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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Detrich Resigns

I'm sorry to report that veteran photojournalist Allan Detrich resigned yesterday in the wake of his suspension for submitting a digitally altered news photograph to his paper, the Toledo Blade. The alteration was not substantive, and Detrich has explained on his blog that it was a simple mistake and not the result of an intent to deceive, but as we've learned several times in recent years, photojournalists are just not allowed to make mistakes like this. The newspaper has felt obliged to give assurances that it's examining Detrich's past submissions for irregularities. After hearing of this story and reviewing the available evidence, we're inclined to give Allan the "benefit of the doubt. We wish him well in his future endeavors.


UPDATE: Following an investigation by the Toledo Blade, explained by Blade Vice President and Executive Editor Ron Royhab on, it now appears that Allan Detrich might have been more in the habit of altering photographs than he was willing to admit. An excerpt from Royhab's article:

"An intensive investigation of Mr. Detrich's work, conducted by Nate Parsons, The Blade's director of photography, found that since January of this year, Mr. Detrich submitted 947 photographs for publication, of which 79 had been digitally altered.

"Twenty-seven of the altered photographs were published both in the newspaper and on, and an additional 31 were published only on Another 21 altered photographs submitted by Mr. Detrich were not published.

"The changes Mr. Detrich made included erasing people, tree limbs, utility poles, electrical wires, electrical outlets, and other background elements from photographs. In other cases, he added elements such as tree branches and shrubbery.

"Mr. Detrich also submitted two sports photographs in which items were inserted. In one he added a hockey puck and in the other he added a basketball, each hanging in mid-air. Neither was published.

"The Blade is removing all of Mr. Detrich's photographs from and blocked access to any of his photographs in the newspaper's archive. Like many other newspapers, The Blade shares its work with the Associated Press, an international news cooperative. On April 6, the AP removed all 50 of Mr. Detrich's photographs from its archives.

"Honesty is the fundamental value in journalism."

This also would seem to render Mr. Detrich's defense of his actions (in his blog post) to be itself deceitful.

Mr. Royhab goes on to cite the NPPA's Digital Manipulation Code of Ethics, which he says Detrich signed. The NPPA Digital Manipulation Code of Ethics states:

"As journalists we believe the guiding principle of our profession is accuracy; therefore, we believe it is wrong to alter the content of a photograph in any way that deceives the public.

"As photojournalists, we have the responsibility to document society and to preserve its images as a matter of historical record. It is clear that the emerging electronic technologies provide new challenges to the integrity of photographic images ... in light of this, we the National Press Photographers Association, reaffirm the basis of our ethics: Accurate representation is the benchmark of our profession. We believe photojournalistic guidelines for fair and accurate reporting should be the criteria for judging what may be done electronically to a photograph. Altering the editorial content ... is a breach of the ethical standards recognized by the NPPA."

Update posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON, thanks to bomath


Blogger semi said...

It's unfortunate, but being a professional means having an airtight workflow. Given Detrich's explanation, his workflow was an accident waiting to happen. Why would ANY professional whose livelyhood depends on the transmission and publishing of unaltered photos be Photoshopping photos and mixing directories on the same computer? And what naming conventions was he using that caused him to send an altered photo?

This may have been an accident, but it would have happened sooner or later.

10:33 PM  
Blogger Dierk Haasis said...

I've seen the evidence, read Detrich's account, went through the commentaries on his blog. What did he do, alter the news, alter the story, alter any evidence on the related story? Nope.

Like one of the commentators on his blog wrote, I may see the unaltered photo as more interesting in an artistic environment, but the legs he retouched out add nothing to the story or news contents. Had an editor cropped the photo to fit it into the column, cutting out the legs, would anybody have made such a fuss? I doubt it.

Glenn Greenwald over at has several pieces on real news blunders, all using unidentified [and unidentifiable] sources, lies, skewed perspectives and simple 'I am right' stances.* Hoe do they compare to what happened to Detrich?

*One example:

12:55 AM  
Blogger erlik said...

As somebody said there in the comments, if Detrich cropped out that part of the photo, nobody would have said a word.

What I can't see is where exactly is the intention to deceive.

As much as I'm professionally against doctoring photos (and articles!), this is a tempest in a... thimble. I really hate what modern journalism is turning into.

Hysteria about paedophiles.

Hysteria about terrorists.

Hysteria about doctored photos.

So he cloned out an absolutely unimportant, unremarkable and basically unnoticeable detail on the photo.

