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Reporter's Notebook: Truth and Photojournalism

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Poor Jordanian children play outside a tent Sunday, March 20, 2016 outside the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan about 15 miles from the Syrian border. Some media outlets have mistakenly said Syrians were living in the tents. The handful of tents are used by poor Jordanians, who bought the tents from Syrians who lived in the camp. No one in the camp has lived in a tent for over a year after replacing all the housing with prefabricated metal structures. Image by Mark Hoffman. Jordan, 2016.

ZAATARI REFUGEE CAMP, Jordan—I’ve never considered myself a great photographer, but I am a pretty good journalist.

My first priority is accuracy.

When I was researching this story I came across some great images with amazing light showing people living in tents with a United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR) logo on them. The caption had said that they were taken in the past few months.

I knew they couldn’t have been made in the camp because we can only be there between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m.; usually the worst possible time to make a photo outside.

When we passed the tents near the entrance to the camps, I told our interpreter we had to stop because it would make for a strong image.

No one in the camp has lived in a tent for more than a year; the tents were all replaced with prefabricated metal structures.

It turns out, poor Jordanians bought the tents from Syrians who lived in the camp when they were phased out. The Jordanians live near the entrance, on the outside.

I hope it was laziness about checking the facts rather than the person lying just because they loved the image.

On a related note, I have never set up a news/documentary photo. It’s no different than a reporter making up a quote.

Of course, it’s time consuming and more work to wait for the moment when everything comes together. In the end, it makes for a better image, and we maintain our credibility.

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