Wednesday, July 8, 2009

How Did Those Manipulated Photos Get Into The NYT Magazine? Readers Deserve A Better Answer Than An Angry Editor's Note.

So the NYT has replaced Edgar Martins's photoshopped images from last Sunday's NYT Magazine with a tough, no-nonsense editor's note:

A picture essay in The Times Magazine on Sunday and an expanded slide show on entitled "Ruins of the Second Gilded Age" showed large housing construction projects across the United States that came to a halt, often half-finished, when the housing market collapsed. The introduction said that the photographer, a freelancer based in Bedford, England, "creates his images with long exposures but without digital manipulation."

A reader, however, discovered on close examination that one of the pictures was digitally altered, apparently for aesthetic reasons. Editors later confronted the photographer and determined that most of the images did not wholly reflect the reality they purported to show. Had the editors known that the photographs had been digitally manipulated, they would not have published the picture essay, which has been removed from

But as tough as that sounds, in typical NYT fashion it blames an unnamed, outside perpetrator for this horrible deed, and does nothing to explain how a team of top-notch photo editors could have missed the manipulations discovered today by a blog commenter in Minnesota.

The NYT -- which proclaimed that the photos were created "without digital manipulation" in the essay's intro last Sunday -- now owes its readers a thorough deconstruction of how such a flagrant violation of NYT rules could take place in full view of Kathy Ryan, the NYT Magazine's photo editor, and Michele McNally, the NYT's assistant managing editor for photography. It's impossible to imagine that the nine-page photo essay escaped the scrutiny of all those charged with the task of examining photos for possible manipulation.

On two recent occasions, McNally has addressed the subject of photo manipulation -- and both times she has categorically stated that the NYT has adequate procedures in place to spot photoshopped images before they appear in the paper.

But that doesn't seem to be the case.

Just to refresh everyone's memory, here are McNally's two statements on the subject. The first comes from the NYT's "Talk To The Newsroom" feature on July 21, 2006; the second came only last month, on June 18.

From July 21, 2006:

We have a very definitive policy regarding manipulation. For news pictures it is unacceptable. Our ethics guidelines make this very clear. For feature sections we sometimes combine photography with illustration. They are clearly labeled as illustration.

Our production department prepares images for reproduction. They are able to detect anything out of line and if they do, we will not run it. If the cause is murky, we will ask for the raw file. We do allow basic contrast/tonal adjustments as well as some sharpening and noise reduction. Our photographers have been taught these basic photoshop techniques and are well-versed in their use.

From June 18, 2009:

There are many layers of scrutiny that an image goes through before we run it. Each desk picture editor reviews the images, they then can be looked at by the Page One picture editor. If there is something awry we will contact the photographer or agency for a raw file if it can be obtained. The picture editor will open the file in Photoshop and enlarge questionable areas, histograms will be checked. Even then if it passes through the desk, the picture goes through art production, and in preparation for reproduction, they do find discrepancies. If they believe the picture has been over produced they will notify us. On occasion I have requested raw files because I thought the image was overworked only to discover I was wrong.

This time, McNally would have discovered she was right. She now owes it to NYT readers to come forward and explain just how such a massive screwup could have happened, despite all the supposed checkpoints and safeguards firmly in place.


Anonymous said...

One issue here is that the images ran in the NYT Magazine and their photo staff is completely separate from the main newspaper's photo staff. All the safeguards McNally speaks about may not be the same that are used by the Magazine.

Anonymous said...

Huh? Is McNally's job "director of photography except for whatever the Magazine feels like doing"?

On the measthead listing of assistant managing editors, McNally's name is next to that of Gerald Marzorati, editor of the Magazine. Neither name has an asterisk next to it.

Anonymous said...

Kathy Ryan is the Director of Photography for the Magazine and reports into Marzorati, not into McNally.
Every organization has different reporting lines and ones that may or may not make sense when looking at it from the outside, or when issues like this appear.