How to save the face of a venerable news organisation

Reuters had to act quickly when bloggers noticed that two photographs of Israeli military action had been doctored. Raymond Snoddy gets the full story from its new editor-in-chief

t was vigilant bloggers who first raised questions about the validity of two Reuters photographs of Israeli military action in Lebanon published last summer. In one, wisps of smoke rising over Beirut seemed identical, as if extra smoke had been added to enhance the image. In the other the accusation was that the number of flares being dropped by an Israeli F-16 fighter had been increased by digital means to make the picture look more dramatic.

It was appropriate then that David Schlesinger, the editor-in-chief of Reuters who took over last month, should use his editor's blog to set out the results of the investigation into the embarrassing charge that the venerable international news agency had issued falsified pictures.

Schlesinger - the first US editor-in-chief of the agency - concluded that smoke and flares had been added to the images. Despite denials, Reuters' relationship with Adnan Hajj, a Lebanese freelance photographer, was ended and all his images removed from the agency's sales database. Reuters' Middle East chief photographer was also dismissed.

"It was obviously very serious from the beginning," Schlesinger says. "What happened with the photographs has never been allowed at Reuters and has always been explicitly a sacking offence."

He denies vehemently the allegation from some bloggers that Reuters tried to deny that the incident had happened, or to delay the response. "It did unfortunately get past our desk. It should have been caught and I wish it had been. But Reuters reacted straight away. We dealt with it."

As a result, the international news agency has decided to spell out its rules much more forcefully, and in particular, the extent to which Reuters staff can use digital manipulation systems such as Photoshop. All have been reminded that "materially altering" a picture in Photoshop or any other image editing software will lead to dismissal. No additions to, or deletions from, original images are permitted, nor should there be any dramatic changes made to the lighting conditions.

But Schlesinger has decided to go one stage further, also partly in response to bloggers and critics, who say there is another form of manipulation - one where events have essentially been stage-managed for photographers. "In the new world we spell out in the captions the circumstances in which photographs were taken," he says.

In the old days, Schlesinger believes, the media would hide comfortably behind their working methods but now people expect a much greater degree of transparency. "If our access is limited we should say that. It gives the context that people need to know to understand the photograph or the news report."

Schlesinger, who is 45, looks and sounds like the academic he was and could have remained. He got his break into journalism by crunching his master's thesis at Harvard and selling it to the Far East Economic Review. A China expert whose wife is from Hong Kong, he has been at Reuters for 20 years, as both correspondent and as an editor. He covered Tiananmen Square in 1989, but by 1995 had become the agency's financial editor for the Americas, based in New York. He missed reporting, but "it became very hard to go back".

He is no stranger to controversies that stretch beyond questionable pictures. In 2005 the Reuters daily briefing to staff carried an extraordinary memo in which Schlesinger, then global managing editor, appeared to denounce Reuters' editorial quality. The agency's news, he said, was seen as having insufficient insight, and both news and data were not differentiated enough from competitors. The memo had been intended for an audience of about 10 senior Reuters executives. "What I was saying was let's not be complacent. We can do a lot better. We must do a lot better. I was trying to make a particular point and was more polemical than I would have been if I had been writing for publication or a wider audience."

There is also the Bangalore issue - what many see as the outsourcing of 1,600 jobs to the Indian city, including those of about 100 journalists, required to process corporate announcements. It was Schlesinger's job to make sure the initiative worked.

It is not outsourcing, Schlesinger argues, because Bangalore is a staff bureau "like any other" and Reuters has been in India for more than a century. "Because of the cost structure we are able to cover more companies than we would otherwise be able to do and the net number of journalists in the US has actually gone up since we moved to somewhere like Bangalore. We have used it to expand coverage."

One of Schlesinger's most difficult tasks is dealing with the US military over the issue of the four Reuters television cameramen who have died in Iraq - all of them the result of US fire.

He is not seeking disciplinary action, merely that the US military acknowledges what has happened and learns lessons. It would help, he believes, if US soldiers received more training on such things as the difference between a television camera and a rocket launcher. "We have constructive interactions [with the US military] but need to get to the point where there is real serious working group engagement on what can be done."

The work on staff safety has to go on because Reuters makes its living " by explaining the hot spots of the world" and that inevitably means there will be danger for its journalists. "We must therefore take every precaution possible and make sure we report as safely as possible."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Joe Cocker performing on the Stravinski hall stage during the Montreux Jazz Festival, in Montreux, Switzerland in 2002
musicHe 'turned my song into an anthem', says former Beatle
News
Clarke Carlisle
sport
Sport
footballStoke City vs Chelsea match report
Arts and Entertainment
theatreThe US stars who've taken to UK panto, from Hasselhoff to Hall
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
News
newsIt was due to be auctioned off for charity
News
Coca-Cola has become one of the largest companies in the world to push staff towards switching off their voicemails, in a move intended to streamline operations and boost productivity
peopleCoca-Cola staff urged to switch it off to boost productivity
Environment
Sir David Attenborough
environment... as well as a plant and a spider
Voices
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: IT Support Analyst - Chessington

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Service Desk Analyst - Chessington, Surrey...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

Ashdown Group: Analyst Programmer (Filemaker Pro/ SQL) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days, pension, private medical : Ashdown Group: A highly...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Analyst - Chessington

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Service Desk Analyst - Chessington, Surrey...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there