September 06, 2009

The most sought-after photo in Canada.

Everybody loves a good-news story. But you know what people love even more? A good photo (or a bit of video) to go with that good-news story.

I have been receiving calls from media all day, seeking permission to use the pictures I took after the search that found a missing two-year-old boy on the North Canol Road. Some of the calls have been fair and sincere. Some have been slimy. There has actually been begging.

All of this put me in a bit of a moral dilemma. I am thinking about the family in question, here.

An experience like that is emotional to the extreme. Even though it had a successful outcome, it is no less traumatic.

On top of everything they've already been through, add to that the judgmental, ill-informed, and often mean-spirited opinions about the parents (and the previous owners of the dog) that have been posted to several news agency websites. What those commenters don't seem to realize is that they're talking about real people - real people they know nothing about - who may, one day, read what they have written. If you read through those comments, and they weren't true, and they were about you, how would you feel?

Right now, those family in question is nameless and faceless, and I imagine there might be some comfort in that anonymity. The media's job, however, is to tell a story and nothing tells a story like a good picture. Do I want to be responsible for giving a face to those judgmental commenters?

Right now, I don't. I think the family has been through enough.

Maybe I'm wrong, but I would rather err on the side of caution. For this reason, I have temporarily removed the image of the mother and her son. I have granted permission to one news outlet (which will be making a donation to the Whitehorse District Search and Rescue Society) for use in a national newspaper (where it's hard to leave judgemental comments).

I understand that the media are just trying to do their job: The people demand their images! I completely understand the curiosity that drives people to want to know more.

What I don't understand are the judgmental (and ill-informed) commenters. Everyone is entitled to an opinion, but you that doesn't mean you have to share it. For all website commenters out there: Please try to be more understanding (and better informed) before you judge others.


Dr. Julie said...

I admire your morals on this one. You're absolutely right.

I'm not sure if I'm thinking of the right picture, but I can still see what I think is the pic of the mother and son on your previous post. Just to let you know!

Meandering Michael said...

Fixed. I removed it from the host, but for some reason it still showed. I also deleted it directly from the entry. Thanks!

Matt, Kara, Hunter and Cavan said...

Good to hear Michael. Those comment were unreal- I had no clue how folks could be that opinionated after reading a few short paragraphs containing very little information!

Just curious, did you have permission from the family to put their picture on the blog or to give it to that news agency?

Anonymous said...

As the grandfather of the young boy, and the father of the mother, in question, I would like to thank you for keeping their names and photographs out of the media.

The families are looking at ways to thank all the people involved in the successful search and rescue. As you can imagine, we are extremely appreciative of the efforts of everyone involved.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your contribution.

Thank you so much.

Bonnieupnorth said...

Good decision Micheal...your site was listed in one of comments on CBC article.

Anonymous said...

For me the larger question here is about the ethics of a member of SAR posting pictures, blogging about and speaking to media about a rescue operation. I believe there are specific people who have been appointed to handle media inquiries based on established protocol. In addition, the family has specifically asked not to be identified. This is no better to my mind than a police officer, paramedic or fire fighter selling pictures/footage of someone's personal crisis just to get their name in the paper / generate a few blog hits.

Megan said...

I just love anonymice. They are so brave. And so accurate. Blogging about an issue that's all over the news with no identifying information and refusing to sell photos is the same thing as police officers selling footage to get their names in the paper.

Anonymous said...

I have family members who have been involved for decades in SAR both in the Yukon and Outside and I have to say that is was pretty shocked to see that you had post details of the search as well as photographs of such a personal moment.

You were on scene as a SAR volunteer not a member of the media so I think hosting those images really was in poor taste and unprofessional. I read your blog, as well as your wife's and I admit, I am a tad stunned with your openness toward posting all sorts of personal data on line when god only knows who is reading it and obsessing over it, but that is your choice. This woman and child didn't have the choice of posting their image on line. I'm glad you have reversed your decision. As you mentioned there are a ton of people judging this family right now and as a parent, I defy any other parent to tell me that they have never lost a child, for even a minute. We all know that sick feeling in the pit of the stomach. No need to immortalize the moment online.

Murray said...

"Anonymous" - a typical mouthy coward with things to say but without spine enough to even identify himself.

Meandering Michael said...

Anonymouses, thank you for sharing your thoughts.

