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Columbia Missourian

Photos should reflect the truth of the moment

By Jake Sherlock
June 12, 2009 | 10:26 a.m. CDT

Dear Reader,

Last month, the Missourian published a guest column from a St. Louis couple who had a sweet and charming story to share about their son’s graduation from MU.

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The couple renewed old ties with G&D Steakhouse, a restaurant they had frequented while living in Columbia 30 years earlier. Alex Aslanidis owns the restaurant, and his family had been good to the couple all those years ago. Not much changed when they brought the whole family there last month to celebrate graduation — the family had a great meal, and the graduate and his girlfriend ate for free.  

Along with the column, the couple offered up a group photo of the family celebrating at G&D Steakhouse. The column and photo were published two weeks ago in the print Missourian and three weeks ago at ColumbiaMissourian.com.

The photo has since been unpublished online. Upon further examination, there is evidence that the photo was digitally altered, which would be a violation of the Missourian’s photo policy.

The policy is relatively simple: Photos should reflect the truth of the moment; they should not be altered for aesthetics, to fit a particular design or, most importantly, to distort the truth.

In this case, it appears as if two family members were added to the photo. Nate Birt, a graduate assistant on the production desk, noticed the photo after it appeared in print. He said one family member stuck out because the lighting on her was noticeably different. While everyone else looked like they were photographed indoors, this woman looked like she was outdoors. The sun looks like it is in her face. Her hair appears to be blowing.

Another graduate assistant, Emily Mead, began a closer examination of the picture in Photoshop.  She found another person who looked like he’d been inserted and blurred together with another family member. He, too, appeared to have been photographed in the sun or at least under a different light.

I had a brief conversation with the graduate’s father, where he assured me that everyone pictured in the photo had been there that day. The couple did not respond to my overtures for further comment.

I can’t speak to the validity of the photo one way or the other without confirmation from the couple. I certainly don’t believe their intent was malicious — they just wanted to share a story about a business that has treated them like family for 30 years. I didn’t expect the family to know the about the photo policy, either.

But this is a good reminder of why photos should be scrutinized with the same critical eye given to sentences and paragraphs.

The silver lining in this story: It made for a great class discussion in the advanced design class, which happened to be focused on photos last week.

New faces in the opinion section

You might have noticed some changes in the opinion section in the last two weeks.

Tracy Barnes has wrapped up her column with the Missourian to take a job with a law firm. Tracy has law school aspirations, so this will work out perfectly for her. I know I’ll miss her wit and her passion for writing. Best of luck.

Coming aboard on a weekly basis are a trio of graduate students: Andrew Del-Colle, Erin O’Neill and Brian Jarvis. Each will bring a little something different to the opinion section, and I think you’re going to like the results.

Brian, who is also a producer for the Global Journalist radio program, brings three years of beat reporting experience to the job. He’s a former correspondent for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and a former beat reporter for the Citizens' Voice in Pennsylvania.

Erin is one of two assistant directors of photography this summer. She has also written for an Australian youth activism Web site, ActNow.com.au, during one of two opportunities she’s had to study abroad Down Under. Erin is also a teaching assistant for the communications law class and was part of a group of students who laid the groundwork to start a class in documentary film at the Journalism School.

As for Andrew, he contributed a few columns here and there over the last year but has had his hands in other activities that prevented him from writing weekly until now.  He’s a funny guy – just check out this week’s piece on how Subway needs to let its “sandwich artists” be “sandwich artists.” He’s also a good reporter who isn’t afraid to dig into local matters.

Last but not least, there is you. Yes, you. We welcome you to join the conversation or to start your own topic with a letter to the editor, a guest column or a comment at ColumbiaMissourian.com.

Jake Sherlock is the Missourian’s opinion editor. He loves to hear from readers and welcomes your e-mails at SherlockJ@missouri.edu, your phone calls at 882-9951 and your tweets @jakesherlock