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.