In a memo to staff Sunday, USA Today Deputy Director of Multimedia Andrew P. Scott said the news organization will not use “handout photos originating from the White House Press Office, except in very extraordinary circumstances.” Such circumstances would have to involve “legitimate national security restrictions” as well as “very high news value,” Scott writes. The policy “simply codifies our existing practices on how we treat WH images,” Scott tells Poynter in an email.
USA Today owner Gannett was among the organizations that protested the White House’s clampdown on photographers’ access to the president last week. That day, official White House photographer Pete Souza tweeted a photo of news photographers capturing the moment the president signed a bill.
Pres Obama signs a bill in the Oval Office as press photographers take photos pic.twitter.com/dOBDAXQJV1
— petesouza (@petesouza) November 22, 2013
The Associated Press sometimes distributes handout photos when “something newsworthy or notable happens” in “certain areas of the White House are off-limits to the media,” its director of photography Santiago Lyon said in a Q&A last week. But in general it views such photos as “visual press releases,” Lyon said. ” Media organizations generally do not reproduce written press releases verbatim, so why should we settle for these official images?”
The Los Angeles Times “only runs White House handouts in exceptional situations,” spokesperson Nancy Sullivan tells Poynter in an email.
The New York Times doesn’t have an official, written policy regarding White House photo handout,” its spokesperson Eileen Murphy tells Poynter in an email, but “it is widely understood that we prefer not to use handouts except in certain circumstances.” Her email continues:
** Photos of historical importance. an example being the photo from the situation room on the night of the Bin Laden killing that featured the various secretaries (Clinton, Gates). We’ve also most certainly used historical White House photos in Presidential and related obits.
** The second circumstance would be when a photo itself is a referenced part of a story. For instance, the President appeared on all the Sunday morning talk shows (we might have a shot of each show, and we obviously couldn’t be there ourselves) or another example would be the relatively recent shot of the President’s team that featured all men, but just Valerie Jarrett’s legs. we would use that photo because it was referenced in the story.
** And the last instance would be when a photo was critical to the understanding of a story and we couldn’t possibly be there ourselves because of security concerns.
McClatchy doesn’t use handout photos “unless it is of areas where there is no access to the press, like the situation room,” Washington bureau chief James Asher tells Poynter. “And our sister wire service, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services, does not distribute them.”
The (Tacoma, Wash.) News Tribune “has run 10 photos taken by White House photographer Pete Souza since Obama took office,” Executive Editor Karen Peterson wrote in a piece published Sunday. “From now on, we won’t publish White House handout photos of events that should have been open to news photographers, even if that means going without a photo. As the protest letter said, closing the door to the press gets in the way of “the public’s ability to independently monitor and see what its government is doing.”
Here’s Scott’s memo:
We do not publish, either in print or online, handout photos originating from the White House Press Office, except in very extraordinary circumstances. In those very rare instances where a handout image from the White House image has been made under legitimate national security restrictions and is also of very high news value, the use needs to be approved in advance by consulting with Dave Callaway, David Colton, Owen Ullmann, Susan Weiss, Dave Teeuwen, Patty Michalski or me prior to publication.
The functions of the President at the White House are fundamentally public in nature, and should be documented for the public by independent news organizations, not solely by the White House Press Office.
The journalistic community feels so strongly about this that 38 news organizations, including Gannett, have sent a letter of formal protest to the White House.