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That’s a set up!

As journalists, we are taught never to cook up quotes, write things that are not properly backed up, and to always check, check, check the facts.

But I think many editors are remiss when it comes to the visual side of journalism. They don’t demand the same high standards of visual journalism as they do on the words side.

We’ve seen graphics that are skewed, or just plain wrong or misleading. We’ve seen illustrations that are way below par. And we’ve seen zillions of news photographs that are set up.

Take this one, from the Aug 21 issue of the Sunday Telegraph in Sydney, Australia. The story was about the effects of putting children in forward-facing prams.

The photo shows four mums at a park but unfortunately, you can tell it was set up because it is just unnatural to gather to chat like that! And look at those two kids in the pram! One’s in a forward-facing pram, and the other in a backward-facing one. How appropriate!

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Or this one from Page 2 of The Australian today. The story was about how some Libyan families in Australia were celebrating the fall of Qaddafi.

The story clearly said that the mother was sitting in the lounge watching events unfolding in her homeland. But the photo showed her entire family outside the house “celebrating”. The youngest child was waving a flag and another member of the family waving two balloons.

Lovely, but I wonder why they would celebrate standing in a group outside the house?

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Sadly, we see a lot of news photos that are set up in many newspapers, especially those in Australia and the UK.

But what’s wrong with posing? you ask.

Plenty, I’d say. News photos must capture what the great French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson called “the decisive moment”.

If we do not set up stories, why do we set up news photos? Shouldn’t news photos tell the truth on the same basis as words, i.e., as it happens?

Silly rules still rule!

When are newspapers going to keep up with the times?

This is the 21st century, but still many newspapers stick to very old rules about photographs.

Take for example, The Australian, this morning.

Reporting on the arrest of an Australian man in Kentucky, USA, over a bomb hoax in Sydney several weeks ago, the paper used a picture of him being led handcuffed, presumably to a waiting police car.

His photo had a black strip plastered over his eyes, presumably to hide his identity since the case is still before the courts. But strangely, the story had his full name and even some details about his movements. Here it is:

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I find this to be a very strange rule because across town, the Sydney Morning Herald carried a picture of him without masking his face! Here it is:

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But in today’s interconnected world, newspaper readers can read about him in other newspapers, such as the The Sun in the UK, several thousand kilometres away. ¬†Here it is:

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I am sure if you are determined enough, you will find his photo in many other newspapers. Makes The Australian look a bit silly, doesn’t it?

Surely it is time newspaper editors examined all the old rules we have lived with for decades which are actually quite meaningless today. Over to you, editors.