Award-winning Photojournalist Digitally Altered 79 Photos Submitted to Newspapers, Wire Services

In April 2007, The Toledo (Oh.) Blade announced that one of its former photographers had altered 79 of the 947 photos he had submitted, 58 of which the paper published before discovering the alterations. The Blade investigated all of the photos Allan Detrich had submitted since Jan. 1, 2007 after being tipped off that a front page photo of a team of baseball players had been changed when photos taken by other photographers all showed a pair of legs behind a sign which were absent from Detrich’s photo.

The paper immediately published a retraction of the altered photograph and included copies of both the altered and unaltered versions for readers to compare. It noted, “The Blade’s policy is to never alter photographs, and the newspaper regrets the incident and apologizes to readers.”

The issue became national news, and the newspaper announced an investigation into Detrich’s previous work. The same day, Detrich wrote on his blog that the publication of the altered photo was an “accident.” He claimed he had been following the story of the Bluffton University baseball players for three weeks, ever since five of their players had died in a bus crash, and that he had an “emotional bond” with the story. Detrich wrote that he had created the altered version because he wanted to hang a blown-up version of the photo in his office.

“While transmitting on deadline, I sent the wrong photo, plain and simple,” Detrich wrote. “I made a huge mistake, and I have expressed my regrets to my editors at the Blade. It is something that will never happen again.”

He also wrote, “My friends know me and my ethics, and they have no doubt this was nothing more than a stupid mistake. I have been in the business since I was 17-years-old and learned by experience. I am not about to give up this hard work for an altered photograph.”

The next day, however, Detrich resigned, and a week later The Blade announced the results of its investigation in a column written by Vice President and Executive Editor Ron Royhab. Royhab apologized to readers and wrote, “It is impossible to make sense of why this happened, and we are embarrassed by it.”

The alterations ranged from removing utility poles and electrical wires and outlets from photos to adding a basketball and hockey puck to two sports photos, though neither of the sports photos was published.

Detrich joined The Blade in 1989 and had won many newspaper photography awards over the years. He was a Pulitzer finalist in 1998. Royhab said the paper had no reason to suspect Detrich was digitally altering photographs, but noted, “Journalism, whether by using words or pictures, must be an accurate representation of the truth.”

The baseball photograph had also been published in The Cincinnati Enquirer and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and it was not known how many of Detrich’s altered photos had been published elsewhere. Many had been available to the Associated Press (AP) wire service, though following the discovery of the alterations, both the AP and The Blade removed all of Detrich’s photos from their Web sites and services.

The incident was reminiscent of other recent photo alteration scandals. Last summer, bloggers discovered that Reuters photographer Adnan Hajj had used Photoshop to alter at least two photographs. Reuters immediately cut ties with Hajj. (See “Bloggers Uncover Altered Reuters Photos” in the Fall 2006 issue of the Silha Bulletin.) And in 2003, award-winning photographer Brian Walski was fired from the Los Angeles Times after the paper discovered he submitted a composite photo created from two separate pictures he had taken in Iraq. (See Los Angeles Times Photographer Loses Job over Manipulated Photo” in the Spring 2003 Silha Bulletin.)

– Ashley Ewald, Silha Fellow and Bulletin Editor

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This page contains a single entry by cla published on October 21, 2009 4:07 PM.

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