The law toughens penalties for deadly hit and run car accidents and is named in honor of Erin Keener, a WVU student from Marion County who died in a hit and run accident in 2005.
The Dominion Post decided to remove from the picture three delegates who sponsored Erin’s Law.
Instead the photo that appeared with the story included Gov. Joe Manchin and two members of Keener’s family.
Missing are Marion County House of Delegates members Mike Caputo, Linda Longstreth, and Tim Manchin.
Gov. Joe Manchin signs Erin's Law. Behind him are members of Erin Keener's family, and Delegates Tim Manchin, Linda Longstreth, and Mike Caputo. Photo credit Martin Valent.
The photo that appeared in The Dominion Post, Saturday, May 15, 2010.
Martin Valent is a photographer for the West Virginia Legislative
Reference and Information Center. He took the photo.
never seen anything like this on a newsworthy article like this, never.
This is beyond my comprehension,” Valent said.
beyond the press standards in my opinion. A photo is a photo-it is the
reality. It represents what is being captured.”
Geri Ferrara is the editor of the newspaper.
She declined to be interviewed on tape, but said to West Virginia Public Broadcasting the reason the delegates were removed was due to the newspaper’s policy not to publish pictures of candidates running for re-election during the political season.
All three are Democrats running for re-election this year.
In the newspaper, the photo caption includes the term “photo illustration” to indicate the photo had been changed.
Ferrara said because this is the election season, she is surprised someone would question the decision to remove the delegates from the picture.
Joel Beeson is a journalism professor at West Virginia University.
He says such a policy could be difficult for a newsroom to follow.
“It’s a news photo; it’s not a campaign photo. And if they were to remove everybody who was running for re-election, they would have to remove all politicians from their news photographs,” Beeson said.
“Most newspapers really have a very clear policy about manipulating news photos like that. I think they are going to have a very difficult time, I’m not sure how you decide when someone’s running or not,” he said, “I would think that that is kind of an impossible task.”
Valent says in his eight years as a photographer for the state, nothing like this has ever happened to one of his photos.
But Joel Beeson says it’s becoming much easier to alter photographs.
“Because they are digital, I’m assuming that this was a digital photograph, there’s no negative to go back to. It’s all logarithms inside of a computer and your camera,” he said.
“When you could go back and say here’s the original, it was easier to see a manipulated photo. But it’s getting tougher to do.
The issue is one of credibility of a newspaper, credibility of a journalistic picture. People expect that advertising images will be manipulated, but newspaper images are supposed to be accurate and reflect what actually happened.”
Valent says he has spoken to the newspaper about his photograph.
He says the newspaper apologized but reiterated its policy to him.