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Opinion Making Sure Photos Aren't Muddling The Message (Guidelines)


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
A recent Opinion L.A. blog post ran into some misunderstanding with readers over the accompanying photo. The post noted the quiet opening of an Islamic community center near the ground zero site in New York and said the lack of outcry "may indicate a lull in Islam-bashing in political discourse."

The post was headlined "Is anti-Islamic sentiment subsiding?" and featured a photo (above) of a group of men attending the opening of the center.

The problem came with the juxtaposition of the headline about anti-Islamic sentiment and the photo of the men, who are Sikhs. Several readers interpreted this to mean that editors didn't know the difference between Muslims and Sikhs.

"It absolutely confounds me to think that no one at L.A. Times caught sight of the fact that although the article is related to the anti-Muslim sentiment, Sikh gentlemen are pictured next to it. Are we so ignorant that we are still perceiving a Sikh as a Muslim?" reader G. Singh emailed.

Likewise, reader Dolly Sidhu emailed: "The media has done it again. Showing Sikhs and talking about Muslims. I am disappointed that people that write the stories are educated and knowledgeable, but they don't know the difference between Sikh and a Muslim."

Several others left similar comments on the post itself.

Web producer Alexandra Le Tellier was concerned about the comments and said, "We didn't intend to offend anyone." And she explained the photo's selection. "The photo is from the opening of NYC's Islamic center, which is what the post is about, and the photo caption doesn’t misidentify the men as Muslim."

But that wasn't clear to readers.

Ultimately, Le Tellier updated the photo caption to read, "Members of the Sikh community attended the grand opening of the Park51 community center and mosque."

She also responded to each of the commenters with this note: "Thank you for your comment. We have updated our photo caption to identify the men in the above photograph as members of the Sikh community. We didn't intend to suggest they were Muslim; we simply selected a photo from the event discussed in the post. But we are sensitive to your concerns and appreciate that you shared them with us."

A memo on photo usage that was sent to the newsroom Thursday might have helped prevent the misunderstanding. The memo, signed by Managing Editor/Online Jimmy Orr, Deputy Managing Editor Colin Crawford and Assistant Managing Editor Henry Fuhrmann, included a checklist of points to consider before running a photo, including:

Is the image directly related to the content of the story? Does it illustrate the story fairly and accurately? Are you sure it's not being taken out of context?

The photo from the Islamic center's opening was indeed directly related to the content of the story. But taken out of context -- viewed only in relation to the headline -- it could be misunderstood.

--Deirdre Edgar

Photo: Members of the Sikh community attended the grand opening of the Park51 community center and mosque on Sept. 21 in New York. Credit: Mario Tama / Getty Images.

The full photo guidelines follow:

Beyond the basic journalistic principles and issues addressed in the Los Angeles Times Ethics Guidelines (see Photo and New Media sections), there are other important factors to consider when selecting photographs for online usage. Whenever questions arise regarding such issues, or involve situations not addressed in this guide, a photo editor should be the first point of contact for resolving them. It is best to work directly with the photo editor responsible for the type of image in question – Calendar, Sports, Metro, National, etc.

General usage

Use of photographs should not be misleading. A photograph may not be used out of context; its use should be informative and directly related to the events, people and places referenced in the accompanying story. Photographs used only to illustrate should be directly related to the story or blog entry. (Example: For a story about a man who died after falling from a tree while trying to rescue a cat, it is not appropriate to use a file photo of a cat stuck in a tree.)

A caption must accompany each photograph unless it is referenced nearby in the body of a story or blog entry.

Resources for selecting photographs

When you are selecting photographs for publication, the first resource for access to an image is MediaSphere, our photo database. Access to an image in MediaSphere, however, does not mean that you are authorized to use it for the purpose you have in mind. You must refer to information in the fields beneath the photo and determine whether we have permission for your intended use or if there are special-use restrictions we must observe. If there are restrictions, the information in the fields below the photograph should tell you where you can obtain permission.

Photographs cannot be copied from other websites without permission of the copyright holder(s). The site may provide that permission, and any rules for that permission must be followed unless the site specifically provides otherwise. Merely crediting an image as appearing elsewhere, such as on a website, does not authorize you to use the photograph, which is probably someone else’s property.

There are occasions when we can develop a so-called fair-use defense under copyright law for use of an image without permission. There are, however, no hard-and-fast rules about what constitutes fair use; it is a complicated analysis that is both qualitative and quantitative. You should consult the legal department for assistance if you must rely on a fair-use defense.

If you believe that an image may be in the public domain, and may therefore not require you to obtain permission to use it, please consult this table to make sure you are correct.

Photographs from MediaSphere or our website are not available for use on personal blogs, personal websites or non-Tribune publications.


Every photograph must be credited in accordance with Times photo credit style guidelines. Photo editors must verify the authenticity of handout photos. Except in rare instances, credit lines must identify the source of such photographs.

Digital manipulation of photographs

We do not add color, create photomontages, remove objects or flop images. We do not digitally alter images beyond making minor adjustments for color correction, exposure correction and removal of dust spots or scratches as required to ensure faithful reproduction of the original image. Exaggerated use of burning, dodging or color saturation is not permitted.



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