|Syrian rebel video screenshot; watch it.|
I'm hard-pressed, however, to imagine the extenuating circumstances that led Mississippi's Clarion-Ledger last Wednesday to use a handout photo to illustrate a story on perhaps the most contentious issue in the nation: abortion.
A 10-paragraph story
That day, the Jackson paper published a short article (online, at least) under the headline, "Ambulance called to Mississippi's only abortion clinic." It had only a Clarion-Ledger staff byline. Here are the first three paragraphs in their entirety:
Around 12:20 p.m. on Wednesday an ambulance was called to the state’s only abortion clinic.
“We understand that a female patient was taken by ambulance to UMC,” said Dana Chisholm, president of Pro Life Mississippi.
The Clarion-Ledger reached out to Jackson Women’s Health Organization owner Diane Derzis but she declined to comment.
Lots of background
What followed were seven paragraphs of background material that, although helpful to a first-time reader, did not contain what an editor of mine would call "new news."
|A photo without IDs.|
Violating a cardinal rule in journalism, the cutline doesn't identify any of the people by name. It only says: "A patient is loaded in to an ambulance at Mississippi's only abortion clinic."
And then there's the credit line: "Pro Life Mississippi/Special to the Clarion-Ledge[r.]"
Although Derzis, the clinic owner, declined to comment for the paper, she did speak to the Jackson Free Press for its story the next day. She called the paper's coverage an example of "unprofessional journalistic ethics."
The Free Press said it e-mailed Clarion-Ledger City Editor Sam Hall for a comment, but got nothing back before press time.
Questions, but few answers
I don't know why the paper published the story or the photo.
Many of my readers may be tempted to say that understaffed newsrooms are forced to rely more and more on citizen journalists and photographers for freebie photos and stories to keep websites fresh, and broadcasts and news pages filled with local content. Desperate editors resort to content they'd never consider a few years before.
It's worth noting that a year ago, the Clarion-Ledger advertised for columnists who would fill a position that it called a "labor of love." In other words, they wouldn't get paid. That ad came after a round of buyouts in February 2012 that targeted about 20% of what was then a 50-person newsroom. This is at a paper with current weekday circulation of 54,000.
Now, other readers might say this was just a poor news decision, one that can't be justified by any amount of cutbacks. The editors should have just used something else.
A wire-service story without any local interest? Generic features on health, food, and sports supplied by the remains of what used to be called Gannett News Service?
A reader tells me that Kate Marymont, who leads Corporate's News Department, sent a memo to editors last week as newspapers across the company were conducting another round of hundreds of layoffs and other job reductions. Dated Tuesday, the memo says:
"Going forward, we know editors face challenges in meeting the content needs of our print and digital readers. To support your efforts, we are launching several content initiatives.
"All are aimed at giving you ready-to-use national content so that your teams can focus entirely on the unique, high-impact local journalism needed to compete in today's crowded media world."
And I think I'll just leave it at that.
Is your site using photos or video from possibly biased sources? Please post your replies in the comments section, below. To e-mail confidentially, write jimhopkins[at]gmail[dot-com]; see Tipsters Anonymous Policy in the rail, upper right.