Ask a Boreal Member: July 2016

From Daniella Zalcman: What’s the one piece of non-photographic gear that you always bring on the road? 

Brett Gundlock: My good luck charm: Guadalupe necklace given to me by Sr. Click. It comes with me when I am nervous about the area. It has been blessed by shamans a few times; in the last three years it has seen some very interesting scenes of rural Mexico.

Mauricio Palos: I carry a lucky amulet that a sorceress gave me at my grandmas town in La Huasteca. It’s supposed to be used while being on risky areas, borders, narco areas etc. I always lost it but it always comes back to me. I also have the same Sr Click escapulario with the virgin of Guadalupe but wrapped on a wild pork tooth that my compadres the hunters gave me. And good speakers for music.

Laurence Butet-Roch: Whenever I go on the road, I make sure to have a good novel that relates in some way to the subject I’ll be covering or to the mood I’m hoping to conjure. I find it’s another way to immerse myself. For example, I’m in Aamjiwnaang First Nation at the moment, and I took with me “Love Medicine” by Louise Erdrich, who’s an Ojibwe writer. She’s of the same Indigenous group as the people of Aamjiwnaang, though she was born on the other side of the border, in Minnesota. I first stumbled upon her work three years ago, through her collection of writings “Books and Islands in Ojibwe Country” and was recently reminded of her when I saw she had a new book out “LaRose” (which is also on my ‘to read’ list). A few days before coming to Aamjiwnaang, I was touring garage sales, when I found “Love Medicine” in one of the piles. It felt like it was meant to be. Especially when I was gifted wild ginger, a plant nicknamed the ‘heart plant’ because of the shape of its leaves and because it heals the heart, upon my arrival to the community. I see meaning in such coincidences.

Ian Willms: Ear plugs and a sleep mask often come in handy. 

A good 45L backpack. It’s just barely small enough to carry on any flight. Even those hard-ass econo flights in Europe. Not having checked luggage has saved me problems many times when my flight is cancelled or I show up to the airport hopelessly late (which actually happened earlier today). I also love watching everyone struggle with their giant roller bags to get over a curb or up some stairs while I’m just breezing by like some prick who spends way too much time at MEC (Canada’s REI), which is true.

Matt Lutton: I can’t say just one thing, because I’ve got two items that have been with me for years and are always with me. In the bottom of my CF/SD card wallet I’ve got a wad of gaffers tape rolled up on itself. When you’ve got to stick something down (or like on a recent assignment, reattach a broken windshield wiper in a Bulgarian rainstorm) you just have to have it. I’ve also got a credit card-sized bottle opener in my wallet. I keep thinking that airport security will take it from me, as it’s a hunk of modestly sharp metal, but I’ve had it with me every day since 2006. It has saved many parched journalists and wowed old men in villages who thought they would have to break their beer bottles open on rocks.

Aaron Vincent Elkaim: Cipro for those unfortunate bouts of stomach illness. A pendulum to help guide me when I need to make hard to determine choices. Silica gel for keeping film from moulding in the jungle. Some printed pics from past work to show people what I do. Hammock. Oregano oil (it’s amazing at combating colds and sore throats or general sickness.) Energy bars that I usually end up not eating but sometimes are a life saver. Also allergy pills. Swiss Army knife. A few lighters. Headlight and extra batteries.

Jonathan Taggart: +1 for Aaron’s energy bars. Nothing worse than hitting the wall in the middle of a community event or a bush trip and becoming the grumpy guy who can’t focus and wants to snap at everybody.

Johan Hallberg-Campbell: Ear plugs; damaged my ears before from shooting in noisy environments, so now bring ear plugs just incase. Allergy pills; have slept in some weird dusty and dirty places. Barns, fishing huts on the floor. Pills clear my pipes in the morning. A knife and a flashlight for cutting and seeing.

For real, cod liver oil. Serious.

Annie Flanagan: Bear spray. For large animals and unfortunate humans.

Boreal Pop-Up Shop

Sunday, May 8
Gladstone Hotel (2nd Floor)

Meet the photographers of Boreal this Sunday, May 8th for the first Boreal Pop-Up Shop. Magnets, prints, small publications and posters will be on sale. All profits will go to help fund the upcoming Boreal Bash.

