Public editor: “stored” photos should be used in an appropriate context


Seven years ago, to illustrate an article on the international success of the Canada Goose jacket, the Star published a photo of several workers at the Toronto factory of this iconic global brand.

Can you imagine the surprise – and even the anger – of one of the women pictured in this 2013 image when she saw it published in the Star this week to illustrate a commercial column about the need for protection and financial assistance for vulnerable workers throughout this COVID -19 crisis?

“Excuse me, I have not consented or been notified that a photo of me was being used. I appreciate any additional information on how you were granted permission to post this message about myself and my colleagues”, the woman said as she contacted the Star to express her concerns over seeing a photo of herself, aged seven, posted on the Star’s website along with a column about the coronavirus.

Obviously, this photo was used entirely out of context. This woman and the other women shown in the photo have nothing to do with the current global pandemic. Selecting and publishing this image from the Star’s photo archive files to generically illustrate this week’s big story seems unfair to these clearly identifiable – but unnamed – women.

And, to compound that problem, there was nothing to tell readers that this was a stock photo taken in 2013. The photo’s caption simply referred to workers at the Toronto Canada Goose factory. By failing to provide this necessary context, it was an error of omission.

For me, there are two areas of concern here.

First, newsrooms must take great care in determining the images used to illustrate this global pandemic.

Second, there are the questions raised by the increasing use of “stock” file photos to illustrate stories at a time when the photos to be published are chosen by many people in the newsroom, not just one office. of dedicated photo editing as in the past before the economy of journalism led to cutbacks in editorial staff.

Images are important in telling the story of this pandemic. Indeed, as the cliché goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. In many cases, we know that readers see the image and scan the photo caption without ever reading the article. So context matters. Being aware of the stereotypes that images can create counts. The same goes for best practices for using images on all platforms, including social media posts.

This wasn’t the first photo issue we’ve dealt with regarding The Star’s COVID-19 coverage. Last weekend, the Star Twitter account tweeted an image of a masked Asian woman to illustrate a column about the postponement of the opening of the new James Bond film due to the coronavirus outbreak.

This is not in line with best practices for journalists suggested this week by the Asian American Journalists Association and the photo has been superseded. “We urge the media to pay attention to photos, context and choice of words surrounding #coronavirus. We caution against using images of people wearing face masks without proper context,” the AAJA says.

First Draft News, a global nonprofit that helps journalists provide trustworthy reporters, also addressed the issue of image use in its “Tips for Responsible Reporting on COVID-19” published this week. week. “Avoid stock images that fuel stereotypes or cause more panic,” he says.

Beyond the need for great responsibility in the use of the photo throughout this current global pandemic, the stock photo of the factory women – which was later removed from the article – raises more complex questions about the fairness, accuracy and transparency of the Star’s increasing use of classifying “stock” photographs to illustrate news and features.

Is it fair to post a photo of a person many years after it was taken and for entirely different reasons than it was originally taken? Should people identifiable in such photos be told – or give permission – for their photos to be used outside of the context for which they first agreed?

Admittedly, the Star owns the publishing rights to all photographs taken by its photographers, and it would be difficult, if not impossible, to obtain permission to publish these stock photos. Still, I have a lot of empathy for anyone who is shocked to see an image of themselves published in the Star with a story to which they have no connection.

These are the biggest questions the Star’s newsroom has to grapple with. In the meantime, making it clear to readers when an image is a “stock photo” and providing the fullest context of the circumstances and time that this image was taken is the right and accurate thing to do.


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