Tuscaloosa News Patrick Murphy Photo Illustration Raises Interesting Questions

The Tuscaloosa News’ April 6, 2012 photo illustration of Alabama Softball Coach Patrick Murphy in what looks like an LSU Uniform misleads and goes a bit too far in illustrating a “what if” scenario.

This April 6, 2012 Tuscaloosa News Photo Illustration by Marion Walding and Anthony Bratina shows Alabama Softball Coach Patrick Murphy in the way he WOULD have looked had he stayed at LSU, where he was hired in June 2011. Murphy never actually wore an LSU uniform.

Maybe it was only me who did a double-take this morning when I saw what I thought was a photo of Alabama Softball Coach Patrick Murphy in a LSU ballcap in skybox on the front of The Tuscaloosa News.

For a moment, I thought I had missed an announcement that he was leaving Alabama again headed for Baton Rouge.

Fortunately (for Bama fans like me), Murphy is not repeating last June’s episode where he was announced at a news conference as Bengal tigers’ new softball coach, only to change his mind.

The image shown above may be one the National Press Photographers ethics police might look at as an example of questionable visual journalism.

As Executive Sports Editor Tommy Deas’  story today tells us, Murphy “never donned the purple and gold in a practice or at a game.”

But, the big photo ILLUSTRATION on the front of the Sports section of  today’s Tuscaloosa News would suggest otherwise.   A version of the photo is what appeared in the skybox on the main front of the newspaper.

This is the Tuscaloosa News photo that runs in the online version of the April 6, 2012 story on what would happened if UA Softball Coach Patrick Murphy had stayed at LSU, where he was hired last June, but only worked a few days before changing his mind.

It is interesting to note that the web editors of TuscaloosaNews.com decided NOT to use the photo illustration, but a file photo of Murphy in his Alabama uniform with a softball player.

Did Photo Illustration Go Too Far?

The designers at the Tuscaloosa News DID NOT cross any ethical line.  They clearly labeled the image a Photo illustration noting today that “the colors of Patrick Murphy’s shirt and cap were digitally altered from crimson to purple in this photo with LSU insignia added.”

But, STILL, why did the web editors NOT use the photo illustration online?

Is the Tuscaloosa News manufacturing an image that is misleading?

Will readers take time to read the cutline for the photo illustration produced by Marion Walding and Anthony Bratina?

Not the First Time Patrick Presented in Purple

Before we go too hard on the Tuscaloosa News editors, let’s not forget the publicity photo that the LSU folks distributed prior to the Murphy announcement. It showed Murphy and his associate softball coach Alyson Habetz, in the LSU purple before the actual news conference where Murphy was to be formally announced.

The image with the would-be labels of Murphy and Habetz is still available online.

The image, no doubt, was to designed to build enthusiasm about this new big hire for LSU.

It is not that uncommon for those in public relations or sports information departments to manipulate images for artistic or promotional effect.

But,  I think it’s a  little dangerous for journalists to wade into these murky waters with photo illustrations that look like real photos.

Had it been a cartoon (which I know Anthony Bratina does better than most in the country),  I could see that as an appropriate way to depict the “What If” scenario that is the subject of Dees’ story.

Perhaps using a file photo of Murphy from the LSU news conference last summer would have been more journalistically responsible?

This news photo that originally ran on Michael Casagrande’s Daily Bama Blog.

The Decatur Daily’s beat writer covering the Crimson Tide may not have realized how important this photo would be nearly a year later, especially as LSU softball team plays Alabama this weekend.

The trouble, of course, is the real photo is not as provocative as the photo illustration.

Perhaps Deas and his staff knew what they were doing when they did “press the envelope” (Pardon the awful cliche) and went with an illustration of reality as it ALMOST WAS.

Just as I did with the other photos in this post, anyone could  find Bratina and Walding’s illustration online and present it as a real photo.  Most readers online wouldn’t know the difference.

This ethical problem may be the reason the T-News Web staff did not use the illustration.