Committed to fostering an environment of exchange, collaboration and learning, this year’s Bash will be held in Mexico at the end of October during the Encuentro Fotografico Mexico, an independent photography festival. Working in tandem, we will curate a schedule combining artist talks, group discussions and portfolio reviews that will explore Alternative Platforms for Storytelling. In other words, we will investigate new ways of getting stories out into the world.

In order to make this as successful as it can be, we are relying on your support. Funds will help us bring esteemed guests to Mexico and create an inspiring environment for Mexican photographers and the international photo community.

Newsprints: $1
Postcards: $1
Magnets: $5 
Poster prints: $15

Journalistic Ethics in the Age of Advertorials

The photography industry continues to change, with many journalistic publications increasing their use of “native advertising” and advertorials to make ends meet. The lines between the two are increasingly blurry, often making the “truth” difficult to discern.

One such example was recently noticed by Brett Gundlock. The following is a condensed version of the email thread discussion that followed between our members.  

Brett Gundlock: David Desjardins was a freelancer for various media outlets in Quebec. He recently started his own company, basically making advertorial content for companies directly. He was working both as a freelance journalist and a writer for these private companies at the same time.

When he was profiled in La Presse, all of his clients dropped him, including the CBC.

I would say the majority of us work as “journalists” in some sense of the word. But I also think we all also work for “corporate” clients in one way or another. A few of us are actually creating an agency right now based on this exact model. 

Here’s a translated portion of the article:

“For its part, Guillaume Bourgault-Côté, journalist and president of the Union of the newspaper Le Devoir, believes that the situation in which David Desjardins has placed himself is unacceptable.

‘You can not be a journalist on Monday and in the advertising industry the next day. […] In my view, the situation as we know it is not acceptable because there is a blur. There are things that are hidden and not said, that is clear to me,’ he responded.”

I am calling bullshit. But what do you all think? Do we have anything to worry with this type of conflict and our practices?

Aaron Vincent Elkaim: The fact that he was creating advertorial content makes him different than just producing commercial work. His commercial work was slated for the news, the same places he was freelancing for. So I do see somewhat of a conflict.

At the same time, aren’t there newspapers trying to get their journalists to sign a contract that made them produce advertorial work for the same paper? And all these publications create advertorials, so aren’t they in the same degree of conflict as this guy?

It’s hypocritical, really. I think the ethics are only bent when the ad client also happens to be someone you’re doing a story on. Then it’s a no-go. Otherwise, I don’t see a problem. Except with newspapers publishing advertorials in the first place, which I hate.

BG: I don’t think we can talk about journalism/corporate/private/advertising work without remembering this massive FUBAR.

Aside from analyzing, is anyone worried about this type of conflict personally?

AVE: I think we always have to be aware of this type of conflict. But it’s not something that has ever come up for me as of yet.

Rafal Gerszak: Yes, I shot ads for one newspaper the same day I shot hard news for them, but I haven’t got a call from the ad people in a long time.

I have been dismissed by an unnamed publication because of my stand against pipelines and protection of the environment. The same publication works closely with the industry in terms of ad work. The same publication called me and was willing to work with me again literally an hour after Obama announced he is against Keystone.

Laurence Butet-Roch: It’s definitely a tricky story, which shows just how much the media landscape has changed over the years. Perhaps rather than stressing objectivity, we need to push forth principles of transparency and accountability from all actors. This means that all types of journalists should be upfront about their different activities, medias should acknowledge their advertorial practices (after all so many of them try to disguise paid editorial advertising as straight editorial, eg. the so-called native advertising) and readers should be taught from a young age to always interrogate news, to never take is as Truth.

Matt Lutton: The issue of disclosure is important, I think editors can and should know who you are writing for and what your potential conflicts are, but in the emails in this chain it seems that this is a technicality.

Does it matter if the advertorials (or advertising work in general) is uncredited vs what appears under a byline? Is it an issue of perceived conflict of interest (a reader noticing the same name on two types of stories) or the actual conflict of a writer doing journalism on a topic/business that they also are paid to represent ?

