How is it determined what photo of a person the press will run?

I’m thinking specifically about the Martin/Zimmerman case, but the quesiton can be interpreted more generally as well.

There is a much nicer looking photo of Zimmerman floating around, and there are some older photos of Martin floating around as well. How did it come about that the original stories of the case showed a smiling young Martin and a frowning jailed Zimmerman? Where does the press get such photos? Is there any kind of rule or rule of thumb they follow when deciding who to get such photos from and which ones to display? Etc.

Depends on what story you want to tell.

If you want Martin to be the victim, you’ll show an innocent/angelic pic of him. If you want him to be the aggressor & perpetrator, you’ll show a gangsta/drug dealer pic of him.

This being GQ, I’m looking for substantiated claims rather than speculation.

My own speculation would be that they take whatever the first picture offered is, because they’re in a hurry to publish, and because even if they notice the spinny appearance of the pictures, they think that to try to neutralize the spin by asking for a different picture would, itself, be an act of spin.

Factual answer, it’s called Yellow Journalism.

For me, this is it. I am a page designer at a newspaper and I use the first photo that I come across on the AP photo wire. I design two papers a night and there isn’t very much time to think about photos. I grab it and run it.

I’d guess generally they use whatever someone sends them. But there does seem to be a tendency with anyone accused of a crime for that “whatever someone sends them” to be a mug shot. Things-I-can’t-say-about-Crafter-Man-in-GQ aside, I don’t like that; I think it’s prejudicial.

In the Zimmerman case, it may have been simply that the mugshot was run first because it was the easiest photo to obtain. Mugshots are often available to anyone searching for them. Google shows that current Orange County jail inmates mugshots are available on the internet, and past inmate information is available via request. If a local reporter is determined to get a photo of an individual to run ASAP, getting the individual’s mugshot may be much quicker and easier than getting, say, their driver’s license photo.

Even if the first photo you come across is a high school yearbook photo (or a baby picture) of someone who’s pushing fifty?

That would be silly. If that was the only option, then we wouldn’t run a photo.

As others have noted, the easiest picture of Zimmerman that was available was his mug shot. Martin didn’t have a mug shot so the press had to find a regular picture, which was probably taken at some social setting (or might be a graduation picture). This is a common situation with breaking crime stories so you run into similar picture dichotomies without any bias being intended.

I remember when the Yankees were at their nadir in the early 90’s-any time there was a negative story on them, they’d run a very unflattering pic of George Steinbrenner where he looked a lot like Curly Howard of the Three Stooges.

You didn’t think that a member of the press would come forward and actually admit that Yellow Journalism is what sells papers did you?

For some papers, like the NYC tabloids, yellow journalism could be in play. But for the vast majority of newspapers, old people looking for their friends’ obits, sports and school news is what sells papers.

I know it would be silly, but my serious question is where you draw the line; how old or out-of-date does a photo have to be before you decline to run it?

Because, according to today’s AP story, “The most widely seen photo of Martin, released by his family, was evidently taken a few years ago and shows a smiling, round-cheeked youngster in a red T-shirt. But at his death, Martin was 17 years old, around 6 feet tall and, according to his family’s attorney, about 140 pounds.”

In my experience, it’s usually “The best (or possibly only) images available,” but still having regard for things like context, appropriateness, non-bias, and so forth.

Ohhh, ok. So why do newspapers bother with the front page with its bold head line screaming EVIL WHITE MAN (with photo of evil white man) KILLS POOR INNOCENT BLACK CHILD (with photo of 9 YO innocent black child in his football uniform), if it’s not yellow journalism?

I use common sense to draw the line.

As for the Martin photo, there were others out there but they couldn’t be verified by AP. If that was the only photo released by the family, where would you find another photo of him? Maybe you get lucky and have a photo of him in the files somewhere. You can only run what you have and you know it’s the right person.

A long time ago, I worked in newspapers and part of my job was deciding what pictures to use in a story.

Basically, it came down to what was available and what told the story in the best way considering the circumstances.

Keep in mind, though, that this was when we were still using film and archaic photo transmission devices from the Associated Press.

I don’t know how they decide now, but we actually used to talk about it in editorial meetings. We discussed things such as fairness and consequences and being objective.

I have the feeling they still do, but my experience was more than 15 years ago for what it’s worth.

Unless one can show that Zimmerman’s mug shot was freely available on the net using a Google search on Zimmerman’s name, that journalist would have had to first figure out that a mug shot exists, contact whoever holds the mug shots and ask for it. Which is about as much trouble or more as finding out Zimmerman’s dad’s phone number, calling it (remember, this was before the big hoopla started, he was still probably answering it) and asking for a photo. I am sure Zimmerman’s family could have come up with an angelic-looking photo for publication.

Here is some color maybe explaining how an angelic-looking 12-year old Martin gets juxtaposed in the press with a much-heavier-than-today mugshot of Zimmerman:

NBC to do ‘internal investigation’ on Zimmerman segment

“without any bias being intended”
“having regard for things like context, appropriateness, non-bias, and so forth”
“common sense”
“fairness and consequences and being objective”

I want to become a liberal.