During the search, or if the search results in an investigation, there are indeed individuals who are responsible for media relations. After the search, when I received calls from the media asking for personal information about the families, I referred them to the RCMP. You'll note that there's nothing in my blog entry that wasn't already on the CBC website.

You are correct that I was there as a SAR volunteer and not as a member of the media, but I was also asked by SAR to bring my camera. Before I posted the pictures, I passed them up the SAR chain of command and was told that I could use them how I saw fit (especially given that it was a successful search with no subsequent investigation). I even specifically asked if it was OK to post them to my blog and was given the go-ahead.

As far as generating blog hits goes: I don't really care about that. I write this blog for friends and family and, it just so happens, some others who like to read along. You'll note that there are no advertisements or other revenue-generating components to this site. I can see that, on one of the media sites, they listed the name of this blog in the photo credits. I did not ask for that, but they are required to credit the photos. I sought no reimbursement for the use of those photos.

As for an image of the mother and child being posted online, as sad as it is, the media will not rest until they have their interviews and their images.

To the grandfather of the young boy: The image of mother and son will be in the Globe and Mail. I wanted to get a copy of it to them somehow, but not in a way that it would be associated with all of the negative comments that people have been posting online. I'm sure your grandson won't remember it when he grows up, but maybe you (and his mother) can use the picture to overcome a traumatic experience and remember it in a happy light.

If you see see the picture anywhere else, please let me know. If it's being used elsewhere, it's being used without permission.

Anonymous said...

What is the moral dilemna you faced?

The family of the boy did not want to be identified. The picture of the mother and son could be used to discover their identities. By providing that picture to the Globe and Mail, you have gone against the family's wishes. It certainly appears you did so to get attention for yourself, unless you believe in "the public's right to know". You could have just not posted the picture, or refused to sell it.

Meandering Michael said...

If I was looking for more attention for myself, I would have distributed the picture more widely instead of taking it down. Believe me, it would have been much easier to just give it away to everyone. I did not ask to have the link to my blog posted in the comment section of any of the major news networks. I don't know who did, and I certainly did not post it myself. When I found out, I removed the picture. Do you think I want anonymous, scornful comments like yours on my blog? Some people do. I'm not one of them.

I had not heard that the family didn't want to be identified. Have you seen that in any of the online stories? As for using the picture to discover their identities, the media can, and will, locate them anyway. I considered that before I made my decision. I assure you, the decision did not come lightly. With any luck, now that the media has a face for the story, they'll let the story die.

The decision to only allow the story for the newspaper was a deliberate one. The newspaper does not come with the judgmental comments that are being posted with the Internet-based stories. The Globe and Mail agreed to not post the picture on the Internet.

As far as selling the pictures goes, I am not, personally, making any money for any of the pictures. For their use of the picture, the Globe and Mail will be making a contribution to the Whitehorse District Search and Rescue. The WDSAR can use that money to purchase equipment for the next missing child, mother, father, son, daughter, grandparent, or grandchild.

I understand that you think I made the wrong decision, but to imply that my decision was made for selfish motives (either for money or for "blog hits") is tremendously insulting to me.

Thank you for your anonymous, ill-informed, and judgmental opinion.

dogsled_stacie said...

Just to let you know, one of the first stories I read on this did say that the family did not want to be identified - can't remember where that was though...

Meandering Michael said...

Thanks, Stacie. I haven't seen it in any of the stories. If you find it, please let me know.

Meandering Michael said...

(As I understand it, it's more that the family is on the road and the media hasn't been able to reach them.)

Anonymous said...

You didn't answer my question. What was your moral dilemna?

Mr. G. said...

Michael - Friend of a friend here from Ottawa. Sounds like you did things by the book in getting the use of the photos approved. I'm not sure where some of these others come from with their criticisms. You considered all angles and made a well-thought-out decision. And my congratulations and thanks to you and all the search and rescue members for your work.

Meandering Michael said...

The moral dilemma: Let's say that you were in the right place and the right time and captured an image of a child in a truly horrific situation. Do you share the picture with the world, or do you hide it away, never to share with anyone?

Now lets say that you were in the right place and the right time and captured an image of a child at a truly joyous moment. The world is asking to see it. Do you share that joy with the world, or do you hide it away, never to share with anyone?

