Reporter’s rights, a hero and odd art

I have a new hero. His name is John Daniel Garcia.

John Garcia is a reporter for the Big Bend Sentinel here in Texas. After corresponding with and reporting on an allusive artist who graffitied a strange shack in the wilderness, for some reason called “art” here in Texas, he was subpoenaed to turn over his notes under threat of jail. The authorities, who claimed they had a “felony” on their hands, could not find the identity of the culprit and wanted the phone number from John’s notes.

The story received no coverage in my area (Texas is a big place, folks) but the story was topic #1 on my journalism feeds and I began following it online.
John and his fine newspaper stood up against the badges and he did not go to jail for it.
One of John's cool Facebook pics
But before I give you a brief on the details, I want all reporters and journalists to raise a favorite beverage and toast John Garcia. Not only did he stand up the rights of reporters, salute him for being a kickass reporter. I also believe it must have been a troublesome period for John. So John, we salute you!

OK, here is the brief. There are many international readers of Ninja Journalism, so you locals bear with me on some of the explanations.

Outside the East Texas town of Marfa, a county seat with a population a little over 20,000, a group of artists built an empty store-like building in 2005 on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. They called it Prada Marfa and they called it “art,” and the county embraced it (fell for it).

This year someone known only as 9271977 graffitied the heck out of the building. While authorities were scratching their heads, Garcia used his reporter brain and discovered the identity of the doer and corresponded with him for a fantastic story.

The Authorities came down on John for his notes to obtain the person's phone number, claiming they were not violating any aspect of the First Article of the U.S. Constitution. Granted, the First Amendment is a dozy to understand (read an earlier post on it here), but beyond the whole “freedom of the press” thing, Texas is one of 37 states in the U.S. that has a law protecting reporters and their information. John and his newspaper did not give in, and in time authorities discovered the deed-doer to be talented artist Joe Magnano. Joe got arrested and the heat was turned down on John and as of this post, Magnano’s day in court has yet to come. I guess he might get fined for putting bad art on worse art or something.

The end.

I now toast John Garcia with a Shiner Black Lager.

Here is a link to the story of John getting subpoenaed .

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Marfa Prada



If you are a photographer or photojournalist, you have been asked to do photography “on the side.” You may have been asked to do weddings, family portraits, sports photos, feature photography or art, but as a professional there are a few guidelines to adhere to.

1) Check with your management to see if there are restrictions on “moonlighting.” If there are none specifically written, establish a simple agreement by discussing your intentions with the higher powers, assure them the outside project will not interfere with your duties and explain the limit of what you intend to do. Follow the conversation with an email to have it on record.

2)  Limit discussing your outside projects around the office. When at work, your focus should be on your duties and you should assure your there is nothing interfering with your priorities.

3) Avoid doing too many free projects on the side. Personally, anything for family is on me and my pleasure. For non-profits you want to limit yourself or you will find yourself being taken advantage of, which is an addictive state to get into. Read a fine piece on this by photographer Crystal Randazzo here.

As a newspaper reporter I often covered events sponsored by civic organizations or non-profits for publication in my paper, such as the American Cancer Society Relay for Life, the city’s annual Spring Fest or Concert in the Park.  When asked, I gave a couple of photos to the organizations for their wall, website or newsletter. My belief is I use their event for the profit of my newspaper, so I reciprocate by sharing a couple of photos. If you do this, send photos in an email so you have a record of it and include a request the photos not be shared with another publication.

I worked in an area with numerous schools of varying sizes and I shared photos with the private schools for letting me cover their events but the large school districts with public information officers I did not, even though my photography was better and at times asked for by the school.

Another subject in photojournalism is the ownership and use of photos published or not published. Are they the property of the photographer or the publication? Can a photographer sell photos from an auto accident covered for a publication to the attorney of a crash victim? You will not find this in your AP Stylebook and the rules vary from company to company. I will share my experiences with this in a future post. In the meantime, share with us what you do about shooting outside jobs.

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