The NPPA Scandal

In 1997, Ken Kobre wrote about my Lusty Lady photographs for his regular column in Visual Communications Quarterly, which is inserted into the National Press Photographer's Association magazine. The publication of my photographs stirred a huge scandal within the NPPA, and as you can see in the meeting transcripts below, one committee member even offered to resign as a result.

Isn't it amazing that an organization whose mission statement says they are "...dedicated to the advancement of photojournalism, its creation, editing and distribution, in all news media...[and] vigorously promotes freedom of the press in all its forms" would react this way? Ain't it a shame? To their credit (and as far as I know), no one was fired and they didn't take any drastic actions in the wake of the controversy.



a. Publishing issues concerning the October issue of News Photographer

News Photographer Editor Mr. Gordon reads a written statement. Mr. Lutman directed Mr. Gordon to provide the Secretary with a written statement which will be entered as an official entry of the recorded EC minutes.

Mr. Gordon's written statement:

To the EC:

We all regret the time, effort and distraction that publication of Ken Kobre's column in Visual Communication Quarterly has caused. Editor Jim Kelly feels particularly distressed and even offered to resign last night as VCQ editor. But I advised him that, despite the uncomfortableness of the situation, he should stay on.

We can all learn from this experience.

So, despite the pain, I appreciate the opportunity to provide the Executive Committee and the Executive Director with some background that may clarify the objectives and purposes of my 20-year stewardship of News Photographer magazine and its association with Visual Communication Quarterly.

In my January 1994 editor's message, on the occasion of News Photographer magazine's redesign by Randy Cox, I also described the founding of Visual Communication Quarterly, whose Vol. 1, No. 1 was bound into that redesigned issue.

I wrote at the time, "There is precedent, a solid foundation, for NPPA support of academics and research. In 1982, NPPA's directors, at the request of Joe Costa, an NPPA founder, its first president and magazine editor for more than two decades, established a program which by now has given more than $20,000 in grants for research projects. Incidentally, NPPA's Research Committee is chaired by Dr. James Roche, of Washington, D.C., who is senior editor for the American Association of Community Colleges."

Continuing with my editor's message, I wrote that "Costa, who capped his distinguished career in news photography by teaching at Ball State University, Muncie, Ind., prized the value of NPPA educational activities of all kinds. The Flying Short Course and the Oklahoma TV Workshop became reality during his leadership years in the NPPA."

I also noted in my message that the NPPA has given thousands of dollars to the national agency which accredits journalism programs. It's called the Accrediting Council for Education in Journalism and Mass Communications, and our NPPA president recently reappointed Sandra Eisert to at least her 14th term as NPPA liaison to that group.

I concluded my editor's message to the NPPA membership by saying, "I hope that you, as an NPPA member and News Photographer reader, find Visual Communication Quarterly of value, an information bridge and a window into the teaching side of photojournalism."

Now I'd like to review some technical background: As you may be aware, News Photographer magazine is merely the vehicle by which Visual Communication Quarterly is distributed to NPPA members and to members of the Visual Communications Division of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communications. This is the professional association that college and university teachers belong to.

News Photographer magazine provides production support through the NPPA magazine's annual budget. You were there for the approval in July by the Board of Directors of the 1997-98 budget, and it incorporates financial support for Visual Communication, as it has for the past four years. It does not carry a line item. but I was neither encouraged nor invited to participate in any significant financial planning for the magazine.

To be a credible scholarly journal in the world of academics, those people who are training our future photojournalists, Visual Communication Quarterly must be an independently edited, juried, referred publication.

That means an editorial board must be established to pass judgment upon the value of its contents. That's what juried or refereed means. All scholarly journals worth their salt are juried.

It also means that Visual Communications Quarterly, to be successful, must operate with an editorial hands-off by the National Press Photographers Association.

Let's look at some names of those behind Visual Communication Quarterly: VCQ's Advisory Board. In the aftermath of the Kobre article, the people listed in the masthead probably are just as uncomfortable, and just as taken aback, if they are all aware of the flamboyance of the communications in the aftermath of publication, as all of us. They are three of the top people in visual communication: Randy Cox, senior editor/visuals at the Portland Oregonian, who also is a key member of the team which runs the Electronic Photojournalism Workshop and also edits our Best of Photojournalism series. Also listed is Tom Kennedy, director of photography at National Geographic magazine; and there's Pegie Stark-Adam, one of the Poynter Institute's - and nation's - top graphics experts and authors (she's a former graphics editor at the Detroit Free Press).

Further, VCQ's masthead staff, in addition to Editor Jim Kelly, of Southern Illinois University, lists Prof. Julianne Newton, of the University of Texas; Rich Beckman, of the University of North Carolina; Ken Kobre, of San Francisco State University, and David Thompson, of Columbia, Mo. Jim, incidentally, is rejuvenating the Southern Illinois photojournalism program.

