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Should newspapers use RCMP-supplied images and videos?

March 25, 2011 3 comments

I received the following email yesterday. I’ll post in full, then comment below. I’ve bolded certain portions.

There is a video currently live on the Burnaby Now’s website about the arrest by Burnaby RCMP of three suspects in a shooting earlier this week at Royal Oak SkyTrain station. It’s more than three minutes long, and lingers languidly on the blurred faces of the suspects, then follows right up until they’re brought into the cop shop for processing, access we would never get. The video is tagged with the usual driving.ca bumper ad at the beginning, but at no point during the video, or on the webpage presenting the video is it identified as being supplied by the Burnaby RCMP. In fact, the Now prominently links to the video on the front of their website, and tweeted incessantly about it Thursday morning, as if they were bequeathing their readers some sort of journalistic scoop.

An edited version of the same video also appears on the Province’s website, again with no attribution.
The other day, the Vancouver Sun’s website used still photo handouts from the RCMP of the same arrest going down. They were at least labelled as RCMP handouts, although that doesn’t absolve them.

It’s not the first time they’ve used photos identified as RCMP handout.

Of course, request RCMP-supplied photos or video of their officers shooting someone in South Surrey, and you’ll run into a stone wall.

Is this how bankrupt marginal staffing, reduced resources and diminished morale have made us, that we’re willing to accept handouts from the cops that amount to bumpf? Surely editors must see the peril of going down this road of abdicating our responsibility of being an impartial observer of police to ensure they remain accountable? We’re already struggling to cover them as it is, with more forces on digital radio systems that require expensive scanners or negotiations with the department to get access to a one-way radio that allows monitoring. The more we allow the police to control our access to observe and report their work, the more license they’ll take to further restrict our access; instead of keeping us one block from scenes, they’ll keep us back a kilometer and call our editors that they have photos and video they’ll gladly supply. And we wonder why journalists and the publications we work for are losing our audience.

We’re headed down a very dark path…

You can watch the video here, but be warned, it’s pretty boring.

There are a few issues at play here, and I’ll consider them separately.

1. First is the fact that the video isn’t identified as an RCMP video. It should be, for sure, but I have a hard time mustering that much outrage at the fact that it’s not. Indeed, I’m trying to remember if my own paper has identified RCMP-supplied footage as such. I can’t be sure. If we didn’t, we should have; it’s not hard to slide an attribution into the cutline so readers realize that the video was shot by, and for the purposes of, the RCMP.

2. The second issue is juicier.

Should media outlets stand up to the RCMP and declare that we’re not going to use their footage if we don’t get better access? Or should we simply not use footage, period?

That question revolves around whether The Province, Global and CTV get on board. They reach far more people than Burnaby Now or any other community paper. If The Province uses RCMP footage, then griping by a community newspaper journalist is going to fall on deaf ears.

I think the best argument is the one made at the end of the email ((FYI courtesy Kim Magi: email is now unhyphenated in the CP Stylebook); if we rely on RCMP footage, the cops have less reason to allow us near their scenes. Similarly, the better access we get, the less of a need for the RCMP video and images. So right now, they have very little motivation to not be so heavy-handed with photographers. Then there is the fact that, by outsourcing our coverage of breaking news, reporters and photographers become a little more expendable—which is not a good situation.

3. I’m not familiar with the difficulties the letter writer refers to as concerns the monitoring of emergency frequencies, so I’ll take his word for it.

4. There is one more issue: that of quality. The video is not extremely interesting. It certainly is less gripping than a single well-composed still photo would have been. A journalist would have done a better job. But a journalist, of course, would have been threatened with jail had he got that close.

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Gators, pinball wizards, school boards and animal people

February 28, 2011 Comments off

Lotsa stuff from around the Lower Mainland last week. (Two more posts coming later today).

Superb story, in the Burnaby Now, by Jennifer Moreau on an autistic pinball genius and aspiring poker king.

