By Steve Safran, RTDNA Contributor
On Thursday, a driver hit pedestrians in Times Square in New York City killing one person and injuring a dozen more. A witness posted a picture of the car, up on its side, on Twitter:
Quite a dramatic shot, I think you’ll agree. All we knew at this point was that a car had rammed into pedestrians, people were hurt, and this was a credible picture from the scene. The poster’s Twitter handle is @gb__ and his profile gives no real name. There is a link to a company, but there are no bios on the company website, so that’s a dead end. While @gb__ seems credible and his pictures are consistent with what was described at the scene, we did not know who he is. Newsrooms pounced, immediately initiating a long thread asking permission to use his picture:
What's happening in Times Square?? This car was in the sidewalk and people are on the streets pic.twitter.com/PsepRtfrAr— gb (@gb__) May 18, 2017
@gb__ I'm a reporter with Reuters. Hope you are safe. Could you give us permission to use your pic?— Angela Moon (@angelamoon00) May 18, 2017
One station wanted the rights to run the picture for itself and its parent company “in perpetuity.” (Do Tweets constitute a binding legal contract?)
@gb__ can we use your picture? we can courtesy you as the source.— Michelle Lacamoire (@michi421) May 18, 2017
The AP asked for permission - and even included paperwork:
@gb__ Hi, Can PIX11, Tribune Media group & their distribution partners use this photo on all platforms in perpetuity? Thank you— PIX11 News (@PIX11News) May 18, 2017
- You do not know who the person is who took the picture. That’s OK - we didn’t know Abraham Zapruder until a November in Dallas. But he came forward. You need to be certain of your source. You simply don’t know in the early stage of breaking news if someone with an anonymous Twitter handle has an agenda, is part of a plot, or is just a regular person who got a good picture. You need to vet the photographer.
- Assuming you’re comfortable running the picture, pay the man for it. Suppose it was 1994 and a stringer came to you with that shot. Would you have said “Thanks. Can we run this for free in perpetuity? We won’t pay you, but we’ll give you credit?” No. You pay for good content. Offer the standard stringer rate. Offer more for an exclusive.
- Be aware that, on social media, people will attack you for not following netiquette. Be sensitive to whomever posted a shot you want. Be polite on Twitter when asking for information. Tweeting them a license agreement - in exchange for nothing? Come on. You’re going to get hammered:
There’s really nothing new here. The standard rules of journalism apply. Vet the story. Vet your source. Pay the stringer. When you’re comfortable with the picture, run it.
Nothing’s changed because it’s available on social media. You still have to do the hard work of ensuring accuracy.
Please reply “I SIGN IN PERPETUITY” if you agree…
Steve Safran, a veteran journalist and digital media consultant, is a longtime RTDNA member and presenter who has written on the media for several publications, most notably helping to start the influential digital media website Lost Remote in 2000. He lives outside Boston.