Joe O'Donnell - who?

Discussion in 'Photographers' started by gr82bart, Sep 6, 2007.

  1. gr82bart

    gr82bart Subscriber

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  2. Lee Shively

    Lee Shively Member

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    There was an article about this in the Online Photographer a couple of days ago.

    It's not really unusual for there to be people who claim to be something they are not. I hope it is unusual when journalists fail to check facts before writing stories.
     
  3. copake_ham

    copake_ham Inactive

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    It's probably true that obits of well-known personages are accurate because the news media keeps deep files of its own that it "builds" over time. But there are probably many instances of "embellished" stories in the obits of lesser-knowns, such as O'Donnell.

    Also, I've noticed how often the Times nowadays will pick-up a wire story obit for someone like O'Donnell. And, with cutbacks in staffing such as "fact checkers", its unsurprising that this could happen as they no longer seem to verify the wire stories like they once did.

    In this case, the deceased apparently had a self-promotional website for a number of years. One can well imagine a tech-savvy but not necessarily "seasoned" journalist taking stuff off of it at face value.
     
  4. Lachlan Young

    Lachlan Young Member

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    It all sounds a bit like the Joyce Hatto affair (see Wikipedia et al for the details)

    Lachlan
     
  5. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Member

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    Dear Lee,

    Hopeless optimism! Besides, you can't check every fact -- and sometimes, 'facts' are open to interpretation, such as 'George Bush is an idiot' (sorry, 'a idiot') or 'George Bush is a genius'.

    Plus, it's very easy to mis-remember something, and I'd much rather read a piece by a journalist who gets most of it right (and admits when he's wrong) than a piece by a journalist who checks every single 'fact' by relying on (let us say) official Chinese Government sources, or the Pentagon.

    Cheers,

    Roger
     
  6. Terence

    Terence Member

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    Not checking if the most prominent work by a photographer is actually his is hardly a minor oversight. Would his obit have made the NY Times if they hadn't thought the JFK Jr photo was his? I doubt it.

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but if a journalist doesn't know if something is true, he shouldn't be publishing it. They can omit the unverified parts. It's the central concept behind journalism.
     
  7. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Member

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    Dear Terence,

    Yes, I'll correct you, because you are indeed wrong. How long have you been a working journalist? As far as I recall, I joined the NUJ (National Union of Journalists) in '77; and then left because I didn't like their politics.

    The central concept behind journalism is selling newspapers/magazines. You can't check every alleged fact; you publish the ones you reasonably believe to be true. Yes, you sometimes make mistakes, but as the old saying goes, if you've never made a mistake, you've never made anything.

    Get your facts too wrong, too, often, and you'll find yourself out of a job. Unless of course your politics are such that your readers don't care what a sloppy job you do, or unless you're a really entertaining writer. But make no mistake: journalism (like politics, and philosophy, as published) is mostly a branch of entertainment. People read to have their prejudices confirmed or, if they are a bit smarter, challenged. The same 'fact' can be reported by ten different reporters, ten different ways; and each may be defensible.

    I'm not defending a mistake of this magnitude. I hope that I'd have looked at some of the pictures; thought "I didn't know he shot that"; checked around a bit; and find that maybe he hadn't shot all of them (or any of them). But journalism is not a plodding pseudo-academic discipline, to be supported with armies of fact-checkers and footnotes, and I might have got it wrong too. Anyone who pretends otherwise has never been at the sharp end of journalism. Or even the blunt end.

    Cheers,

    Roger
     
  8. johnnywalker

    johnnywalker Subscriber

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  9. Terence

    Terence Member

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    Roger, like any other field, philosophy and practice differ. Although you may not be a structural engineer (my field), you know that the principal concept behind it is to design a structure that safely carries the loads it is likely to see so as to prevent damage to lives or property.

    Does it get met every time in practice? Obviously not.

    The Society of Professional Journalism's Code of Ethics would seem to agree with me on the basic concept of journalism being to report the verifiable truth. See "Seek Truth and Report It" at : http://www.spj.org/ethicscode.asp

    To some that concept was important enough that we in the U.S. decided to give it a little extra prtoection in our Bill of Rights.

    Making no apparent effort to verify the main claim to fame of Mr. O'Donnell (and a big claim to fame at that), would seem to have fallen far short of this ideal.

    So I thank you for your effort to tutor me on journalism and it's apparent primary differences between it and my field where:
    [1] We at least try to learn from the prior failures in our field and try not to repeat them.
    [2] We at least try not to let profit motives from compromising our decision making as to what is right and wrong.

    Learn something new every day here . . .

    P.S. Please note that my response is meant somewhat in jest. Sarcasm does not always get conveyed properly over the internet.
     
  10. copake_ham

    copake_ham Inactive

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    Johnny,

    Thanks for providing the qualifying information. As I suspected, it was more a case of "embellishment" than one of "misrepresentation".


    Terence,

    Your forbearance is extremely diplomatic and extraordinary in its graciousness.

    I have no idea why anyone would defend a polemical press publication/site approach to news in this day and age. It's just so easily refutable as to be laughable.

    Indeed, what the link in John's post points out is the very necessity of "serious media" to regularly correct erroneous reportage. In the web age - only a naif or child fails to recognize when a media website is really just a cover for ideological crap.

