Globe public editor: An unfair photo of our Prime Minister?

By Sylvia Stead, public editor of The Globe and Mail

When is a news photo of a politician an unfair choice and when does it back up the point of an article?

By Sylvia Stead, public editor of The Globe and Mail

When is a news photo of a politician an unfair choice and when does it back up the point of an article?

A reader in Calgary wondered why the photo above was chosen to go with a comment article on the problem with Canada’s foreign policy.

“Why would you show PM Harper yawning instead of any of the numerous other facial expressions a human face offers?” the reader wondered. “The benign expression of the two ministers behind him might be appropriate. Maybe even an expression of him smiling, or indicating incredulous or reflection.


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“I’m curious who decides these things and what motivates a decision,” he said.

I checked with Comment editor Natasha Hassan, who decides with her editors which photographs to use to illustrate certain columns. “Generally, the photos we select to accompany opinion pieces are meant to help illustrate the point or argument being made by the author, and to work in tandem with the headline and other display copy.

“In this case, the author was arguing that Stephen Harper’s foreign policy stand has made Canada irrelevant to the main issues on the world stage. Our editor selected a photo of the Prime Minister in an international setting looking, literally, disengaged – or yawning at the process around him.”

Photo editor Moe Doiron added that when selecting photos, “we always make an effort to match the tone and emotion of the story.”

“I think it’s important for photos to not only capture a mood, but not to be boring. Pictures of political leaders are so often stage-managed or flat. What you really don’t want to see are those handout photos, that show anyone in the best possible light. That’s not the purpose of news photos.”

News photos also need to show the full range of the politician’s emotions (remember so many great Rob Ford photos demonstrating anger, boredom, astonishment, etc.) It is great to show emotion, action and even a bit of humour as long as it is in keeping with the message of the article. In this case, I think this particular photo added to the story and was fair.

To continue reading this column, please go theglobeandmail.com where it was originally published. 


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