What do you publish, what is fair?

Early last week I heard that presidential candidate Donald J. Trump was planning a stop in Erie on Friday. I had planned on taking the day off because I had been working several days in a row without a weekend. As soon as I heard he was coming I messaged my news editor that I would switch my days off if we were planning on making the trek up to Erie to cover. Being the only photographer at the paper I felt I really needed to be there

Now, disclaimer here. I am not a Trump supporter. But I felt I needed to be there because I know this area is indeed either a Trump supporter or more favorably Republican. Plus this is a presidential election and one of the two major party candidates was within a short drive away.

So….   as a journalist who isn’t a supporter of the subject he is a bout to cover means I have to really be over cognizant of how I go about this story. How I present myself to the subjects at the rally, every image I take, how I take it and I have to analyze how it can read by our readers. I have to be super critical of  myself when choosing pictures to tell the story of the event. I cannot let my opinions overshadow my dedication to the story.

I discuss ethics all the time and how important it is for us to examine ourselves continually so that we are performing our duties as public servants as unbiased as we possibly can. Folks don’t know how hard this is because even small things we don’t think about can be a big deal to others. So as I was getting a feel for this very pro-Trump rally it would be wrong if I only focussed on the negative things or if I took pictures showing him in a bad light. That would please his opposition, but fuel his supporters claim that the press is biased against him. Now had there been a lot of protesters that could have been the story, but there weren’t. This was indeed a very pro event for the Republican nominee.


Now my added dilemma was this…Donald Trump is very hard to photograph. His gestures and facial expressions are not typically polished and self aware (though this could be very debatable I know,) they lack the usual controlled public figure mannerisms we’re used to seeing. Editing through the pictures I found it hard to find images I was comfortable showing to our readers. His expressions often looked ‘goofy’ for lack of a better word, overtly smug or as if he were almost court jester like. I searched for those images where he looked in control, because he was in control of this situation and this crowd–that is no lie. I thought if I used an image of him that at all appeared like a negative statement I would appear judgmental and showing my bias against him by portraying him in an unflattering way. That would be unfair and not in tune with the story of the rally in Erie at all.

The story was a presidential candidate coming to speak to his supporters. It was deemed a private rally –  meaning that he wanted to be among those who he could rally to help work towards his cause. It was not an open rally where protestors could be heard or folks could wear opposition clothing and be welcome (in fact they would be asked to leave. And were!)

So for me to make a photograph that showed him in anything but a supportive atmosphere or in a negative light wouldn’t be fair to the story. Even the photograph above I questioned as perhaps showing him having that typically perceived smug arrogance that his critics cringe when they see. But it is a very typical expression of Trump and some supporters see it as confident wisdom. I was on the fence as to whether I should even show this image to my editors or delete it.


During a past presidential election there were great articles being written about how images of candidates appeared in newspapers and on TV (I wasn’t as internet savvy at the time so maybe it included on the web too?) I remember seeing two photographs side by side in a major newspaper where one candidate looked confident and strong and the other looked tired beaten. Both were taken on the same day in two different rallies. This publication picked those two images to show side by side and it did show a distinct bias against one candidate over the other. Especially since the story wasn’t about how one candidate is old and tired and the other is young a viral. And especially since there were plenty of photos of the appearing tired candidate taken that day where he looked confident and strong. This picture above shows a supportive crowd welcoming their candidate to the podium, but what I feared in using this picture was the possible perception of him as a small man in this crowd. (I know that seems odd to think but it went through my mind as to perhaps a reason to choose a different photograph.) And it can be true if placed near a more close up picture of his opponent. Consciously or subconsciously we would be affected.


This image above was one of my least favorite images because it is what we would call cookie cutter or just so typical we might not even take note of it because we’ve seen it so many times before. If not for the small story telling detail on the front of the podium this could be a picture of him at any rally anywhere. But here is the kicker, because of that too, it has no appearance of any bias what-so-ever or any statement by me or my paper either in support or  opposition to his candidacy. It is a simple statement of fact and fact alone, Donald J. Trump spoke in Erie Pennsylvania. (Some scholars might point out he is facing left and that means something, or that he is way over to the right and that means something…. but lets not think that deeply.)


And yes we really do think about this stuff and sometimes we make the wrong decisions, but most times, we really are trying to just give our readers information so thay can make up their own mind. If I worked for a paer that forced their views on the reader and forced me to make images that complied with those agendas I would quit.

The other side of journalistic consideration is this – getting the heart of the story right too. Beyond simple facts there is the human element of emotion and energy. This was a rally in support of a candidate. The place was full of people who had made up their mind and wanted to show their candidate that they are there for him. Yes there were several undecideds as well who came to hear for themselves what the candidate had to say instead of relying solely on the press to filter what they perceive as the key issues and statements of the candidate. So showing the excitement of the people who believe in what they are hearing is a very important part of the story. It was a rally. It is Northwest Pennsylvania and though Erie is a democratic city, most of rural NW Pa. is republican.