    It's not like this is the mid-20th C. and we're all supposed to agree that "Pravda" really means "Truth"! :wink:
     
  11. Terence

    Terence Member

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    Comrade George, you take life too seriously. I hear that gives you bowel cancer. If life was meant to be taken seriously we wouldn't have giraffes and platypuses.
     
  12. copake_ham

    copake_ham Inactive

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    "Nor the green alligators and long-necked geese;
    The humpdied back camels and the chimpanzees,
    The cats and rats and elephants;
    Just as sure as you're born....

    But the Lord didn't make a _________." :wink:
     
  13. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Member

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    Dear Terence,

    Fair comment, and I hasten to add that my previous post was not entirely devoid of facetiousness.

    But if journalists learned from their previous mistakes they'd probably start working in another field anyway...

    Cheers,

    Roger
     
  14. Terence

    Terence Member

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    Which would also explain why I went into construction management after years on the design side.
     
  15. Lee Shively

    Lee Shively Member

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    Although it is human to exaggerate and embellish, I question the O'Donnell excuse of dementia as leading to the claims on the photographs. This guy set up a website and sold (or put up for sale, no one has indicated he actually made any sales) copies of the appropriated photographs. Doesn't sound so demented to me. Sounds like a scam.

    Re: the media checking facts. I'm well aware of the shortcomings. I worked for a daily newspaper for over 15 years and witnessed some nincompoop behavior on the part of reporters and editors. Still, the best editors demanded the best from their reporters and the best reporters were the ones who obsessed over accuracy in their articles. You expect more from news organizations like the New York Times and CBS News. But, the sad fact is, maybe it's passe to expect accuracy from today's news media which is more and more concentrated on celebrity, controversy and supposition.

    You will notice the word "truth" never enters into this. As some might remember, it is a word I refuse to use. Everyone is free to seek his own truth but everyone should be presented with facts on which to build their truth. I'm kind of fed up to here with ideologues whose concept of the truth is however they can spin, twist and confuse the facts.
     
  16. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Member

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    Dear Lee,

    Surely you would agree, though, that there are some 'facts' that vary according to your source, i.e. Tibet is a free country/Tibet is a part of China. Because of space constraints, you don't always have the luxury of being able to explain the conflicting viewpoints. For that matter, the source of your 'facts' may mislead you in good faith, as a result of parochialism: my wife was taught as a little girl that "A pint's a pound, the world around." Flat nonsense, of course.

    I totally agree with you that trying to get it right is essential, and such modest success as I have enjoyed is largely down to having done so; but I also know that I have made mistakes, sometimes quite big ones. If I tried to check every single fact in every single thing I write, I'd be even poorer than I am today: I have to assume that my memory is normally correct, and to choose which sources to rely on when I want to check something (which is why I have both a Britannica and an Americana, as well as an OED).

    Also, if I can't verify something, I'll often say, 'but I was unable to verify this' or 'but I was unable to find the source'.

    Finally, I have no problem with people twisting the facts. When I was at school, the VIth form common room subscribed, at my suggestion, to both the North Vietnam Peace News and the British Union of Fascists newsletter: constant reminders that when reading anything, you have to consider its source.

    Cheers,

    Roger
     
  17. Lee Shively

    Lee Shively Member

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    "Surely you would agree, though, that there are some 'facts' that vary according to your source...."

    Variations in reported facts means someone is interpreting "truth". Of course, that can be interpreted as my spin on the subject.:smile:

    Just as it is human to embellish, it is human to make mistakes. Back to the O'Donnell fiasco--it seems almost everyone got lazy and made mistakes. Kudos to the reporter on The Digital Journalist for clearing up the muddy information.

    And, yes, people do twist the facts. It's troubling to me but it's business as usual these days and it's certainly nothing new. O'Donnell certainly appears to have gotten away with twisting the facts, even in death.
     
  18. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Member

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    Dear Lee,

    I can only read your post as suggesting that there is always an absolute truth, which clearly is not the case. Very often, it's 'it depends what you mean by...' Often, too, it's 'who cares?'

    Even in the case of deciding who took a picture, there may be no discoverable answer. Often, my wife and I cannot remember which of us shot a particular picture. I'm not saying that is the case here -- clearly, it isn't -- but most of the time in our particular case it's 'who cares?'

    If we can't remember, no-one can challenge us if we choose to write one name or the other on the balance of probability. Now imagine that one of us says one thing, and another at another time, and we are both accurately reported. Which of us is 'twisting the truth'? Or which reporter?

    Personally, I am a lot more worried by the idea of ANYONE accepting ANYTHING they read (or see on television, or hear on the wireless) without considering its source and likely bias. In other words, I'd rather read two honestly biased sources than one which pretended absolute objectivity.

    My wife and I have talked about this at length over the years (she's American, and we've been together 26 years) and her belief is that many Americans are given an unrealistic idea (or indeed ideal) of objectivity at school. Also, I have a law degree, and I am absolutely certain that the most honest and diligent witness, under oath, may swear they saw one thing; another, under the same conditions, who saw the same thing, will report something else; and both may be mistaken.

    Cheers,

    Roger