By Donald R. Winslow
© 2007 News Photographer magazine
TOLEDO, OH – The Toledo Blade is currently finalizing a major story for Sunday’s edition that will reveal and explain additional questionable Blade photographs by former staff photographer Allan Detrich that “should not have run in the newspaper.” Detrich resigned amidst an ethical controversy last Saturday.
Blade assistant managing editor for administration Luann Sharp has revealed that their investigation found other Detrich photographs in their archive that are “suspicious” and were not “truthful representations of what happened in the field.” The investigation began after the paper determined that a page-one photograph by Detrich from a Bluffton University’s baseball game had been digitally altered to remove a pair of legs from behind an outfield banner.
Sharp says the story will deal with altered Detrich photographs from 2007 that were “submitted to publication and should not have been,” but she would not give additional details. “We’re not trying to hide anything from the journalism world. We just think that we should tell our readers on Sunday first. They have a right to know, and we owe that to them.”
Sharp did not say how many faked pictures their investigation has uncovered, but the number is expected to be reported in the Blade’s story on Sunday. Some published reports, citing Blade newsroom rumors, have claimed the number of problem images to be in the “dozens.” Sharp says all of the photographs they will discuss with readers were digitally altered, but that their investigation does not address photographs that may have been “directed” or “set up.”
The Blade's investigation story will be published Sunday in their "Behind The News" section with a page-one reference to it, so that readers can easily find the article. "The Blade's executive editor and vice president, Ron Royhab, is the author. 'Behind The News' is a section front, usually the third section of the Sunday paper, and we will publish examples of altered photos along with the story," Sharp said.
“We met with the photography staff this week and shared with them some of the information we have so far,” Sharp told News Photographer magazine today. “We revisited the basics and went over the NPPA Code of Ethics, and they were one thousand percent supportive, and told us to ‘do whatever you need to do, and we will do for you what we can.’ We talked about the Bluffton photograph and unanimously, they said what was done was wrong, that it should never have happened. They said, ‘We don’t want people to think that we approach our work that way. When we signed our NPPA membership, we knew what we were agreeing to [the NPPA Code of Ethics] and we want it that way.’”
Sharp says this episode “has been hard on the photo staff. It’s not funny to them. It’s not funny when someone asks them if they’ve ‘altered any photos today.’ It’s their career, it’s their profession, and I commend them for the level of professionalism they’ve shown.”
The staff photographers at the Blade are Jetta Fraser, Lori King, Herral Long, Andy Morrison, Amy Voigt, Jeremy Wadsworth, David Zapotosky, and intern Eric Sumberg. The photography editors are Lisa Dutton, David Cantor, and Marty Kruse. Imagers are Fayann Corfman, Kristy Young, and Tom Fisher. Nate Parsons is the Blade's director of photography.
Meanwhile Detrich, who wrote in his online blog when his ethical lapse was discovered that he was “tired of journalism” and that he had already “moved on to other things,” writes today that he is somewhere in central Texas making a “business presentation” with his new partners in a newly founded storm-chasing venture that will teach weather watching to first responders. He also writes that he is out chasing severe Texas weather. Apparently the photographer will not be at home Sunday in Ohio when the newspaper that he’s worked for since 1989 reveals the depth of his ethical departures.
“We will do our best to explain it to our readers,” Sharp said. She told News Photographer magazine that Detrich’s resignation had no impact on their investigation because the newspaper needed to determine, and then explain, whether Detrich’s doctored Bluffton picture was a one-time mistake or whether it was part of a larger pattern of photographs that he digitally altered prior to publication.
For much of the past week the Blade's director of photography and others have been looking in their archives at everything Detrich shot since the beginning of 2007. Last week the Associated Press in New York City pulled Detrich’s photographs from their archives, and some photographs by Detrich that were for sale on printroom.com were removed as well.
Based on Sharp’s comments about Sunday’s upcoming story, it appears that the problem is more widespread than the “one-time” mistake Detrich claimed it was when he admitted to doctoring the Bluffton photograph and resigned. Sharp said Blade editors are still assembling Sunday’s article about their findings.
The controversy bloomed after much of Ohio’s media descended on Bluffton University for the school’s first baseball game after their team was involved in a fatal bus accident March 2, 2007, in Atlanta that resulted in the death of five players. Before the game, the baseball team gathered in a circle on the playing field near five banners that were hanging on the outfield fence. The banners bore the names and uniform numbers of their five dead teammates. The Bluffton players removed their caps and dropped to one knee for a moment of silence or prayer. The banners formed the right-hand background in an extremely horizontal composition.
Nearly identical pictures of that moment ran large the next day on the front pages of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Dayton Daily News, The Lima News, and The Toledo Blade, each picture shot from nearly the identical angle by a photojournalist from each newspaper. In three of the large photographs a pair of blue-jean clad legs could be seen coming out underneath the banner on the far right-hand side of the image. The legs were missing from Detrich’s photograph; only grass and fence could be seen from the bottom of the banner down to the ground. Upon close examination of the photograph, evidence of digital alteration could be seen.
On the Monday after the Friday game, which was covered in Saturday’s papers, a photographer at the Dayton Daily News was looking at a Web site that features newspaper front pages. He wanted to compare how different Ohio newspapers had played the story coverage from Bluffton. The photographer noticed that four nearly identical photographs from the players kneeling had run in a very similar fashion on four Saturday fronts. Looking more closely, he noticed the missing legs in the Blade’s photo. The discovery of the doctored picture became a topic of photo department discussion that spread through the photojournalism community and was brought to the attention of the National Press Photographers Association’s magazine, News Photographer.
When called by News Photographer magazine, Detrich at first denied the alteration and said that he didn’t know anything about what may have happened to the legs. Several hours later on that same day, when confronted by Blade editors, he said that the photograph’s manipulation was “for his personal files” and that the wrong file had been transmitted to the newspaper while he was on deadline in Bluffton “by mistake.” He said that by doing the alteration he was trying to make “a beautiful photo” and that the altered picture was intended only for a print to be made “for my office wall.” The photographer offered no explanation for why he was digitally altering a photograph for his own “personal use” while in the midst of covering a live news story and transmitting images on deadline.
On the Friday a week after the Bluffton game, the Blade published this correction. The following day Detrich was informed that he was being suspended with pay pending the outcome of the newspaper’s investigation, and he was also asked to turn in any photography equipment and gear owned by the Blade. On Monday after Easter, Blade editor Sharp announced that Detrich had resigned in an eMail sent to the newspaper on Saturday.
Detrich posted an entry on his personal blog after the incident and wrote about the altered photograph. He wrote: “Yes. It was what it was, but I wanted it perfect, and maybe that is where I went wrong, trying to be perfect, in the end showed my flaws.”
The photographer is a native of Attica, OH, and attended the Ohio Institute of Photography in Dayton. Before that he worked for The Sunday Sun-Journal in Lewiston, ME; The Advertiser-Tribune in Tiffin, OH; the Daily Gazette in Xenia, OH; and The Kettering-Oakwood Times in Kettering, OH. He was also the Blade’s bureau photographer in Washington, DC, where he shot for Toledo and the Blade’s sister paper, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, which are both owned by the Block News Alliance.
In 1998, Detrich was runner-up for the Pulitzer Prize in Feature photography for a five-part series "Children of the Underground." It was an in-depth look at a covert underground organization that hides sexually abused children. Two times Detrich was the Ohio News Photographers Association Photographer of the Year (1991 and 1993), he won the Ohio clip contest Photographer of the Year title in 1994, and in 1991 he was the NPPA Region 4 Photographer of the Year.