If you'd like to continue this conversation, perhaps you'd like to start using a moniker (or your real name), otherwise I might confuse you for all of the the other anonymous, ill-informed, and judgmental commenters out there.

Thank you for helping me to make my point.

Anonymous said...

If you have a problem with anonymous comments, perhaps you should disable that feature from your site. Some of us just don't have google or open ID accounts. As a professional photographer, I never take, let alone use, an image of a person without their express permission ESPECIALLY children - whether it's a "truly horrific" or "truly joyous" occasion is moot. It's about respecting people's boundaries and right to privacy. You are not a photojournalist, rather were acting in a volunteer capacity. To attempt to compare your actions to that of a bona fide war correspondent is ludacrious. "most sought after photo in Canada" - says it all to me. Are you sure you don't revel in attention just a little? Your treatment of other matters on your blog seems to indicate otherwise.

Fawn said...

Call me crazy, but I'm going to wade into the fray here. I think Michael has wisely decided there is no point in explaining anything to someone who has already got his/her mind made up to think the worst.

1. The "anonymous comments" feature does allow you do input your name, even if you don't have a Google or Open ID account. One of the best things about having a blog is the dialogue that follows a post. It's still up to the individual whether to not be a wiener about making critical comments under the cloak of anonymity.

2. Michael didn't explain the title of the post, but "the most sought-after picture in Canada" was actually a comment from a local CBC reporter. We laughed when he said that, not realizing just how true it was. Whoa, slow news weekend!

3. We came home from a day out at Lake Laberge and were completely surprised at the media attention. Michael's blog is primarily a friends and family blog, which is something very obvious from the daily stats.

When he first put the picture up on his far-from-famous site, the local SAR head had okayed it, and it wasn't with a huge amount of forethought. Later he rethought things and took it down. I think it's obvious that there was a lesson learned. And the lesson was learned before any anonymice (Hee hee! Love it, Megan!) started ripping him apart for "unprofessionalism".

4. "Don't you revel in attention just a little?" What a silly question. I won't put words into Michael's mouth, but I do think we both feel the same way about our blogs. Of course I enjoy a little attention -- positive attention, anyway. Just as most people enjoy telling a good joke that makes people laugh, it feels good to share things that make people feel good. But the pictures weren't posted to get media attention; we were both stunned that the situation took on a life of its own.

5. Hindsight is 20/20. Yes, it's cliche, but it's true. Have you never made an error in judgment, anonymous commenter? It's very easy for people to say, "it should have been obvious and you should have known better." But the truth is, we had other things going on in our lives and this weekend happened to be a stressful one for our family for other completely unrelated reasons. As a professional photographer, you have had to think about the ins and outs of taking and using pictures. Michael is not a professional photographer (or a professional blogger, for that matter) and this particular issue hasn't come up before.

As Michael's wife, I can tell you that he is a wonderful person, a great father, and a credit to the community with the hours of volunteer work he puts in. I'm sure you're happy to take my unbiased opinion on that, right? Are you happy knowing that your anger and self-righteousness sting? (Speaking for myself now.) Can't we simply agree that the picture of mother and child shouldn't be online, and hey, now they're not? There's constructive criticism and then there's the kind of stuff that is just designed to be confrontational. If Michael were afraid of criticism, he could easily turn off his comments... but that's just as bad as not owning up to your opinions.

So go ahead now, anonymous, dear. Go ahead and have the last word.

Meandering Michael said...

For the record, the photo in the Whitehorse Star of the mother and her son (at least online) is not mine.

Iris said...

Hi Michael - the photo on the front page of the Star is credited to the RCMP. Won't anonymouse have fun with that one.

Call Me Fred said...

I think the anonymous posters have been polite, even if they have strong opinions about the ethics and perceived motivations of your actions. Certainly, they're not calling you a "typical mouthy coward", or "anonymous, ill-informed or judgemental".

Fawn, it's admirable that you are defending your husband, who you obviously love, respect and appreciate. However, we are having a debate and sharing differences of opinions, not trying to get in the last word.

Finally, Michael, two or three wrongs don't make a right. Just because another photographer sold or gave the rights to a newspaper doesn't justify your actions in feeding the beast. But that's just my opinion.

Meandering Michael said...

Call me Fred, thanks for your comment. The anonymous commenter(s) certainly haven't been rude in terms of name-calling, but please let me re-quote the last sentence of this blog entry:

"For all website commenters out there: Please try to be more understanding (and better informed) before you judge others."

