One of our reporters called me late this morning with a last minute assignment to cover a class building and installing a billboard along the highway in Navajo, NM. The teacher set the time pretty specific, which should have been a warning bell for me - after all, the time frame to build and install a billboard would be a couple of hours, or so I would think. As you can see, this was not exactly a full sized billboard. There was no welding and construction going on. Instead what happened was a couple of school employees came out and set up the signs where they will eventually be put up. Then the students who had painted the signs came out for a photo. The teacher then said those dreaded words: "How do you want them?" Grrr. I was lucky today though. The Navajo Times photographer was also there to document the event. She looked at me, I looked back at her and we both just shook our heads. She spoke up first, "We don't do that. It's not ethical to stage a photo or an event."
The teacher explained that today was the last day that the students would be available, as the school year ends this week, and the signs were nearly ready. They just needed to have a protective coat of clear paint put on them and then the signs would be going back up. Again, I was able to keep quiet and let her do all of the talking as she explained that we can't reenact anything, and especially not something that is scheduled to happen in a couple of days. I nodded in agreement. The teacher still didn't get it.
Finally I had to speak, "Group portrait time." It was the only way to extract ourselves from this scene without upsetting the teacher and the students - something that is not a good idea when you are trying to maintain loyal consumers for your paper. So, we posed them around the sign and made our staged portrait. We said thank you and started to pack up our gear and get names of the students spelled and in order. Then the students started working together to take the sign out of its frame. Suddenly there was something happening that was a real moment. It was not the staged thing of claiming that the students were setting up the sign, when actually school employees had. I got three frames as the sign came down, and a few more as some of the students placed it into the back of the truck to take it back to campus.
It was a real scene from a staged event. So to make sure that the readers knew what was going on, I spelled it out in my captions as follows:
- Navajo Pine high school Leadership class students and their teacher, MaruLou Dellafiora, center, take down one of the signs that the students created after posing for photos with the signs Tuesday in Navajo, NM. The signs are finished with the exception of a protective coating, and should be installed permanently on Thursday.