From an ethical standpoint, the illustration ONLY works with the cutline explanation and, even the clarification which Dees makes in his story about what Murphy actual wore.

Did NBC Nightly News Mislead with Tornado Video?

NBC Nightly News got it wrong when it showed video of one Alabama tornado in a story focused around one’s man’s experience escaping another tornado.

I know I’ll catch some flak for what I’m about to write.

But, as a longtime viewer of NBC Nightly News, I had to point out a slight video flaw that dances dangerously close to an ethical line.

Television is a visual medium.  It conveys emotion even in ways strong still images can’t.

But, sometimes in the effort to find the right video, we can stumble.

I think the NBC producers/editors stumbled tonight in their story about Reginald Epps, the Coaling, Ala. firefighter, whose tale of survival has been told by several other national media outlets.

Here’s the key point:  Epps and his three sons and wife– were caught in an early morning tornado on Wednesday that rolled through Coaling, Ala.   ( I watched on one of the Birmingham TV stations that caught the storm as it blew through downtown Tuscaloosa minutes later)

Unlike the tornado that claimed dozens of lives here in Tuscaloosa that came through late Wednesday afternoon, some have called the most-documented storm ever,  the  pre-dawn tornado that struck  Coaling was NOT caught on tape in Coaling.

In Lester Holt’s piece tonight, the producers used “cover video” of the evening tornado in Tuscaloosa.

Isn’t that a bit misleading?   In his narration, Holt described the Coaling tornado as  the “first of many that day” as they showed Chris England’s famous video of the afternoon tornado.

As a middle school kid wanting to do TV news, I watched Lester Holt  as a local anchor at WCBS-TV Channel 2  in New York City. He’s a class act.   At one time, Holt was known as “the most visible African-American newsman in broadcast television.” But, this video issue spoiled what could have been another one of his great examples of broadcast journalism.

In the haste to tell great stories when we need good video, we as broadcast journalists have to be especially careful that our images are always telling the WHOLE TRUTH.

I had heard Reginald Epps’ story earlier this week on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition and read it in the Wall Street Journal. It was also reported on Web site like The Daily Mail.

Nightly News’ story showing Holt at Reginald’s bedside here in Tuscaloosa’s  DCH Medical Center— one African American father to another African American father– was the best of the bunch.  It tied together the morning and afternoon tornadoes and the experiences of those (both doctors and patients) who went through both storms.

It’s a shame that the video editing was a little sloppy.

Am I being nit-picky?   Yes, probably so.

But, I download Nightly News in my iTunes feed almost every night.  Elsewhere, I’ve praised the show’s producers when they’ve gotten it right.

Because of a poor video choice, this story wasn’t one of those times.

Clay Duda to Pay His SPJ ACTIVITY “Dues” Today In Birmingham

Clay Duda, an Atlanta-based social media consultant will be speaking at the SPJ Regional Conference in Birmingham today.

BIRMINGHAM– After a dizzying two days of travel in Northeast Ohio, we’re back near home base in Birmingham where later this morning we’ll get to hear self-proclaimed “Social Media Consultant” Clay Duda do his thing.

This baby-faced kid is Clay Duda. He's an Atlanta-based social media consultant who will be speaking today in Birmingham. Hopefully we'll get a 2011 image of him today.

The Atlanta-based journalist and photographer is one of the headliners at the Society of Professional Journalists Southeastern Regional Conference, which is taking place on our sister campus, the University of Alabama at Birmingham this weekend.

(I missed the first day due to my travels in Kent, Ohio)

“I’m an embarassingly inactive member of the Society of Professional Journalists,” Duda said in a posting on his blog last month.

Well, today Duda gets to INCREASE his SPJ activity quotient and pay his dues, so to speak by giving a session on how journalists are using social media at smaller and emerging publications.

He’s the pre-lunch speaker this morning and then will re-appear on a social media and ethics panel with my colleague Chris Roberts later this afternoon.

Should be a great day as we get started here in the “Magic City” in about 90 minutes.