I don't have any problems with informed criticism, even when that criticism is directed towards me. However, I have a problem with people who rush to judgement about people's motivations or actions when they know little (if anything) about that person. Anonymous does that over and over again.
That, I find very rude.

Sadly, Call me Fred you do it too. I pointed out the Whitehorse Star photo because I was letting "Anonymous" know that it wasn't my photo - lest "Anonymous" rush to judgement. I wasn't suggesting that any "wrongs" were making a "right". When I discovered that the photo was suddenly of interest to more than my small group of readers, I took actions to remove it (you'll note that it isn't in the Globe and Mail either). Anonymous seems to take exception to me having taken the picture at all. Too bad. What went through my mind when I was taking it was "I bet they'd like to have something to remember this moment by." Not "I bet I can sell this to the media."

Or, maybe, as Anonymous seems to be suggesting, I joined Search and Rescue with the sole purpose of taking pictures of previously-lost children and getting myself lots and lots of media attention. Yeah, that must be it. That's me, the attention slut. You have me SO pegged.

Anonymous said...

Who cares if people are posting anonymously. If I saw you (or your wife) on the street and offered an opinion would it be any less valid because, face to face I know who you are but you have no idea who I am.

And for the record I thought you posting the image was self serving and distasteful. Rationalizing your misstep by saying the G and M will send payola to WDSAR amounts to little more than pimping this family's private moment for your own personal moment of glory. God forbid you get on a real search and spend more time snapping pics than using the techniques you are being trained to do.

That said. At least the pic is down.

Jen said...

Ya, because getting on with the search for the kid AFTER he's been found makes a whole lot of sense.

I'm sure Michael and Fawn are glad to know your personal opinion. I bet they never guessed what it was.

WTF, I can't believe this thread hasn't died yet.

Meandering Michael said...

Anonymous, this is a personal weblog, where I record my travels and experiences, so I guess you're right - posting a photo of a moment that I will always remember fondly was pretty self-serving.

And WOW was it ever distasteful to post it. Almost as distasteful as saying negative things about people behind a veil of anonymity. That goodness I didn't do anything to rectify THAT situation.

Megan said...

Anon 19:53, I'm confused. No searching time was lost. The child had been found at that point.

I'm also not sure what's "self-serving" about posting the image. This is a personal blog, not a site that sells photos.

Anonymous said...

Just curious. How would you feel if someone were to post pics of your family on a web site that you had no control over?

Rachel F said...

I would hope that if anyone posted family pics without permission, they would take it down upon request.

In this case, there wasn't even a request made by the family before the pic was taken down BY THE BLOGGER'S OWN VOLITION. And the boy's own grandfather sounds way more supportive than some of the pontificating commenters here.

What the hell is the goal in continuing this argument? Picture went up -> rethinking happened -> picture came down. This is not rocket science.

Jamie said...

Micheal- Nothing like an armchair quaterback to sit back and tell you everything you've done wrong! It seems often people are much more interested in critiquing someone who is helping in these situations then in finding out how they can help.
After reading all the comments that have been made, including the one by the child's grandfather, I think that you have the support of the only people that matter in this situation.
Keep you chin up, I don't think you've done anything wrong.
-Pedro's sister

Anonymous said...

I must point out that Michael did allow the Globe and Mail to run the picture of the mother and child in its national newspaper. This is the issue, not whether it stayed on his blog.

Meandering Michael said...

Oooh! Oooh! Oooh! I want to take a turn at being a judgmental commenter!

Anonymous Professional Photographer asked how I would feel if someone were to post pics of my family over which I have no control (because there aren't any of those out there already). Well, I would need more context for a proper response, so I'm just going to be judgmental and assume that Anonymous Professional Photographer is threatening to take pictures of my family and post them on the Internet. Well, you wouldn't be the first, but FOR SHAME!

I wonder how Anonymous Professional Photographer would feel if I were to use his/her IP address to identify who they are to the World Wide Web (because the Internet really isn't all that anonymous, after all)?

And maybe I should. You see, we've been talking about getting our family portrait updated and I would feel really uncomfortable potentially going to someone who likes to criticize others from a cloak of anonymity.

