Here is the photo that has led to a storm of controversy in mass media world, especially in the blogosphere.
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Despite the reaction and response to the recent manipulation of a Reuters image, many people are missing an important issue.
Over the past few decades the MSM has come to depend on outsourcing many of its most dangerous reporting assignments to in-country freelancers -- people who take far more risks, are paid less, far less educated, and far more likely to be treated like disposable commodities than their Western colleagues.
The big picture issue here is more about the political-economics of doing business in times of war, than it is about one person's journalistic integrity. Let's get this straight.
One of the most important issues facing the media today is credibility, yet Western wire services continue to utilize labor practices that exploit people.
Shouldn't wire services and the editors who work for them be held as equally accountable to the public as the photographer?
What needs to be discussed here is the reality that our wire services exploit freelancers who end up assuming all the risk of working in extremely dangerous situations. Consider for a moment the number of Iraqi journalists, many of them working for Western news agencies, that have died in the past four years. In-country photojournalists, be it in Iraq or Lebanon, risk their lives every day so that we can be better informed.
The reality of the situation is that these freelancers are typically paid far less than Western photojournalists, become targets of political reprisals, and are rarely covered by any sort of health insurance policy.
In this case, even if the freelancer is fired and all his or her pictures removed from circulation, the wire services will inevitably hire another freelancer with the same language, cultural, and technological skills to take his place.
Firing the freelancer is a knee-jerk, sort of "cover our butts", reaction to a even more insidious situation that has been overlooked in the industry for decades. Outsourcing what is the equivalent of photo-mercenaries in order to save money and Western lives.
Freelancers need the same training, pay, educational opportunities, and health coverage as any other human being needs in this sort of situation. However, all of this costs money, and the bottom line in the news business these days is pretty much do news fast and do news cheap.
The message that Reuters is sending to the public by firing the freelancer is that they can be counted on to take care of individuals who make them look bad. I feel a deep sense of sadness for the freelancer who probably didn't even know that he was doing anything wrong in the first place.
What needs to the discussed here is the bigger and meatier issue of how the wire services out source the most dangerous and difficult assignment to freelancers who are more or less treated like a disposable commodity.
Even though Reuters publicly apologized for the picture that got out, where were editors who cleared the image for distribution? In this case, a first-grader could have done a better cloning job on the image, and at the end of the day it is the editors, not just the photographer, that have failed us. What we need now is an honest discussion about the use of in-country hires and freelancers by media giant who exploit them in order to feed the beast that our insatiable appetite for images in this country has become.
We should not, in this case, be shooting the messenger (the freelancer), but rather the companies that fail to educate their content providers in understanding the importance of balanced, fair-minded, and ethical visual practices.