A big part of an editor’s job is damage control. Sometimes, we can actually head off the damage before it happens. Not this time.
I should have seen this coming a couple of weeks ago, when it all began.
That’s when Associate Editor Sayaka Matsuoka noticed an amazing gallery of images by Winston-Salem photographer Owens Daniels: real, Camel City people, holding written messages to their city shot in stark black-and-white, with most of the subjects wearing face masks.
After she showed it to me, two things happened: She enlisted Greensboro photographer Todd Turner to execute similar shots in Greensboro, and I called Daniels to see if he wanted to work with us. He did, and I sent him a check that day so we could run that first batch of his photos.
In the meantime, Turner booked and shot almost 100 portraits that we began posting in batches to the website. Daniels filed new work, too, as part of this overall project we called Faces of the Pandemic, featuring people in face masks, holding written messages in their hands.
It’s totally awesome — the undeniable human side of the coronavirus, capturing all the fear and hope, insisting upon empathy for its subjects.
And then the TV news got wind of it.
Turner told me that WFMY had reached out to him about a segment for the nightly news. I advised him that the TV news is a tricky business sometimes, and that when a story gets distilled down to 90 seconds, often, a lot of pertinent information can be lost.
He told me after the interview that he spoke repeatedly about Daniels — who, by the way, is African American, and his assigning editor Matsuoka — female, Asian-American, which is also significant.
But all that got edited out of the final piece that we all saw on Facebook, which heaped so much of the credit on Turner that he was shocked and embarrassed when he saw it.
I broke the news to Daniels myself, via text because he was out shooting portraits that day. He… wasn’t happy about the whitewash.
There are other players involved, too: Chad Nance, who is making a video based on Daniels’ original concept; Dale Cole, who envisions a nationwide, grassroots project that might grow from this green shoot.
None of us, it should be emphasized, are in this for the money — because there isn’t any. And we don’t do things like this for any sort of imagined glory either. But everyone on our side of this believes in giving credit where it’s due.
I’ve apologized to Daniels for any part I may have had in yet another instance of a person of color not getting credit for his work. And to Turner, whose reputation took a ding among people who don’t know what a gracious, generous professional he is. It took me an hour on the phone and half a pack of cigarettes to get right with Nance, one of my favorite people, and I’m grateful I had an excuse to call Cole, with whom I have much in common.
And I posted a new Faces of the Pandemic gallery on Monday morning, with more to come through the week.
Because I believe in the work itself. And I have to remind everybody that if it wasn’t so good, nobody would care whose idea it was.