SIMPSON: Complaints to newsroom show we’re loathe to give up control of our image

A stroke of a key – that’s all it takes. Don’t want someone to see a photo? Delete it. Think a photo is unflattering? Untag yourself.

Whenever it came out, I got a bit queasy. A shy kid like me always shuddered when houseguests had it in their hands.

When my mom passed it around, I ran for cover, rarely waiting around for the final few pages to be flipped.

I can see it now – the dreaded family photo album. There was one photo in that album that sent me scurrying in embarrassment.

The photo shows me, at eight or nine, sitting on a hammock at our cabin at Baptiste Lake in northern Alberta – cuddled right up next to my childhood sweetheart Susan.

I loved the lake and I loved Susan (like a sister) but I hated that photo. It embarrassed me and I thought everyone would tease me about it.

As a shy, sensitive kid, my solution was to hide. But if the mid-’80s was anything like today’s world, my solution would have been even easier – hit ‘delete.’

A stroke of a key – that’s all it takes today. Don’t want someone to see a photo of you? Delete it. Think your friend’s photo of you is unflattering? Untag yourself.

Today, we seem to have – and demand – a real sense of power over the image we would to like portray of ourselves to others. Thanks to social media in particular, we are firmly in control. And if recent trends in our newsroom are any indication, relinquishing that control to the media isn’t something we are willing to do.

In the past few months alone, we’ve seen a huge increase in calls and emails to the newsroom from people we have featured in our paper and on our website, voicing concerns (some more politely than others) about – not the accuracy or fairness of the story or photo in question – but how it made them look.

Here are a few examples:

  • One person we wrote about said our story was well-written and accurate but he was upset because he though the headline made him look bad. He also was furious that the reporter had the gall to ask for a second opinion on his project. (How dare we?)
  • Another person we featured recently was miffed because we were too detailed – he is an entertainer and he wanted his persona to remain “mysterious.” He didn’t like the headline on his story either.
  • Days before that, we received a curt message from a woman whose son was in our paper. She was unhappy with us because she said the photo was unflattering. (She even suggested we purposefully put it in the paper to have a laugh at his expense.)
  • The very same day, I spent hours on the phone with another woman who made every effort to convince me not to publish her family’s story because she felt the story would make them look bad in their religious community.
  • Requests to remove stories from our website’s archive that may be deemed unflattering by potential employers are also becoming more frequent.

We share a lot of stories in this paper and on our website. While we would never intentionally embarrass someone or make them feel slighted in some way, it is also not in our purview to be an extension of their Facebook page or to act as their public relations agent in the community.

It’s no exaggeration to say that in the past few months, I have received more calls and emails of this nature than I have in my whole 16  years in journalism combined.

Social media gave us this power and control. And once you have it, it’s hard to let it go.

It makes me miss the good ol’ days of the photo album.

Beau Simpson is editor of the Now. He can be reached at beau.simpson@thenownewspaper.com.

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