Sunday, May 24, 2009

Boris - good enough!

Yesterday found me writhing in a moral malais. As will be patently obvious if you are a regular reader of this blog, I have absolutely no time for cheap sensationalist journalism. I believe that it is irresponsible and has contributed to creating the hugely disproportionate fear of everything that many UK residents are living with. As soon as a decent adult role model emerges, the press immediately set to work to dish the dirt. Salacious headlines may generate sales but they create fear where, really, there should be no fear at all. One of the worst culprits - in my humble opinion - is the Daily Mail. They always seem ready and willing to stir the shit bucket at every opportunity; just look at that ridiculous business with Jonathan Ross last year. It makes me very cross. I read newspapers for in-depth reportage not gross invasions of celebrity privacy. Sorry. Rant over. I mention this because of my aforementioned ethical pickle.

Yesterday, there was a two page spread in the Mail about a good friend of mine called Jan Szymczuk. Known as Boris to his mates, he was (and still is I guess) the UK's foremost forensic illustrator. He's recently retired but he spent nigh on 30 years doing those pencil drawings of bad guys you see on TV - sometimes by hand but also by computer using 'e-fit' software (what we used to call photofit). With recent developments in the Maddie McCann case centred on just such a picture (not by Boris), he was asked to demonstrate how well the system works by doing three drawings of a suspect based on interviewing three witnesses. The feature - typically negatively headlined by the Mail as 'Call that a likeness? It's criminal!' (yawn) - was not too bad, all things considered. What it demonstrated, despite the reporter's every attempt to find fault, was that Boris is very good at his job and that all the police can do is create an image based upon witness testimony. And it's amazing how poor that can be at times. The heat of the moment, the adrenaline rush, can skew perceptions. As an example, here's a picture that Boris created of me a few years ago (when I wore specs), based solely upon the description of a witness - a lady in his office who'd met me very briefly
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As you can see, it's not a photographic representation of me. But it would probably be enough to jog someone's memory if they saw the picture on Crimewatch the night before. I suspect I'd have had a knock on the door a few days later.

If you want to read the feature, it's online here. I actually went and bought the paper so I could keep the clipping. The whole event made me feel a bit dirty. But, luckily, I was able to sneak through the tills by concealing it inside some gay porn.

Boris's website is here. He's really very good.

7 comments:

PurestGreen said...

Great post. This kind of dirty headline grapling was why I left journalism. So you won't be offended if I don't read the Mail's article...

Stevyn Colgan said...

Thanks PG - Have you seen this? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=42E2fAWM6rA

Very clever. (Thanks @bella7 via Twitter)

Mary@Holy Mackerel said...

That's also why I got out of the business. It's not for me.

She Means Well... said...

I'm detecting a trend here: "That's why I got out of the business". And yes, it could apply in my case too.

However, in the reporter's defence, it may not necessarily be him/her that is to blame for the sensationalist slant - but rather the editor or sub who got their hands on their copy once it was submitted. Anyone who has ever been "in the business" will know only too well the dismay of reading a totally different piece to the one they rehearsed, agonised over and wrote...

As for the Daily Hell, what can I say?

The Factory said...

Concealing it inside some gay porn ay ? What a giveaway.

Not that there's anything wrong with it.

Stevyn Colgan said...

Mary, SMW - Thanks for the comments. And yes, I do realise that reporters don't always have any sway over the final cut of their work nor the headline. The same has happened to me when I've written magazine articles. Bastards.

Peter Hancock said...

My professional opinion, having worked on a computer based system for creating such 'composites' for the last 10 years, is that this sketch is astoundingly good!