Everything, it seems, comes down to politics. It alters the perception of nearly all matters these days — even the purchase of a chicken sandwich. People pick a side and stick to it. I respect that in a way. It’s just not me.
At the newspaper things are a little different. For us and myself in particular, the things we cover are stories and nothing more. Some stories are larger or more interesting than others, but that’s pretty much the extent of my thoughts on the subject. I root for stories, not people or events. Whatever side is right or wrong in a particular issue is for legal minds to resolve, not me.
Oh, I might have a snarky comment about things I see, but seldom do I have an actual opinion. It’s not in my nature to take sides anymore. Thirty years of newspapering have taught me that all people have a side and I should be open to hearing about each and every one.
When it comes to covering stuff in our community, we hope to do so objectively, accurately and fairly. The same rules apply for our reporters and photographers. Our job is to take a photo of what we find at a scene without doctoring the image. Nothing more and nothing less. It’s not a concern if it paints an unflattering or flattering portrait of the subject — that’s left to studio photographers with airbrushes and other equipment meant to make folks appear better looking than they actually might be.
That brings us to the photo we published in print and online of Sheriff Terry Johnson from a Tuesday press conference. It appeared on our website Tuesday evening and our print edition on Wednesday. I would agree it’s not the most flattering photo in the world. No one would put it in their wallet and show it off or have it framed and put in their home or office. But I would also say it accurately captures the essence of the event — namely, the sheriff angrily responding to allegations lodged in a report by the U.S. Department of Justice.
That was the job of our photographer on site that day, Scott Muthersbaugh.
Scott attended the press conference, quickly called after the DOJ released the report concerning its two-year investigation into whether the Alamance County Sheriff’s Office discriminates against Hispanic residents. Johnson has denied the premise of these allegations from the get-go. He responded tersely to this probe every so often. Scott’s mission was to get a photo of the sheriff responding to the allegations and capture the emotion of the press conference.
This photo reflects that.
Another factor didn’t help, though. Scott had limited time to shoot so we had very few images at our disposal. Johnson spoke for about five minutes and only fielded a question or two before turning the dais over to his attorney. The sheriff then stood in the background. For our newspaper, a photo of an attorney in this case serves no real purpose. And the photo of Johnson in the background wasn’t very interesting, either. In fact, it made the sheriff look like a rather forlorn figure.
I hardly think that’s an accurate depiction, either.
Johnson plans to stand his ground against the DOJ and I believe the photo we published depicts a defiant sheriff battling federal government forces he believes are conspiring against him.
I don’t believe I’m wrong about this.
Here are a couple of notes I received on the subject. The first is from my friend Jack Bell who likes to call me about things we cover.
… This morning in the Burlington paper on the front page there was an article about Sheriff Johnson and there could not have been a less flattering picture of him.. I can say one thing, the people of Alamance County had better stand up for this man or they may get some one like we had many, many years ago. Sherriff Johnson is a good, honest and moral person. He runs a tight ship and expects his deputies to be honest, uphold the oath that each law officer takes when they put on the badge. Thanks for your time. Jack.
This one is from George Adams, who writes to me often.
If your reporter and photographer had planned to take a picture of our sheriff in as unflattering a frame as they possibly could conger (sic) up then I think they accomplished what they were going for. Is it not policy to take at least a couple of pictures when doing a story?
Was your cameraman intoxicated when he took the picture of our Sheriff? I am sorry but the picture today smells of bias towards our Sheriff and his department.
Shame on the Times News for being so petty to take a cheap shot when our Sheriff has done nothing wrong except not bowing down to a bunch of liberals who don’t want the law enforced in Alamance County.
If a group of people are costing taxpayers in this Country over $360 billion a year , you would think that even the dumbest liberal would stop and take notice! Maybe you should start paying attention to our
national debt ($16 trillion) and less attention to babying illegals who are invading our county.
MY TAKE: I appreciate both points of view and thanks to Jack and George for passing along their thoughts. To George I would say that our staff members do not drink on the job. Let’s get that out of the way right now.
Otherwise, anyone who thinks we cook up scenarios where we make people look bad or good has no concept as to how much work we have to do in a day just to get the newspaper published. Shucks, if I had enough time to play those kinds of chickencrap games I’d certainly spend it doing something more fun than this.