Ahh, the perils of using stock photography! Picture yourself: you're writing up a brief news item for your website and find yourself bereft of any potent images of the event itself. So, you turn to your on-hand library of photo images, searching out the right visual to go with the story. Because you can't convey the literal event, you look for an image that relates to your copy in a metaphoric way. As best as you can, you want to be able to place your reader at the scene, even if all you can do is suggest the emotional impact of the events that unfolded.
That is, apparently, where the Cambridge News found itself this week. It had a story -- generated from a feed provided by the UK Press Association (PA) -- about an "angry mother stood in front of a passenger train in a desperate attempt to hit back at drunken football fans verbally abusing her." While traveling with her husband and son by train, Lisa Robinson, of South Wales, was confronted by a pack of drunken Cardiff City soccer louts, who were chanting abusive slogans at her family and generally being intimidating. She sought relief from authorities on the train, but they declined to provide any. Finally, arriving at home, Robinson placed herself in front of the train to prevent it from proceeding until the hooligans were dealt with.
In generating the story for their news feed, the PA had sought out an image that would fit the story. Something having to do with trains! And, lo, they happened upon the image of a lonely stretch of train tracks that skillfully conveyed the sense of isolation that Ms. Robinson must have felt, as she vainly sought assistance to end the abuse being heaped on her family.
The choice of picture used to illustrate the story is unmistakably the railway line leading up to the gates of the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland where, according to some estimates, more than one million Jews were massacred by the Nazis.
The PA subsequently apologized for the error and replaced the Auschwitz photograph with one of Cardiff City Stadium.
You know what? It happens. And in an attempt to make the UK Press Association feel better, I'll remind them of what is perhaps one of the most celebrated errors of this type in recent memory. Back in the summer of 1999, the Kansas City Star published an item advertising "National Clown Week" for their "Family Fun" section. Accompanying the item was the picture of a man done up as a clown, holding balloons. The only problem? The image they selected was one of serial killer John Wayne Gacy. The caption that accompanied the image read: "It's a rule. You MUST celebrate Clown Week."
Feel better, UK Press Association.