I haven’t come across this in my own work, but my general rule is to hold myself accountable to my own ethics, and if it feels weird or dirty to me, then to bring it up with my editors. It doesn’t happen often, but I can surely see that it’ll be more of an issue in the future as the blend of advertising, editorial and commissioned work changes. I’ve seen so many examples of reporting in recent years that is specifically funded by a single advertiser. The Guardian is doing a series of articles on cities that runs with a tagline “this series on cities is generously sponsored by X airline” (no coincidence that all of the articles are in places this airline serves.)

They’re hiring journalists to write / photograph these stories as commissioned, “normal” assignments I assume. But they’re appearing under an advertiser’s banner. That’s troubling to me, or at least a curious happening that I want to pay attention to.

Daniella Zalcman: I second Laurence’s transparency point — to me this is such a non-issue in the larger landscape of potential journalism ethics pitfalls, but as long as we’re upfront with editors I would hope that it wouldn’t affect journalistic commissions. At least for me, a lot of editorial assignments have led to corporate gigs with subjects and their organizations, and over several in NYC, as long as I was honest with my editors about who I was shooting for regularly, they didn’t seem to mind (I don’t think photographing children playing on the High Line for the High Line prevents me from being able to photograph children playing on the High Line for the Wall Street Journal). I have no experience with advertorials (or more charged political situations, for that matter), but as long as lines of communication are clear and open and there’s a reasonable amount of transparency, I see no real problem here.

Mauricio Palos: This is when the morality of journalism enters the conversation. I mean, how many publications around the world are supported by big companies? Multinationals, politicians… take Mexico as an example, the “official advertising” is where each local and federal government pays publications to promote their stuff. Some newspapers get huge contracts on that, and end up being official spokesman of the government…conflict of interest? Millions of pesos every year, but some publications can only survive by that as they will never publish anything to make them look bad.

Johan Hallberg-Campbell: I think as we have all talked about before being honest is all that we can do, that’s number one: honest to ourself, honest to the story we tell, to the people that share their story with us, to our friends and family. Pretty simple ethics, really. I don’t see much to debate over. If you lie, you’re a dick. Especially over our work. Everyone fucks up here and there, hopefully we learn from that.

I have started shooting commercial work recently. Making some videos which are a mix between documentary and advertising jobs. These few jobs have been keeping me in house and home, and providing me with money to shoot the personal work that means a lot to me. If and when the journalist-type jobs start flooding in, I’d be quite happy not to shoot more commercial stuff. I’m 36 and over being a starving artist.

I still shoot my own work and I am hired to shoot assignments. These images are moments I see and record, not sure if I would call that journalism by any means. I edit the images to reflect what I felt, saw and was told, the edits are poems more than anything else. They are as honest an image as I can make, and I can sleep well knowing I have not taken advantage of anyone—including the viewer, I hope. Just happy to do my own thing and not pay attention to what the industry thinks we should be doing.  

Ian: This has certainly been on my mind a lot lately.

I feel like “advertorials” are an ugly symptom of a struggling industry that’s grasping at straws. After cutting budgets and workforce, downsizing the office and selling the presses for scrap, newspapers are even willing to sell their integrity by allowing full-page political advertisements on A1 and advertorials that dupe more vulnerable viewers. I don’t think any legitimate journalist wants this. Many publications, like freelancers, have their backs against the wall these days. We are all trying to figure out a new way to sustain our business.

Freelancers are faced with low pay and imbalanced contracts everyday. Even while we are supposedly seeing some kind of rebound in the editorial industry, stringers continue to function below the poverty line. Of course they’re going to diversify into private and commercial realms in order to sustain themselves. As long as freelance journalists keep transparency and integrity as top priorities, they should be able to navigate those murky waters. Johan has it right: It’s all about being real.

I recently read a great Lens Blog post about staging and manipulation in photojournalism, in which Michelle McNally wrote, “The truth as best we know it.” I rolled those words around in the attic for a few weeks before adopting them as my own mantra. I feel that it’s a noble standard for any journalist and/or artist who deals with some element of reality in their practice. I always come back to those words now when making any decision about my work, be it in the field, post-processing or taking on commissions from commercial clients. 

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