Maybe we should get our portrait done at Wal-Mart instead. Unless, of course, that's where Anonymous Professional Photographer works. Don't get me wrong, I'm not judging the professional photographers who work at Wal-Mart - some of our best family portraits have been taken there. I'm just saying that it's really awkward being all "out there", in the court of public opinion, being held accountable for my actions, and having this discussion with someone who won't hold themselves accountable to the opinions that they so love to share; not to mention their apparent inability to try to understand how things might look from someone else's situation.

Wait a minute, now... isn't that what my blog entry was all about? Trying to be more understanding and better informed before judging others?

Gee, it's funny how that keeps coming up!

Anonymous said...

Well, that's one way to suppress dissent.

Meandering Michael said...

Trying to be more understanding and better informed before judging others is a way to suppress dissent?

I can understand where you're coming from and still not agree with you. Far from it, taking the time to try and be informed and to try and understand where someone is coming from goes a long way to improving the level of discourse. Otherwise, it's just a bunch of trolls (an Internet term, not my own) spouting off ill-informed and judgmental opinions.

Indigo said...

Holy Kraft dinner!

Maybe this is why I do not have a blog, fun as it would be.

Meandering Michael said...

"Holy Kraft Dinner" is now, officially, my new favourite exclamation.

Anonymous said...

Dear Anonymous...i'm not a professional photographer, more amature really, but isn't the media in canada bound to have consent from the parents to print photos of children under 18? So given that Michael retracted his photo to all except a reputable Canadian exchange for the possibility to assist another such child in being found in the future...wouldn't that be something commendable? Just because they have the photo doesn't mean they can print it..and Michael has taken great measure not only to remove the photo from the one place where it seems rules lack...he has refused to give it to any other online venue. On top of that the critisim he received from you and some others was AFTER he corrected what he felt was his error.

We all are professional photographers...instead of attacking Michael in this situation you could have been smarter and given constructive criticism...but you didn't know all the facts...just because the globe and mail have the photo doesn't mean the have cart blanche's to print it...they are bound by rules. One is they can't print a photo of someone if they subject of the photo is NOT part of the hard news, the second is if the child is under 18 they need the parents permission to run the photo or they can be SUED! get your facts straight before you go spouting your goodwill.

To me i think YOU are the one who enjoys attention, maybe you should do more picture taking and less talking.

Kathleen O
(see how I put my name to my opinion...even with no google or blog account of my own)

Anonymous said...

Just curious. How is posting someones IP supposed to be a threat?

Sure, those four octets are temporarily bound to the MAC address on a network card but save getting a court order to force an ISP to release the physical name an address of the lease holder at a given time is a a near impossibility. You'd have about as much chance as finding somebody if they gave you the serial number off their toaster oven.

Further. Kathleen O. How much more descriptive is 'Kathleen O' than 'anonymous'? I still have no idea who you are.

- anonymous

Meandering Michael said...

Holy Kraft Dinner!

Who said anything about posting your IP address? I said USE to identify. It's amazing, really, how much can be gleaned from scant information, even without going to the ISP. You might want to do more research on that.

Furthermore, you may not know who Kathleen O is, but I and many of my readers do. At least we're not confusing her with all of the other Anonymouses out there.

Besides, don't you have anything better to do?! Join Search and Rescue or something! They could use more help since, in your humble, anonymous opinion, I am not up to the task.

Fawn said...

It makes a difference because in the world of blog etiquette you have a lot more credibility if you give yourself some kind of identity.

It also makes a difference because in a small town like Whitehorse, there's a pretty good chance of crossing paths at some point. And that, I assume, is the reason you continue with the anonymous stuff. No decent person would continue these attacks the way you do, and so you stand to lose clients with your petty attitude. (Unless your only client is a newspaper or something. In that case, you're only staining your personal reputation.)

As Michael mentioned, we are planning to hire someone to do some family portraits in the near future. If I have the misfortune of calling you for the job, I hope you have the decency to say, "No way in hell will I take you on as clients, because I think you are exploitative, horrible and narcissistic people, and therefore there is no way I could do a good job on capturing you all in a positive light." If you'd at least say if you're a man or a woman, I'd know I could avoid half the photographer community.

The real irony in all this is that Michael is completely amused by this whole business. I, on the other hand, am upset every time you post your mean-spirited remarks. That might not bother you, but I don't think I was your original target.

A. Stark said...

I think that a certain anonymous professional photographer is jealous.