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August 3, 2013

Watertown Redux? Cops, not Feds, Raid House in New York Somewhere

We have an editorial and photo editing question for you.  Being that the Atlantic Wire is the bomb, and last Thursday a story about the feds raiding a house in Suffolk County, New York over a Google search went completely viral, we were wondering what you thought of this photo  and layout.

With surveillance currently occupying the political, cultural and media mind, the webs lit up last week with the story of a couple invaded by either the FBI or Homeland Security after an alleged Google search for “pressure cooker” and “backpack.” The Atlantic Wire subsequently updated their story, changed the headline (to indicate “cops” rather than “feds”) and clarified the mystery but not till more facts were known. You can read the post here. (The real warning out of this, by the way? Be careful doing Google searches at work or getting too interested in cooking quinoa.)

So, our question is: what do you think of Atlantic taking a breaking and fragmentary story, set in NY and involving a completely innocent couple, and illustrating it with a shot from the bomber manhunt in Watertown? (Just to note, there is a line in the middle of the post in parentheses indicating the photo is from Watertown, and a photo note at the bottom of the post indicating same — the double citation indicating, we imagine, recognition of the potential apprehension arising from the choice/impact of the captionless pic.)

What do you think about running this pic from the standpoint of accuracy and editorial responsibility, as well as the perspective of  this family in Watertown?

(photo: AP)

  • maggie

    Just more irresponsible journalism – news media can’t seem to just stick to the facts. Editorializing & injected opinion is rampant, not only at AW.

  • bystander

    It’s kind of a quirky line the Atlantic Wire walks. For example, no one thinks twice about pulling a photograph of a politician – regardless of the circumstances in which it was originally taken – to accompany a story about that politician. We can examine whether an unflattering story is accompanied by an unflattering photograph, or not, and how we’re influenced by the same. As long as the person’s photograph and the story matches up, we’re cool. Or, as a different example, for any image of police brutality when accompanying a story about the incidence of police brutality independent of any specific location or police force.

    But, here, we’re supposed to imagine that “local police” are generic, that this family in number/presence/composition somehow approximates the family who were associated with the unfortunate Google search, AND that a family in Boston is a sufficient stand-in for a family in NYC? It’s a bridge too far for me.

  • Libby Stack

    Well doubly confusing for me as there is also a Watertown in NY but in Jefferson County not Suffolk. Agree with Maggie – irresponsible and yes rampant because of the desire to have some kind of splash impact. Damn the facts, full speed ahead.

  • Cactus

    If you disregard my company’s house organ, I’ve never been a
    photojournalist so, of course, I feel fully qualified to jump in

    This example of sloppy journalism is unforgivable in my
    estimation. It is what we get in an era of multi-faceted media, most with
    little training or experience, hiring equally untrained “reporters” and whose
    only qualification is being able to afford the cost of a website. With so many
    disparate entries into the field, the competition for the coup, or first credit
    (and citations from subsequent media reporting), has apparently taken precedence
    over accuracy. The fact that they had to re-identify the photo twice indicates
    that someone knew it was wrong, but didn’t have the courage to make a correction
    and possibly hold up the publication.

    If I were in that family, I’d be outraged at being conflated with
    the possible commission of a google crime. Are they now somehow being tainted
    as terrorists for some future sloppy “reporter” to re-use their photo,
    identified as connected to the Boston bombers?

  • bks3bks

    Why is the name of the company that dropped a dime on this family not given?

  • Scarabus

    Hmmm… Who wrote this post? There is no byline. The post uses the plural pronoun “our.” Is that an “editorial” plural? a “politician” plural? a reference to a group decision? I mean, the Atlantic post has a byline, so we know which individual is responsible for the story if not the photo.

    Joking aside, re the story I think you guys are being too harsh. I read it several times (appreciate the link). To start with, it was a breaking story, not a thoroughly researched feature article. Bump and those helping him seem to have checked the “usual suspects,” used direct quotes, and attributed almost everything either to named individuals or to officials in a specific position. As soon as they got an official response (for whatever that’s worth these days!), they posted an update above the earlier post. Not saying this is model journalism, just that I don’t think it’s as bad as some others do.

    In contrast, the photo pisses me off … while also causing me to reflect. I think that to use a photo having nothing to do with the story is to lie. One of the reasons I stopped watching History Channel is that they did that all the time. You know, the voiceover says “Cleopatra,” while the screen shows a totally unrelated 19th century odalisque … says powerful queen, while showing powerless harem “girl.”

    What nags at me, though, is puzzling about what sort of photo one might be more appropriate for a story like this one. For example, here we’re shown a military-style assault squad exactly like those we’ve seen numerous times in photos and videos from Iraq. The only difference is in the uniforms and cultural identifiers. In other words, this exaggerates the circumstances of the “visit,” the threat of physical intimidation and even violence.

    But what if they had used a photo of two or three plainclothes detectives entering the house, as the latest update suggests actually happened? That would be equally misleading in the opposite direction. Re-read the woman’s account as reported in the post. To be confronted that way — interrogated with the presumption that you’re a would-be terrorist rather than an innocent, loyal citizen — that would be terrifying. Jack Bauer rather than Joe Friday.

    ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞

    Quinoa’s another story. Is its trendy popularity in more developed countries like ours good for Peruvian small time farmers and their land? or is it destructive? BTW, I go the rice cooker rather than the pressure cooker route. For quinoa, that is.

  • black_dog_barking

    How can the local law enforcement agency be so smart about the possible connection of Google searches for two normally benign items that connect to a domestic bombing and be so, hmmm, what’s a good word? … stupid about their follow up?

    Give les gendarmes the benefit of the doubt and assume they truly believed they might have a lead on a budding domestic terrorism incident, and their next move is to send a couple of officers around to chat the terrorists up? Really?

    I’m getting that there may be more man power than actionable crime in this area which is very good news in many ways unrelated to their terror investigation tactics. Perhaps it is time to release some law enforcement resources for other community services.

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