The horror... The horror...

Toledo Blade should run a retraction on a full page. A retraction of their actions against Detrich.

1:29 AM  
Blogger stephen best said...

"Ohio freelancer J.D. Pooley was shooting the game for AP, and he’s the one who recognized the blue jean legs as those of Ruggiero, a freelancer based in the Toledo area who often shoots for the Detroit Free Press."

They just look like legs to me. I guess this is the reason I'll never be a pro.

Anyway, a sad story of someone made an example.

2:53 AM  
Blogger Nick said...

Oh for heaven's sake, all this fuss about an extraneous pair of legs, superfluous to the meaningful content of the picture? What's the problem, have the legs complained about loss of valuable publicity or something? What a strange world we inhabit these days.

3:59 AM  
Blogger rob povey said...

Wow! What a thing to end up loosing your job over.

There is part of me which says he did no harm (intentional or not) as he did not change any factual / journalistic content of the image, he just changed it pictorially.

We had a case in the UK where a paper changed some beer bottles on the table in front of the deputy Prime Minister for Champagne one's. Then wrote story about a Champagne lifestyle. Now that is something people should loose their jobs over. Not just removing a pair of legs which are not relevent to the story.

I suppose though it all comes down to absolute integrity and trust between a paper and it's readers. If we allow any manipulation then where is the line drawn. So I suppose an absolute of no manipulation is the clearest place to draw that line.

I feel sorry that he felt the need to resign. Maybe a wrist slap and a "don't do it again" would have sufficed given the manipulation involved.



4:00 AM  
Blogger Lazy Aussie said...

I preferred the unadjusted shot anyway. I didn't realise that papers still took adjusting digital shots so seriously anymore. I thought it was standard practice to do it now.

6:01 AM  
Blogger Liam222 said...

I find this amazing. I truly don't mean this post to spark anything political, but I feel it important that we should reflect upon a contrast. The simple manipulation of a news-media photograph, and this (

8:48 AM  
Blogger Will said...

I strongly disagree with your description of Detrich's act as 'not substantive'. Whether or not it was the 'honest mistake' Detrich claims, what he did violates the basic ethical standards of photojournalism. The point isn't whether the legs themselves are important. What matters is that the content of journalistic photos should not be tampered with in this way. It is what distinguishes journalism from art/commercial/personal photography. We can all debate the ethics of journalism and the choices photographers make when it comes to lens selection, editing, cropping, toning, etc. These are legitimate debates by reasonable people. But there should be no debate that removing items digitally simply to improve the aesthetics of the situation is wrong and destroys the trust that people should have when they view a journalistic image.

-Will Yurman

9:51 AM  
Blogger glasshalffull said...

They should have clamped him in irons and shipped him off to gitmo. The copy editors should be fired, too, because, well, they're copy editors.

No wonder reporters and pjs get career burnout.

9:58 AM  
Blogger dasmb said...

I *hate* manipulated photographs. I don't like the aura of mistrust Photoshop gives to anything digital. Heck, I don't even like double exposures.

But being led to resign over a pair of unnecessary legs...retouching that creates a moving, artistic sports photograph is not the same as adding an extra warplane to a flyover and shouldn't be treated as such. This is not integrity. This is ridiculous and we should all be outraged.

10:21 AM  
Blogger Beerzie said...

This is ludicrous. I feel terrible for this guy.

10:48 AM  
Blogger Charlie Didrickson said...

Wow that seems harsh.......though I guess you can't have much if any wiggle room.

Seems like a witch hunt though.

11:29 AM  
Blogger Oliver Sun said...

The irony for me is how much 'editing' journalists (are expected to) do with their interview material, with their content, to the point of substantially changing the material of a story.

And yet, those legs (of another photographer, no less) are such a big deal...

11:49 AM  
Blogger tim atherton said...

just sounds like he got caught red handed?

6:26 PM  
Blogger shaggy dog pix said...

Oh, won't it be grand when we're all perfect?

I'm hoping an awful lot of subscriptions got cancelled over this. "...this..." being Detrich's forced retirement over something so utterly trivial, that is.

11:35 PM  
Blogger erlik said...

What matters is that the content of journalistic photos should not be tampered with in this way.

Any time, and I mean any time, photographers choose the angle and crop, they can be tampering with the content in a major way.

The most recent examples I can remember are the staged crowd at the toppling of Saddam's statue and the photo of a camel spider shot so it looks humongous.