Further still, the list of manuscript judges includes some of journalism's most preeminent teachers and scholars, like NPPA's own historian, Michael Carlebach, of the University of Miami; Prabu David, of Ohio State University; Sandra Utt, of the University of Memphis; Sandra Moriarty, of the University of Colorado; our own NPPA Freedom of Information chairman Michael Sherer, of the University of Nebraska at Omaha and whose book, Photojournalism and the Law is offered through the NPPA BookShelf program; and Zoe Smith, head of the newswriting department at the University of Missouri. Dr. Smith has been the recipient of two NPPA research grants.

Those names are certainly blue chip. And while these people probably did not read Ken's column before publication, and some no doubt were disturbed by its publication, we can be sure that changes in oversight in this area will be forthcoming, meaning that I expect columns and commentary to be refereed or to have judgment pass upon them in some fashion by an editorial board.

Now, my philosophy of editing for the past 20 years - and I also consider it my mandate as editor - is taken from the bylaws of the association, which were probably drafted, perhaps in large measure, by Joe Costa more than 50 years ago: I quote: The objects and purposes of this association are for, and I quote: 1. To advance photojournalism in ALL its forms. Another objective and purpose is, and I quote again, "to provide educational opportunities for those involved in ALL forms of photojournalism."

Thus, the inclusion of VCQ as a credible, independent, highly regarded publication which has the production and distribution support of News Photographer and the NPPA, is in conformity with NPPA's bylaws.

That mandate, that philosophy, which was firmly established by Joe Costa during his 21 years as editor, also establishes the framework for coverage of the activities not only of working photojournalists but those who aspire to be photojournalists - and their teachers. Thus, the magazine's mandate includes a teaching function, which is to present the joys, the sorrows, the hazards, the difficulties of photojournalism, the concerns, the problems, to students and professionals alike. And that includes what goes on inside and outside the classroom.

You can bet your bottom dollar that the October issue of News Photographer and Visual Communication Quarterly will be discussed, debated and argued in photojournalism and ethics classrooms across the country.

What a superb tool for learning.

Cammie was a legitimate university student enrolled in a bonafide photojournalism program at a highly regarded university. She was on a class assignment directed by one of photojournalism's outstanding teachers and authors, Ken Kobre. And Ken was reporting on his student's experiences.

You are no doubt aware that Ken's book, Photojournalism: The Professionals' Approach, which is now in its third edition, has been sold through our NPPA BookShelf program for 17 years. When it was first published, it was considered one of the best new texts of 1980.

Should Cammie have obtained model releases? Under the circumstances, it was highly impractical and I'm certain it wasn't even considered. The usual purpose of a model release is to provide approval for commercial use of one's image, certainly not a useful function in Cammie's position inasmuch as the photo's use was in a news or reportorial context for her class assignment. Her assignment was not for commercial or advertising use for the Lusty Lady. So the commercial element was lacking. Further, a model release is not a guarantee that the photographer will not be sued.

You probably noted in Ken's column that Cammie's photos have been "published" before. As Chernoff and Sarbin noted in their book,"Photography and the Law," publishing is "far broader and includes all types of display," including a photographer's showcase in a studio. Publishing also includes showing the picture "to people other than the subject." And, as Ken's column pointed out, "Cammie's pictures have gone "from the walls of San Francisco State University's classroom to the galleries of New York." And Ken listed the galleries. Ken also pointed out that her stripper photos, taken at the Lusty Lady, constituted part of her entry into the prestigious Eddie Adams Workshop, where she won The New York Times assignment award for excellence in photojournalism. NPPA's past president, Jim McNay, has participated in a number of the Adams workshops, which are held in New York State, and Jim can attest to the prestige.

Put all of these elements and factors together and it appears, in hindsight, that we may have been blinded by the "pedigree," if you will, of Ken's and Cammie's material.

But in its aftermath, the Visual Communication Division, as noted in the message from the division president, Brian Johnson, at the University of Illinois, stands ready to correct whatever editorial shortcomings may have been exposed in the publication of Ken's column.

That's where I think the matter should be left. And if you haven't read Brian Johnson's memo, it should be read at this meeting.

We can't predict what might happen down the road as far as publication of Cammie's photos. Nor can I predict what action the NPPA Executive Committee might consider during this meeting. But I would urge the Executive Committee to consider what kind of censorship message it would send, what kind of example it would set, not only to the academic community whose teachers train our future news photographers, but to the professional journalism world as well, were it to act in some rash fashion against Visual Communication Quarterly.

Certain lifestyles may be controversial. The world is full of controversy. The practice of journalism and photojournalism is controversial.

So some reasonable people could reasonably be expected to find Ken's column inappropriate. But let's not kill the messenger because of unhappiness and dissatisfaction over the message. And the reasonable people who are the leadership of the Visual Communication Division are already at work. Consider this just a bump in the road, as Wisconsin's Prof. Shiela Reaves calls it. Consider it a part of the publication's growing-up process.

-- Taken from the official (published) minutes of a National Press Photographer's Association meeting, September 19, 1997

©2020 Cammie Toloui