flows into the valleys of the desert where southwestern towns are centralized.

I remember pulling out my camera and and listening for people, people struggling to figure out this disaster. They shaped the story. There was no need for some fancy writing, just real people telling real stories.

We can apply these same concepts inside the walls of our organizations. We can use our social skills and our senses to listen for the stories that reinforce and strengthen our organization’s message. We can move away from marketing backgrounds and become more PR/journalistic. We are storytellers inside. We like to document life. Why do you think Facebook is so successful? It is because we want to share, share our story with our friends, family, and colleagues. We take pictures, video, write our thoughts, and upload for all to see. We are writing our life story. We like to share stories.

What if we took that same initiative within our organizations. Listen for the stories within the organization and share them. Imagine just taking one or two hours a week, and walk through the halls of your workplace. Listening to the conversations, the stories. Imagine writing them down and sharing them with the world. They might want to share with their friends…more stories…bigger community of like minded people. Stories are fun. So…what stories have you told this year?

What are the stories you are telling within your organization? Please share…I am interested!