By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Ex-Pilot photog speaks

Peter Smith, the freelance photographer who took the photo of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia doing the chin thing, has issued a statement on the Pilot‘s decision to stop giving him assignments.

Not that I can blame the Pilot, whose editor, Antonio Enrique, decided not to use or release the picture, only to see Smith turn around and sell it to the Herald. That may have been a poor journalistic judgment on Enrique’s part, but he’s got a right to make editorial decisions. As Enrique tells the Herald, “I need to try and find people I can trust.” (More disclosure than you probably need to know: I worked as the Pilot’s production manager for four and a half months in 1990 and early ’91. Enrique came well after that.)

Anyway, here’s the statement from Smith, who teaches photojournalism at Boston University:

Thanks for your interest in this story. It sounds like the focus today is on the Boston Archdiocesan newspaper, The Pilot and their editor’s decision to fire me. Technically, that is incorrect usage of language. As a freelancer without a contract, I was not an employee of their newspaper. They can choose not to give me assignments in the future and this is not of large concern to me.

My prime obligation is to my students at Boston University where I am assistant professor of photojournalism. All actions that I have taken to date concerning the release of the photograph of Justice Scalia, have been made based on journalistic principals and ethics. The photograph is mine. The copyright is mine. The image was being misrepresented and a reporter was also being misrepresented.

On Monday, March 27, I had a conversation with Pilot Editor Antonio Enrique explaining that I had not released the photograph to the press and had no intention of doing so. However, as of Wednesday, March 29, the story evolved and required that I speak up and provide some clarity to it. I therefore felt obligated to release the photograph. I notified the Pilot in advance, concerning my intentions to go forward with the photograph, explaining my situation with News Editor Gregory Tracy.

I understood the moment that I released the photograph that The Pilot would in all probability not use me to cover their events in the future, but I had already decided that that was a sacrifice that I was willing to make to do the right thing. My students read newspapers too and they looked to me to understand the ethics involved with this situation and it wasn’t academic but being played out in real time with their professor becoming increasing involved. I couldn’t say one thing to them and then do another when the facts were so clearly laid out.

Though we disagree on this particular matter I still feel that The Pilot has been a wonderful paper to contribute to. Everyone there that I have worked for and worked with have been professional and very decent people. I will miss my association with them.

The Herald, naturally, blows past any distinction about the literal impossibility of firing a freelancer. The front-page headline today: “WHAT’S SICILIAN FOR … YOU’RE FIRED?”

Media Nation’s view is that both Smith and Enrique did the right thing, given that they have two very different missions.


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2 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    why anyone would mourn the passing of the herald is beyond me.

  2. Anonymous

    Perhaps in the land of the pompous euphemism, where reality is spun and acts have no literal meaning, one could perhaps embrace a word other than “fired” for what happened to Smith. But in the real world, which the Herald inhabits, a man who had a 10-year run as a freelance, whose run is summarily ended, has indeed been “fired.”

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