Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Ethics Corner: Blurring the Lines of PR Photography

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Ethics Corner: Blurring the Lines of PR Photography

Article excerpt

Watch the wall between the newsroom and the accounting room come tumbling down. Watch how the AP Wide World Photos public relations empire infiltrates the AP news operation.

Try to guess whether the freelance photographer Wide World assigns to a ground-breaking ceremony on Monday will receive an AP news job on Wednesday. Try to figure out whether Wide World's PR clients are getting special attention from the AP news bureaus--especially since the freelance photographers work for

both branches of the wire service.

Those concerns became real when AP announced on Dec. 8 that Wide World Photos, "a wholly owned subsidiary of The Associated Press," had become a partner of PR Newswire, a United Business Media company. The press release told how "AP's award-winning photojournalists" would bring "corporate/PR photography to the next level" with stories that promoted CEOs and their products. It explained how AP's 1,500 photographers "would meet the needs of PR's global client base."

At first I thought someone was pulling my wire. The press statement announcing the merger was written by Rachel Asche at PR Newswire. I wondered whether AP had approved the release. I later learned that they had. It shouldn't have been a surprise.

AP Wide World has grown from a staid, money-making archive separate from the news division into a PR giant. Its Web site boasts a list of clients that includes Lockheed Martin, Fleet Bank, Raytheon, Pillsbury, and BJ's Wholesale Club.

What a picture. AP Wide World photojournalists jumping into hot spots all over the globe for their PR clients, showing the sunny side of oil spills or shooting a meat-packing CEO munching on a hamburger during a mad-cow crisis.

To explain the conflict: it's like The Washington Post running a PR agency for lobbyists. Then picture some freelance reporters for the newspaper writing Post stories about those lobbyists at the same time that they were writing brochures for them.

The only journalist to pay attention to the AP/PR Newswire marriage was Jerry Walker, a writer for Jack O'Dwyer's Newsletter, a New York City publication devoted to public-relations news.

"I wrote it and waited for AP to demand a correction," said Walker. …

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