Robert’s latest passion is poker. For the past three or four months, he’s been teaching himself how to play by watching YouTube videos and has already ranked No. 11 in one of B.C.’s amateur leagues. With his natural ability to handle numbers, statistics and probabilities, Robert seems cut out for the game.

“If you ask him, ‘What are the chances of getting royal flush?’ He’ll probably say, ‘One in 650,000,’ ” Maurizio says. “He tells me this stuff, and it goes over my head.”

more…

The poker thing blows me away because it’s generally assumed that a large part of that game is the ability to read competitors’ intentions. And yet, a major symptom of autism is the inability to pick up such social cues.

Also in the Burnaby Now, Janaya Fuller-Evans reports on allegations of bullying, infighting and other alleged misdeeds that one normally expects to see in the arts community, rather than among animal lovers.

Arnold noted many instances of harassment, from board members directly confronting her over issues to moments where she felt threatened, including when her truck was vandalized while parked at the association’s barns.

more…

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The new Black Press front pages are improved, but the stories themselves badly need paragraph breaks. I imagine someone’s working on that. Meanwhile the WordPress Theme for Black Press blogs is truly horrible and gloomy and makes me not want to read on even when the content is quite good. Please change it.

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The phrase “board of education” sounds stupid. They’re school boards, they should be called as such.

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I just noticed the sleazy weekly editorials in the Delta Optimist. How do you get your editorial percentage when the copy is so obviously an advertisement? The Optimist is the only Postmedia paper with a business column down the right hand side of its news page. Why? Why? Why?

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A crazy crime spree in the Chilliwack area included, as Robert Freeman of the Chilliwack Progress puts it, “one woman’s emergency 911 call, one vehicle burning under the Agassiz/Rosedale bridge, one dust-up with a Chilliwack car dealer, one startled shopper in the Chilliwack Safeway parking lot – and one alligator.” Oh, yeah, and there was a marijuana grow-op involved (although I guess the presence of drugs isn’t all that surprising).

In a similar vein comes this beauty of a headline from the North Shore Outlook: “Stinky thieves steal laundry loot.” And yes, the thieves were actually smelly.

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Two stories — one in the Richmond News, the other in the Coquitlam Now — about stutterers are hooked on last night’s Oscars and The King’s Speech. I think a smart PR person is probably behind each, given that they both mention Columbia Speech and Language Services, but that’s OK; the stories are good.

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The Richmond Review has published its 30 under 30 section. These features about all these high-flying young achievers always depress the hell out of me, but are fun to read anyways.

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Your webinar of the day:

Be like Delta Leader photog Evan Seal and turn your camera on an angle.

This Tri-City News file photo of an ambulance at a hospital is awesome. File photos don’t have to be boring.

And for some reason community newspapers forget that the simple Q and A format can make for great reading and very easy writing. Marisa Babic of the Surrey Now puts questions to under-fire Vanoc head John Furlong.

(One thing, though: we Canadians don’t have a timid sense of patriotism. We just like to pretend we do. If we weren’t patriotic Molson’s I Am Canadian commercials wouldn’t be so successful. Hopefully the Olympics ends the charade.)

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Nice story (and lede) by the Vancouver Courier’s Naoibh O’Connor on a First Nations school that has rebranded itself as an “Earth School.”

Rainwater drips like a broken tap off the corner of the First Nation long house roof into a concrete barrel. Droplets barely ripple the surface of six-inch deep water pooled above a bed of rocks, sand and debris. Fidgety Grade 2 and 3 students gather around Brent Mansfield on this cool late-January morning at Grandview/¿uuqinak’uuh elementary. Mansfield, the school’s garden project coordinator, hoped for more of a downpour for today’s lesson, but a drizzle will do.

more…

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Finally, in case you missed the Black Press shuffle, the North Shore Outlook and WestEnder have got new editors.

Photo by Ryan Somma via Flickr.

