USA Today won’t publish handout photos from White House

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.


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.



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    How its possible in too late?

  • mike932

    Look at yourself. You are rationalizing prejudice.

  • Bradley Wilson

    I’m glad the news outlets have quit publishing this PR. The job of the media is to hold public officials accountable to the public. Strong work.

  • JTFloore

    with some people, you just know.

  • mike932

    I’m sure that you have a habit of making inaccurate prejudgments.

  • JTFloore

    you are absolutely correct. I presumed you would feel differently. and you may well have but won’t admit it here. as for your not-so-clever insult, that is also what I would expect.

  • mike932

    You should stop worshiping Obama more.

  • mike932

    Absolutely! Bush and Reagan were a public servants too. You ASS-umed I would view them differently.

  • SiMoebus

    That is “public servant” as to serve the public by working for the public good.

  • SiMoebus

    The president should be documented by what ever source the information comes from. The media seems to be more concerned about ownership of the documents, that given various different perception of news.

  • Steve Glines

    That’s a great idea. They do that now with TV “pool” coverage.

  • Steve Glines

    Yup. Reagan not so much. He managed his image very well.

  • JTFloore

    i’m sure you felt exactly this way about the bushes, reagan et al. didn’t you?

  • JTFloore

    why not have a rotating pool photographer or two for such mundane occasions as seen in this photo? it DOES look a bit silly as shown here: seven photogs shooting the same routine event. a bit intrusive. how could any of the pix shot here be significantly different from another? how many of the pix shot in this bill-signing do you figure were actually published and by whom? what play did they get?

  • MaxFenster

    How can it possibly be “5 years too late” to simply state a policy that’s already been in place for 5 years?

  • FredBeloit

    Better late than never, One more nail. Congratulations to Mr. Scott. It takes courage to go against a dictator.

  • Steve Glines

    You should get out more.

  • mike932

    Stop treating the president like a king. He is not a king. He is a public servant. Public servants do not deserve special treatment. The PRESIDENT is the spoiled child in this case. Oh by the way, he promised to be the most transparent president in history.

  • Steve Glines

    This has nothing to do with the current president and everything to do with the Office of the President. Like I said, the Presidency should not be a circus. If you don’t like what he’s doing you can write an editorial or vote another way next time.

    What this is about is the press acting like spoiled little children.

  • mike932

    No I didn’t. You continue to worship a corrupt president while the press is finally turning on him.

  • Steve Glines

    You miss the point entirely.

  • mike932

    Ummm he’s the PRESIDENT! He is not a king. He is a public servant. He does not own the White House. We own it. You may want the press to be controlled like in North Korea, but we do not.

  • Steve Glines

    From the photo above, I would say that press photographers have become as intrusive as paparazzi so I can’t blame their being banned by the WH staff. Lets face it, most of the situations don’t merit a photograph. Is one bill signing significantly different from another? There must be 20 photographers in the above picture. It looks ludicrous. All the photographers are juggling for the best angle but only one gets it. Most of the shots are not that great yet these idiots, like USA Today, insist on using their own photographers images. That’s just plain dumb. Most of the time it would be cheaper to use the better image issued from the White House than an expensive in-house image.

    I’ll confess that I rarely read newspapers anymore because the quality of everything from the writing (do they pay anyone anything to write this stuff?) to the artwork (paparazzi images are better than a carefully crafted shot?). My final bitch is this: Why does the press find it necessary to go out of their way to denigrate the office of the President. You may not like the current occupant and that’s fine, keep it in the editorial pages, but stop attacking the office itself.

  • n_slash_a

    Fantastic idea. The only problem is it is 5 years too late.