The Herald, the Justice, and the Photog

The picture that launched 1000 stories. (Well, not yet, anyway.)

Frankly, Media Log was going to basically ignore the running dustup between Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and the Boston Herald because I really have mixed feelings.

1) On the one hand, good for the Herald. Eagerly looking for a page 1 splash that will jump off newsstands every day, the paper has managed to hook a live one in the curmudgeonly conservative Supreme Court Justice. That can be a shot of adrenalin for a newsroom and the paper is riding the confrontation for all its worth.

2) On the other hand, I don't really care. I'm personally tired of the whole drawn-out fracas and of seeing Scalia's scowling front-page visage every day. The fate of the Western World is not exactly at stake here.

But today's Herald story about the fate of a Pilot freelance photographer who released the Scalia photo makes it a more serious journalistic matter. (Excerpt below:)

A freelance photographer has been fired by the Archdiocese of Boston's newspaper for releasing a picture of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia making a controversial gesture in the Cathedral of the Holy Cross on Sunday.
Peter Smith, who had freelanced for The Pilot newspaper for a decade, lost the job yesterday after the Herald ran his photo on its front page. Smith said he has no regrets about releasing it.
 "I did the right thing. I did the ethical thing," said Smith, 51, an assistant photojournalism professor at Boston University.
 Smith snapped the photo of Scalia flicking his hand under his chin after a Herald reporter asked the conservative jurist his response to people who question his impartiality on matters of church and state.
 Smith wouldn't give up the photo earlier this week but chose to release it when he learned Scalia said his gesture had been incorrectly characterized by the Herald. Smith, who was standing in front of the judge, said the Herald "got the story right."
 Smith said the Pilot had an obligation at that point "to bring some clarity to it."

In another attempt to bring 'clarity' to the situation, Smith today has released this statement amending some of the Herald's reporting and offering his version of events.

Statement on Scalia Photograph
by:  Peter A. Smith

Thanks for your interest in this story.  It sounds like the focus today is on the Boston Archdiocesan newspaper, The Pilot and their editor's decision to fire me.  Technically, that is incorrect usage of language.  As a freelancer without a contract, I was not an employee of their newspaper.  They can choose not to give me assignments in the future and this is not of large concern to me. 

My prime obligation is to my students at Boston University where I am assistant professor of photojournalism.  All actions that I have taken to date concerning the release of the photograph of Justice Scalia, have been made based on journalistic principals and ethics.  The photograph is mine.  The copyright is mine.  The image was being misrepresented and a reporter was also being misrepresented.

On Monday, March 27, I had a conversation with Pilot Editor Antonio Enrique explaining that I had not released the photograph to the press and had no intention of doing so.  However, as of Wednesday, March 29, the story evolved and required that I speak up and provide some clarity to it.  I therefore felt obligated to release the photograph.  I notified the Pilot in advance, concerning my intentions to go forward with the photograph, explaining my situation with News Editor Gregory Tracy.

I understood the moment that I released the photograph that The Pilot would in all probability not use me to cover their events in the future, but I had already decided that that was a sacrifice that I was willing to make to do the right thing.  My students read newspapers too and they looked to me to understand the ethics involved with this situation and it wasn't academic but being played out in real time with their professor becoming increasing involved.  I couldn't say one thing to them and then do another when the facts were so clearly laid out.

Though we disagree on this particular matter I still feel that The Pilot has been a wonderful paper to contribute to.  Everyone there that I have worked for and worked with have been professional and very decent people.  I will miss my association with them.

Peter A. Smith
Assistant Professor
Department of Journalism
College of Communication, RM: B37D
Boston University

Seems like the real hero in all this sound and fury is Mr. Smith.
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