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We’re making inroads into our census of B.C. community newspapers, but there are still a lot of blanks in the Journo-lust Spreadsheet. How many journalists work at your paper? How often do you come out? Who’s your publisher? Participation is free! The benefits unlimited! The exclamation points boundless!


Steal (or borrow) these ideas

December 20, 2010 Comments off

A full-tilt Lower Mainland roundup today.

John Van Putten‘s photo in the Maple Ridge News of an up-and-coming goalie employs a great and simple concept. I’m not going to try and describe it, so just click through. Story by Grant Granger is also a solid read.

Need another photo lesson? Here’s one in the North Shore News by Rob Newell. He makes a portrait of a guy standing in front of some banners infinitely better just by rotating his camera a few degrees. Granted, his flash lighting doesn’t hurt either.  Story, by Sean Kolenko, is also great.

There’s a lesson to be learned here. When you have one person dedicated to writing the story, and another concentrating all his or her efforts on coming up with a solid photo idea, the result is a good photo and a good story, rather than a story with a photo that may look tagged on.  Alas, not all papers have the resources, but one can dream. In lieu of that, it’s probably worth thinking up some photo ideas before heading out to an interview, rather than improvising when you get to the meeting spot. (I write this as someone who has, on a couple of occasions, entirely forgot that a photo is required).

I’ll stick with the North Shore News to point out Greg Hoekstra‘s excellent feature on how local police try and round-up suspects when they have fled the city, the province or the country. The story is another great win-win concept: the cops get a chance to highlight the city’s most wanted and the work they’re doing; the reporter gets significant access to and understanding of the behind-the-scenes process, which makes for a great story — if you write it as well as Greg (I’m going to start referring to people by their first name now, just ’cause).

The Langley Times runs a timeline of the convoluted and controversial building of that city’s hockey rink (does that make it a Timesline? I’m sorry. Real Sorry.) Timelines are easy, but underused (I think we just forget that we can do them).

Michelle Hopkins of the Richmond News investigates if anybody really likes to receive gift cards. Great Christmas story. After all, when you buy a gift card, you’re simply putting a limit on how that money can be spent. Cash would seem much more logical. But many like them, Hopkins finds. (It seems to me that they’re an easy way to give, and ask for, something almost as universally handy as cash. That can be handy because of the taboo against giving cash at Christmas time.)

Diane Strandberg of the Tri-City News and John Kurucz of the Coquitlam Now both have good stories on a nurse whose life-saving treatment by a doctor at her hospital will be documented on a television show.

Tracy Holmes of the Peace Arch News with some good ol’ fire reporting:

Marc Hiatt and his family lost everything when he and five others escaped a fire at their heritage home in South Surrey overnight Friday.

But it will be a good Christmas nonetheless, Hiatt and his son, Rob, said later that morning, after surveying the remains of the 13951 Crescent Rd. house.

more…

Need some more good ideas to steal? Glad you asked. The Richmond Review’s Kudos page deserves kudos and theft. The page showcases local good deeds through photos and gives a dynamic look to grip-and-grins and the like.

And finally, the Surrey Leader (using Google Maps) has a superb online map of that city’s best holiday light displays.

Photo by Andy Rennie via Flickr.

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Have I made an error? It wouldn’t be the first time. Leave a comment and I’ll duly update the post.

We’re making inroads into our census of B.C. community newspapers, but there are still a lot of blanks in the Journo-lust Spreadsheet. How many journalists work at your paper? How often do you come out? Who’s your publisher? Participation is free! The benefits unlimited! The exclamation points boundless!

Ogopogo, Santa Claus and genetically modified apples

December 4, 2010 Comments off

Lots of links today from the southern interior:

J.P. Squire of the Kelowna Daily Courier is on the Ogopogo beat this week. Seems like someone saw some suspicious water spouts happening on the lake. He also reveals that, unusually, nobody has reported an Ogopogo sighting this year. By the way, the websites of the Courier and its sister paper, the Penticton Herald, are truly horrendous. Like 1997 bad. Sorry. Apparently some company called WEM-Tech claims responsibility for the site. If I was them, I wouldn’t.

