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White House Stops Staging Pictures of Live Speeches for News Photographers

Since Ronald Reagan, the White House has had a policy that still photography cannot be taken during a live presidential address, like the one President Obama gave announcing Osama bin Laden‘s death.

The reason still cameras are not allowed is simply because of the noise from the camera shutters and the placement of the teleprompter. But this policy results in the president having to re-enact part of his address so photographers can take pictures. After Obama’s speech on bin Laden, for example, once the president had finished addressing the nation, he “then re-enacted the walk-out and first 30 seconds of the statement for us,” explained Reuters photographer Jason Reed.

Apart from just being an odd thing to do, this re-enactment goes against the National Press Photographers Association Code of Ethics, which says: “Resist being manipulated by staged photo opportunities.”

Even though this policy has been going on for decades, since Obama’s speech, it has blown up into a huge story, and not just on journalism blogs — we’ve even seen it covered on cable news channels. Perhaps the unexpected public outcry is because, as Poynter found in a survey,  30 of 50 newspaper front pages that used an Obama photo from the speech “implied or strongly suggested it was an image of the live address.”

But really, we think it had more to do with the fact that headlines on this story allowed for the serendipitous combination of the words “Bin Laden,” “Photo,” “Obama,” and “Staged.”

In any event, the White House caved into the demands of the angry public, and now has ended its practice of re-enacting presidential speeches, the Washington Post reports.

“We have concluded that this arrangement is a bad idea,” Obama spokesman Josh Earnest said. For future addresses, the administration is open to working out some new arrangement with photographers. So far, Don Winslow, editor of News Photographer magazine, said the White House offered a pool arrangement, where one photographer would be chosen and would agree to distribute a photo to colleagues, but news organizations rejected this. A new arrangement will be in the works.

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