Oh, the power we wield!

January 20, 2010 

When you work for a newspaper, people aren't the least bit bashful to tell you that you and your organization aren't worth the toilet paper that could have been made from the 40,000-odd copies we distribute daily. Somebody will tell you one day that that you're too conservative and another will lambaste you the next for being too liberal. They laugh and call you the Tricycle Herald for printing too many fluffy features and then write in to complain that you're always focusing on the negative in the community. There's a couple grammatical errors in a couple thousand inches of text? Clearly, we have monkeys editing copy.

But the one common complaint that always irks me is when people accuse us of promoting unsafe or illegal behavior with our photos.

Two years ago, I photographed melting ice in the Yakima River for a weather feature and somebody wrote in to complain that the cutline should have included a warning that people shouldn't try to walk across the ice:

I don't think Mario could even cross those ice chunks.

More recently, a reader came in to complain about this shot of 4-year-old Sierra Moore chasing geese in Richland's Howard Amon Park:

He claimed that the geese were protected (they're not), and that it was irresponsible to print the photo. The funny thing was that reporter Drew Foster and I had joked about potential complaints before the photo ran, with Drew betting that this seemed minor enough to spark opposition.

But the most ridiculous accusation came last summer after 16-year-old Carlos Rivera drowned.

In light of the tragic drowning of Carlos River (sic) of Pasco on Monday, August 3, 2009, in a marked no-swimming zone, perhaps we should consider the power the media has to influence behavior.

Case in point: This summer the Tri-City Herald has published two front-page, top-of-the-fold pictures of teen boys diving in clearly demarcated no-swimming zones.

After intending to for years, I finally started an "irresponsible TCH photos" collection and have them posted on my fridge, and these two photos were front and center BEFORE the death of this young man.

One of those photos was mine and featured Kody Wyrick, 17, flipping off the dock at Howard Amon Park:

I seriously doubt seeing a photo like that is what prompted those teenagers to go swimming at Schlagel Park any more than a photo of a kid biking without a helmet encourages that behavior — another common complaint. What these people don’t seem to get is that we photograph what we see and people do these things regardless of whether we’re there to document it. If anything, publishing these photos points out places where potentially dangerous activities are happening. These photos don’t promote their subjects and verbs any more than a photo from a murder trial promotes murder.

While it's flattering that people think we wield so much power over people’s actions, I wish people who feel passionate enough to write a letter would instead spend that energy on trying to right what they see as wrong.

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kyau@tricityherald.com
(509) 585-7205
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