Lack of Well-Paid Photo Editors Caused Reutergate

In today’s LA Times, Tim Rutten blames the Reuter’s doctored photo mess on cost-cutting at newspapers. He takes a fairly tortured path to get to this:

That brings us back to Reuters and to the role its own financial cutbacks may have played in the Lebanon scandal. The agency used to maintain three photo desks staffed with veteran editors in Washington, London and Hong Kong. A year ago, it decided to save money by consolidating all three operations into one global pictures desk located in Singapore. Many of Reuters’ most experienced hands declined to relocate to the Southeast Asian city. Moreover, according to figures made available by the Newspaper Guild, salaries paid to picture desk employees hired in Singapore range from $18,200 to $24,000 and they receive no overtime. That compares to the $57,000 to $85,000 Reuters was paying in the now disbanded Washington operation.

According to the World Bank, Singapore ranks 24th in per capita income, below Italy but above Spain. Tim’s dollar amounts are meaningless, without a cost-of-living context.

And he goes on:

The photographs Hajj falsified were among a batch of 43 that went directly from his laptop in Lebanon to Reuters’ global photo desk in Singapore where they were reviewed and captioned before they went streaming out to newspapers, magazines and broadcast outlets around the world without so much as a whisper of caution or whimper of dissent from anybody involved.

But lots of people–with no photo editing background–thought the photos were fake. Some people, like reporter Tom Gross, think Reuters as a whole has lost any claim of objectivity.

So if Reuters paid their editors better, the faked photos would have been caught? So how did unpaid bloggers figure out the fakery?

Maybe like Tim said, back in 2004, on NewsHour:

And I think that what seems to be happening is that the bloggers in particular are taking on a very valuable role as fact- checkers, as raisers of questions, not as purveyors of reliable information or first- hand reporting, but there are an awful lot of them out there. They’ve got extraordinarily various personal and professional backgrounds. They’re quite interesting as fact-checkers.

Hence Ken Layne’s phrase: Fact Check Your Ass!