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Barbara Lombardo of Saratoga Springs, NY, is a journalism adjunct at University at Albany and retired executive editor of The Saratogian, The Record and the Community News. Follow her on Twitter @Barb_Lombardo.

Monday, September 20, 2010

A salute to ethics: The boy in the picture wasn't giving the finger

He was not giving the finger.


Looks are deceiving.

The Neighbors page in The Saratogian on Thursday, Sept. 16 ran a big, bright, happy picture of orange-shirted 8-year-olds in the Northeastern Youth Football League excitedly mugging for photographer Erica Miller at the grand opening celebration of Schuylerville High School’s turf field.

Reactions to the picture started coming in before dawn — because one of the boys appears to be offering the one-finger salute, if you get my drift. The Saratogian’s beleaguered circulation department customer service reps weren’t the only ones catching flak over the apparently devilish digit.

“My brother-in-law texted me at 6:45 in the morning,” Steve Dunkel told me when I called him today to try to put the brouhaha to bed. “It’s big misunderstanding.”

Dunkel is president of the Old Saratoga Athletic Association, which oversees the youth football team. And he was right.

Photographer Miller took a series of pictures of the kids in rapid succession, and turned in for publication the one that was best composed and most appealing — without giving a second thought to the possible misinterpretation of this particular frame. Her pictures clearly showed the boy in question had given the V-shaped peace sign and was in the process of lowering his hand when the unfortunate frame was shot, making it look like he was an 8-year-old wise guy.

“Some kids I could see. Not this kid,” said Dunkel said, who has reassured the boy’s parents.

Despite the inarguable innocence, we removed the picture from The Saratogian website. Even though there was a reasonable explanation, a picture must speak for itself. And this one said the wrong thing. Had we noticed the problem in the first place, we wouldn’t have run it.

Dunkel feels a little guilty about the whole thing: “I was the one who told them to give the No. 1 sign.”

Next time, we’ll have to be sure they hold their hands in place until the final photograph.


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