People reacted as they should it was a rally and they were happy to be apart. There were very few protestors inside and I wasn’t convinced that those few protestors were authentic. Their quick protests that seemed to appear almost at exact intervals were quickly stopped with very little commotion. Perhaps they were just extremely polite protestors. Donald Trump even commented on the apparent weak attempts at protesting giveing a jab to Hillary Clinton saying Bernie’s protestors were tougher. The main story was Trump supporters were out showing their candidate love.


Now this leads me to even more thoughts on my ethics and really questioning how my bias can affect the pictures I make. It is really easy to hold a campaign sign up-side down. You hear something and you react by lifting up your sign quickly and sometimes it just happens. I saw it dozens of times. It does not mean the participants aren’t smart enough to hold up the sign correctly. In the fraction of a second that i made that picture it would be an unfair ‘statement’ of the candidate’s supporters. When in fact it has nothing to do with that at all. I had one photograph where there were 3 or 4 signs upside down. It would be unfair to use this type of image as a misrepresentation of the people there or the individual holding the sign. They were excited and reacted quickly, that is all.


Another photo I liked very much I thought would be unfair if it appeared in the paper was this man who was simply looking down. It wasn’t made during a prayer or any solemn moment, he was just looking down(I wished i had made it during a prayer so I could say that, but it wasn’t.) I like the picture because in it I see caring thought, but I know how pictures read and it could simply read down trodden and loss of hope for a candidate he believes in slipping in the polls. But again, its just a dude looking down.


Ok now here is the one image I made that made me want to write this blog today. I knew we wouldn’t run this in the newspaper and I would hope no newspaper would unless it was in the context of what constitutes support and what is downright sexist and meaningless cheap shot machismo. This image does speak to a percentage of  supporters of the Republican ticket, but certainly not all and I would guess a higher percentage of Republicans wouldn’t condone this kind of protest against the democratic candidate than would. (I do not have facts to back this up, it is a hopeful opinion at best.) And I know there are equally unfair things being said about the republican nominee that are meant to be cheap shots too.

If you can’t read the shirt here is a detail: It is meant to be a funny play on the bumper sticker If you can read this, you’re too close (though I suppose there might be shirts or patches with this for bikers out there I don’t know!)


I saw a couple of different people wearing this shirt. I did chuckle when I saw it, but not because I thought it was funny in of itself, i chuckled because here i was trying to keep my attitudes in check and was confronted with the very stereotypical attitude associated with Trump supporters right there in blatant disregard women and equal rights. I thought about how this is that typical attitude now that the large media markets are hopping and Trump’s people complain about the unfair bias being portrayed, and here are people feeding right into it. So is it fair to join the fray and show this in an article based on how supporters came to see their candidate? We try very hard to tell both sides or as many sides as we can to a story and be fair. And there is a place for this sort of commentary about the state of our evolution in sex and race equality, but would it be fair in this case when we are doing a story simply about a candidate coming to town and speaking to the needs of the people in this region and the nation? People who cheer his words.

Perhaps if we dedicated our entire paper that day to nothing other than all the parts of what a rally like this means then yes, this could be an interesting analytical piece on how supporters of each candidate are acting in public. But again, our story was about a rally and what was said and how the people there reacted.

What we can hope for as a newspaper covering this presidential election is that, in time, during the run for November we do touch upon all these ideas, positive and negative of all candidates running so our readers have a more informed mindset when they go to the polls. And we will be having these internal dialogues and staff discussions about how to present this information to our readers everyday now up to the election. (actually we have these discussion often anyway and they will continue beyond the election if we are truly worth our salt as journalists who take the 1st amendment very very seriously.


I will not be supporting Donald Trump personally, but I firmly believe in our reader’s right to do so if they wish. And I hope my coverage will show as unbiased as possible coverage of all candidates that come through our area that I get to cover. I can say for sure that I will go through these sorts of internal debates each time. And hope I make the right decisions on deadline. I also hope everyone who is paying attention to all news sources legitimate and not that they learn to know how a picture makes them feel about a subject and take the time to think about the facts as they are presented or not presented. And look for legitimate news sources to back up all claims made that you find inflammatory. They are out there, they really are out there and many are checking and rechecking facts and presenting as close to unbiased coverage as they can.


Note: I didn’t have a good vantage point for the protestors inside the rally and admittedly I didn’t see protestors outside to photograph. There didn’t appear to be any hostile actions taken in either place as it was a very peaceful rally.