Until I read a recent article from Slate, I had never really thought about how easily mix-ups or misunderstandings can occur with stock images – especially on lean editorial staffs where reporters rather than photo editors choose artwork.
The Slate story is about article in Nature Medicine that profiles the BBC's apology about a documentary that chronicles the treatment of a group of HIV-positive foster children in Harlem. The story includes an image of a black toddler in a crib with the vague caption, “Foster children took part in trials of AIDS drugs.” One would assume this photo is actually of an HIV-positive foster child in Harlem. It’s not, though. The photo was taken in an Ethiopian orphanage, according to iStockphoto, a popular stock photography site where the image can be purchased.
It’s one thing to slap a generic caption onto an image of a light bulb representing a marketing article (if we must use photos like that), but what about news stories? Or stories with stock images of people?
Though I never sought stock art “the old way,” I would agree with Slate’s Jack Shafer when he says:
It's all to the good that today's publications have instantaneous access to millions of photos. And, generally speaking, it's a good thing that the Web reduces the amount of human skill required to find quality art.
What's lost in the new order is harder to quantify. Although the visual catalog has grown larger thanks to the Web, the images selected by publications often seem generic. The Web's bounty in untrained hands can conjure sameness as easily as variety.
Interestingly, though Nature Medicine's editor admitted a fact-checking error and conceded impropriety to Shafer, the article appears online with an uncorrected caption.
This issue begs the question: How deliberate is your staff’s stock-art selection process? Who chooses this art, how is it credited and how well is it edited – not just for grammar and style, but for content and accuracy?