While the second can be considered a tall tale, therefore just fun, has anybody lost their job over the first one?

That kind of manipulation is much more dangerous and pernicious.

As to where we draw the line, that's why we have brains. Yes, journalists and editors edit interviews. Should we leave all the grammatical errors and false starts of sentences in the printed versions for the sake of "integrity"? I don't think so. I would probably be laughed out of any news room if I suggested something like that.

OTOH, what scares me is the possibility that my suggestion might be taken seriously...

12:52 AM  
Blogger Gary Nylander said...

I have been reading the comments on this post and story with a great deal of interest, having been in the newspaper business for a good number of years ( over 25 ) I can say that I remember my first boss drilling into my head not to alter any news photograph, its the number one rule of course there was no photoshop back then. Now granted some news photographers may "pose" their subjects for feature type photographs only, but even in those situations, nothing should ever be cloned out. Usually when a photo has been altered in any way ( with photoshop ) its called a "photo illustration " although I wonder if the average reader will understand what that really means.

When you think of it altering photographs is nothing new, if anyone has ever read Edward Weston's Day Books from the 1930's, he just hated retouching his photographs, in fact he lost quite a bit of business in his portrait studio because he refused to retouch client's photographs, I also have a fascinating book I picked up a few years ago called The Art of Retouching Photographic Negatives, printed in 1930,( which I wrote about in my blog ) of course no Photoshop back then, but were these retouchers artists or what ?, the real true beginnings of photoshop.

Back to the present day news photographers, I wonder perhaps if journalists would not be better off using a toned down version of Photoshop, maybe one that would only allow a very small brush tool for cloning out only dust spots and just basic contrast, levels and cropping controls, also I think these write once cards that were in the news a while ago would be a good idea too, as the image written on them can't be altered, keeping us news photographers in line !

1:59 AM  
Blogger Hank said...

It's really an amazing double standard. We regularly get spin, thinly disguised propaganda, selective coverage and outright falsehoods on news outlets as regular fare with absolutely no consequenses to the offending parties but a photographer clones out an unimportant detail from the edge of an image and he get's drawn and quartered? I wish politicians and newscasters wre held to the same high standards.

7:54 AM  
Blogger John Friar said...

I completely agree with what Hank said above. Not much to add to that other than to mention that editorial decisions are always made, by the photographer, when a photograph is created...aperture, speed, lens choice, focus point, framing, film/sensor choice...and continue after the event...RAW processing choices, development process, printing process etc. Believing that a photograph shows an absolute truth is a fallacy.

10:54 AM  
Blogger m. said...

To be fair, the Toledo Blade does seem to have a decent record of investigative journalism. They won a Pulitzer a couple of years ago for a series on atrocities committed by the Tiger Force in Vietnam. I think they did a lot of work investigating allegations of corruption in Ohio surrounding Tom Noe, who's now in jail. Say what you will about that Pulitzer being for investigating a story that happened 40 years ago.

The firing was certainly an overreaction, but I don't the Blade is part of the problem Hank is talking about.

12:02 PM  
Blogger Gregory Clements said...

Despite Detrich's admission of his 'honest mistake', the newspaper has undoubtedly meted out a punishment that doesn't fit the crime.

I have just written an email to the newspaper expressing this view.

1:42 PM  
Blogger cb said...

esthetics are the ethics of the future

2:58 PM  
Blogger bomath said...

The article on makes it all clear: Detrich had a habit of cloning photos, removing limbs/trees and whatever, and even worse: adding a puck or a ball into a sports photo. Pardon me, but that's "artistic" view and completely against the rules of PJ.

I can say that I don't like not being allowed to play w/ the saturation, the whitebalance, the lightness of the photo (remember the NYtimes cover...) but cloning imperfections is mushy, and adding things into photos is... Can't say the word, 'cause otherwise the comment wouldn't be published.

Again: read the discoveries, about 70 doctored photos.

P.S.: it's only a matter of coincidence that he got caught on an insignificant manipulation, but this is what started the investigation. May I add "boo!"?

8:24 AM  
Blogger Ken said...

Well, to all of you that don't feel the "punishment" fit the "crime":

Bottom line, of the 947 images he's submitted since the beginning of the year, 79 have been digitally altered.

This was no isolated "mistake" and calls into question everything he has photographed over his entire career.

A real shame, he was a well respected, award winning photographer.

11:02 AM  

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