Saturday, March 20, 2010

First lesson for citizen journalists - get it right

I was presenting at a conference for citizen journalists this weekend, talking about the "Marlboro Marine" story on the fascinating multimedia site

The Mediastorm audio slideshow, here, recounts the story of Lance Cpl. James Blake Miller, whose photograph by Luis Sinco of The Los Angeles Times became an icon of the Iraq war.

The Mediastorm piece is a very powerful story of post-traumatic stress disorder, and Sinco not only took the photographs but befriended the young Marine and tried to get him help.

Sinco's work has been widely hailed, so I was surprised when one of the people at the conference, a woman whom I later learned writes for the Web site Daily Kos under a pen name, raised her hand to ask this question:

"What do you think about the way that cigarette was Photoshopped in?" she said.

I'm not aware of that, I said, and moved along to the next topic in the presentation.

Afterward I asked her about this claim that one of the best-known photos from the Iraq War was a fake.

"It's on Snopes," she said, referring to the myth-busting Web site,

As we talked I did a Google search with my iPhone but couldn't find anything.

"It's on there," she insisted. "You have to go to Snopes and do the search from there."

By then the next session was starting, and I had to go back inside. But when I got home, I looked again. In fact, a check of Snopes - and everywhere else I could look on the Web - turns up nothing. The photo and Sinco have been widely acclaimed, and as best I could tell no one has seriously charged that the image was faked.

Miller, who according to media accounts accepted his fame only reluctantly and in no way celebrated his appearance in the photo, has never challenged its accuracy. Again neither has anyone else, as best I could tell.

Which made me wonder why someone would raise an accusation of journalism fraud in the middle of a journalism workshop on such shaky grounds - if any grounds at all.

I wanted to ask the woman that, and looked her up on the Daily Kos site. Three things struck me:

- The Web site allows its writers to publish anonymously.

- There's no contact information that I could find for the person.

- Kos is the nickname of the Web site's publisher. Accuracy doesn't appear to be a big concern. If a reader wanted to point out an error in one of the pieces on his blog, he offers this advice on the site's "Contact" page:

"I only write those posts written by "kos". Please do not send feedback on other posts since, well, I didn't write them."

Get it? If you think something's inaccurate here, the publisher doesn't want to know about it.

I couldn't find any contact information for the woman who attended the seminar and impugned the photographer's integrity. So I left her a note in care of Kos, asking for more information about the Photoshop claim.

Bottom line: It's good that we're hearing more media voices, and I'm happy to help train them. But maybe along with the lessons in audio, video and interactive graphics we need to stress the highest value of all.


- John Strauss,

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