Photo-op teaches valuable lesson

By Kevin Wilson

Over my years working in newspapers, I’ve come to believe they are — at their most basic form — a source for information the average citizen could compile, but done on scale large enough that said information is worth a few quarters.

Over the years, I’ve also come to learn what a newspaper is not. What the paper should not be used for is a forum to bash people without retribution or a way for an editor to embarrass others.

Unintentionally, I was a victim of newspapers long before I ever worked at one. The offending paper was the Townsend Star, a weekly newspaper smaller than the Quay County Sun.

Townsend, Mont., is a place where everybody knows everybody, and anything in Thursday’s edition is common knowledge by Thursday evening. Keep that in mind for later.

About 1,000 miles away from Townsend, at a place called Eastern New Mexico University, I was attending school. I had received word that I was the winner of a scholarship for about $350 to be used in my senior year. Since I already had secured the resources to pay for my senior year, this money was going to be used for either groceries (not likely) or video games (very likely).

In my congratulatory letter, I was informed the university’s public affairs department was requesting my presence in its office. Every scholarship winner was to have a picture taken and sent to appropriate media outlets.

Now, the word “photogenic” basically means you take a good picture. In two words, I would call myself “not photogenic.” Still, I wasn’t too afraid of a camera when it meant I was getting video game … I mean, grocery money.

I arrived in the office later that day, and was given a piece of paper to write my name. It would be held below my face as identification and spelling for media outlets. The first picture was taken, and it felt perfect. The eyes were open, uncrossed and the smile struck the delicate balance between no enthusiasm and too much enthusiasm.

I was asked to take a second picture after that. Since I’d already taken a perfect picture, I figured I’d mess around with this one. With my eyes wide open and my smile as wide as possible, I gave them my “crazy serial killer” face.

I left for lunch that day and had a good feeling, like I had given the public affairs office a picture they’d laugh at and toss in the Rubbermaid.

Or so I thought. A few months later, I was home for the summer. The first thing my parents showed me was a copy of the Townsend Star from that approximate time period. It seems the newspaper staff ran the second photo, and the picture was close to full size. Keep in mind that everybody knows everybody, so my parents had to spend the next few months defending my honor at the supermarket, the video rental place and anywhere else people talked.

I’m not sure who to blame — maybe the newspaper picked the more embarrassing photo, or the university might have sent only the second photo.

In any case, I’m smarter now. I avoid any steps that could lead to a similar situation, and I try to make sure those avenues are not available for anybody who will be featured in the Quay County Sun.

I’m interested in information relevant to the community. I’m not interested in embarrassing anybody. Give me a call or stop by if you need to know the difference in a particular case. The last thing I want you doing, after all, is professing your innocence to being a serial killer.

Kevin Wilson is the interim managing editor for the Quay County Sun. He can be reached at 461-1952 or by e-mail:

kevin_wilson@link.freedom.com