Great story by Alex Cooper of the Revelstoke Times-Review on contrasting projections for the future of the mountain town. Some say the population will double, others disagree.

Frigid and dark Christmas parades can be a nightmare to shoot, but Castlegar News reporter Kim Magi and editor Robson Fletcher pulled off the treat and delivered a pretty good slide show.

Angela Treharne of the Fernie Free Press talks to a guy who was finally — yes, he has tried before — allowed to camp next to the Fernie Alpine Resort ski lift the night before opening day.

An engineer is warning that a “housing unit” will fall onto a business Kamloops street, according to a lawsuit dug up by Cam Fortems of the Kamloops Daily News.

Steve Kidd of the Penticton Western News writes about a new type of apple that doesn’t go brown. The apple was developed in neighbouring Summerland but is causing concern among B.C. fruit growers. Also in the Western News, Kristi Patton on a judge overruling a dead man’s will.

Did you know that if you t take a bottle of wine with you into Alberta this holiday season you’ll be breaking the law, a.k.a. smuggling? I do, thanks to Judie Steeves of the Kelowna Capital News.

This volleyball photo looks good on the Merritt Herald website. But it’s hard to tell because it’s so freaking small.

Locals give mixed reviews to the filming of a movie in the West Kootenay to Nelson Star reporter Greg Nesteroff. Also in the Star is this story about a lawyer and university professor convicted of fraud. Good story but no byline (although Nesteroff is credited for the photo).

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Seen something else I should know about? Want to write a post? Have better photos than the Creative Commons Flickr pool ones I use? E-mail bclocalreporter(at)gmail.com.

Help complete a census of B.C. community newspapers by filling in the blanks for your newspaper in the Journo-lust Spreadsheet. 

Omineca Express reporter scoops dailies; strippers raise money

December 2, 2010 Comments off

Hannah Wright of the Vanderhoof Omineca Express was the only journalist to report on the first appearance in court of Cody Alan Legebokoff, whose accused of the first degree murder of a 15-year-old Vanderhoof girl. That despite the presence of reporters from the nefarious big city media, according to Bill Phillips‘s blog.

Wright thought to check with the court clerk, a tactic everyone else seems to have forgot.

From Wright’s story:

Legebokoff appeared emotionless during his brief court appearance, other than being quite red in the face. He kept his head up and stared straight forward, except for a brief look around the room when he first entered.

The only people in the public seating area was an older man and woman who sat together in the front row.

more…

Check out Bill’s blog Writer’s Block for the story on the story.

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Down on the coast, Andrew Fleming (@Flematic) of the New West Record/Burnaby Now has a quirky short story on a local writer who was nominated for, but didn’t win, an award(?) for bad sex writing. Any story in which you write (even in quotes) “Like a lepidopterist mounting a tough-skinned insect with a too blunt pin he screwed himself into her” deserves a mention.

Andrew also deserves credit for pointing out this open letter to newspaper photographers, which has a lot of good advice even if it is geared to daily photogs.

Last week it was “BC Daily Deals” (which admittedly also turned up on numerous other Black press websites). Then it was a super creepy photo. Now, a moving drugstore. Really, Langley Times? I’m not trying to single you out, but you’re making it really, really tough.

The Maple Ridge News photog Colleen Flanagan, meanwhile, pulls off the seemingly impossible task of very tastefully shooting a stripper with a handful of 20-dollar bills in her stilettos, bra and short shorts. The story by Monisha Martins is pretty good too.

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Seen something else I should know about? Want to write a post? Have better photos than the Creative Commons Flickr pool ones I use? E-mail bclocalreporter(at)gmail.com.

Help complete a census of B.C. community newspapers by filling in the blanks of the Journo-lust Spreadsheet. 

Photo by Roger H. Goun via Flickr
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