The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Should you trust the article when the photo-byline is lying?

Does it matter to the news-reading public that your entrepid correspondent is a Venus (or Adonis) or a complete two-bagger? Surely not, you cry: the content is the thing - pandering to TV news values [1] is unnecesary in the printed medium, as well as being flat wrong.

Why do some hacks insist on a photo-byline, then? (Or - equally, if not more, likely - their editors insist on them having one.) Vanity, service to curious readers, whatever.

But, if there is a photo-byline, shouldn't it be as truthful as photography can ever be? In particular, shouldn't the snap be recent?

I'm put in mind of this by an April 2004 piece by Geneva Overholser (linked from Jay Rosen, I think - I got sidetracked) accompanied by a fairly youthful-looking pic.

An image search on Google turns up this pic on Overholser in oratorical flight [2] - in which the woman seems, not to be ungallant, to have aged a good twenty years since the Poynter snap [3].

Happens to us all, of course; and older women put themselves and their cosmetic surgery in front of the camera all the time (Hillary Clinton, if she runs, will find every 61 year old [4] pore and wrinkle exposed to the public gaze - the VRWC will be hot on the case, I'm sure).

But the photo-byline evidently carries a message (the journo is saying, I want to make a personal connection with my readers, satisfy their curiosity, invite their trust in me as a person (rather than in my copy)) - and when that photo is years out of date, that message is necessarily a false one.

(What if the journo resorted to surgery? Is that not as much a deception of the reader as an out-of-date byline snap? The mens rea is arguably worse since the cost of surgery - financial and physical - implies a desperation to deceive the reader going way beyond merely resorting to an untruthfully youthful snap.)

  1. Was Karen Ryan a looker? Strangely, I can't remember...

  2. At, I surmise, the Grady School of Journalism at UGa.

  3. The question naturally arises, is it the same woman? The camera can and does lie, but misattribution of photos is an equal peril.

  4. She turns 62 on October 26 2008; her Congressional bio has a photo which is so out of focus, it's hard to place in any year in the last two decades.

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