Up in smoke, by Rhonda Hayward

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For my first contribution to our photographer blog, I just wanted to address the feedback The Telegram received regarding a photo taken by myself that was published on the front page of The Telegram on Saturday, May 11. The story was about Ron Hynes and his comeback from cancer, written by Telegram Arts and Life reporter Tara Bradbury. The photo The Telegram used was one of Hynes, who happened to have a half-smoked cigarette in his hand, with the words "Cancer Free—Man of a thousand songs works on recovering his singing voice" laid out on the photo.

At the Telegram we were inundated with angry phone calls and e-mails from health officials and members of the public who felt it was disgraceful to use a photo of someone holding a cigarette to go with a cancer-recovery story. The negative feedback all had a similar theme — that The Telegram had a lack of respect for the health care system and we were sending a bad message to the public by using this photo.

As the photographer who covered the assignment, I would like to point out a few things.

Tara, who received the bulk of the negative responses, was not even present when I shot the photo assignment. She had done the interview a few days before. Another thing many people complained about was that there was a second photo on the inside of the paper where Ron was holding a lit cigarette. All the photos on the inside were file photos taken at various times in the past.

Getting back to the day of the front page photo, I want to inform anyone out there that as journalists we are not allowed to edit or change a situation that we have to cover. It is our job to deliver the news, as-is where-is. When Ron and I arrived at the location to do the shoot he immediately started smoking and continued throughout the entire time. It is not my responsibility to tell the man to put out his smoke. He knew the picture was going on the front page because I mentioned it more than a few times. If the man wants to smoke while I am taking his picture, so be it. Like Tara said while we talked about this in the newsroom — and I am paraphrasing here — if a politician shows up to an event wearing a sealskin vest, we can't ask him to take it off because some people may find it offensive.

I've included some other shots I took for that assignment to give more perspective. The man smokes.

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  • David Hebbard
    July 01, 2013 - 23:43

    It would appear the photo editor (if the Telegram has one) had few photos to choose from. Had the photographer varied the focal length, angles ect there would no doubt have been other shots to choose from that did not include a cigarette. This was not a Hard news item but rather a photo shoot to simply illustrate a story. It would appear from the photographers out takes that the emphasis of the photo shoot became the fact the singer was smoking. These photos to me are simply snap shots with little creative input. Too bad…. but the buck stops with the Photo Editor. I would invite them to weigh in on this?

    • Oook...
      July 25, 2013 - 14:07

      Why on earth would they try to "hide" the fact that Ron is having a cigarette?. As mentioned, the photographer told him multiple times that these pictures would be published (something i'm pretty sure he knew anyway). If Ron wanted the world to know he still smokes now that he's cancer free, so be it. He obviously wasn't trying to hide it. That's his prerogative, and The Telegrams responsibility to publish it. It was said that Ron immediately started smoking, and continued throughout the whole shoot. Is the photographer really supposed to ask Ron to stomp it out, because a few people will get butthurt over it? No, and for the same reason a photo-editor shouldn't Photoshop the cigarette away. Because that's Ron Hynes. The photographers assignment was to capture him on camera, and she did a pretty good job at it. These aren't candid photos, nor was The Telegram trying to make Ron look bad.. That's just who he is. If you don't agree with Rons choice to continue smoking, then don't buy his music. simple as that

  • Gina
    June 28, 2013 - 15:20

    The photographer is absolutely correct, in this instance. Ron Hynes KNEW she was taking pictures to go with a story about his recovery from cancer, yet he CHOSE to be photographed smoking a cigarette. It's not as if she was hiding in an alley waiting for him to step outside a bar and light up in order to publicly shame him. If anyone should be criticized for this photo it should be Ron Hynes. But that won't happen, because Ron Hynes is one of Newfoundland's sacred cows. God forbid anyone should say anything negative about Ron Hynes. When I heard Ron Hynes had cancer, I was sad, because it's sad when ANYONE is diagnosed with cancer. But seeing a picture of a man who has survived cancer smoking a cigarette is shocking, and for me disgusting. It feels like a slap in the face. It's as if he's saying to everyone who supported him and DONATED to the benefits that were held for him, that he doesn't give a crap about his own health. If he doesn't care, why should I?

  • Pam Frampton
    June 28, 2013 - 15:05

    Great piece, Rhonda. It's really interesting to hear the stories behind the stories and photos.

    • Shane foote
      June 29, 2013 - 07:02

      The story speaks volume and it tells the truth recovering from cancer and still smoking..shame on u ron such talent...great job great story

  • Kc
    June 28, 2013 - 12:16

    I think you are totally correct in what you are saying. Let's not be naive and think that people who have throat cancer all give up smoking. There is a whole other story there. It's like people with skin cancer who head right back to the tanning salon once they get rid if the cancer. Not sure why the anger is directed to you? I know if I attended one of those Ron Hynes fundraisers, I would be peeved seeing him back on the smokes!!

  • McLovin
    June 28, 2013 - 12:11

    Does the Telegram show a photo for every news story published? NO! Does it show a photo for every front page story? NO! Therefore the Telegram didn't have to publish a photo in this case, or could have elected to use a file photo where he wasn't smoking. It was done in extremely poor taste in my opinion and I think the photos were published for the sole purpose of generating a response from the public.