Posted on June 10, 2009

City Digitally Adds Black Guy to Fun Guide Cover to Make It More ‘Inclusive’

Rob Roberts, National Post (Toronto), June 10, 2009

The smiling, ethnically diverse family featured on the cover of Toronto’s latest edition of its summer Fun Guide was digitally altered to make the photo more “inclusive,” which city officials say is in keeping with a policy to reflect diversity.

A spokesman for the department that publishes the guide listing recreation activities confirmed the publication was doctored to insert the face of a different father.

“He superimposed the African-Canadian person onto the family cluster in the original photo. It was two photographs and one head was superimposed over the original family photo,” said John Gosgnach, communications director for the social development division.

“The goal was to depict the diversity of Toronto and its residents.”

The cover shot caught the eye of a National Post graphics editor, who ran it through a program called TinEye that detects visual enhancements to standard art.

The program showed the original image was of a laughing family of indeterminate ethnic background.

Both the family in the initial photo and the new father inserted were clip art–stock images that publications sometimes purchase to use as illustrations. None are known to be Toronto residents, Mr. Gosgnach said.

“You won’t find a more inclusive organization than us,” said Kevin Sack, Toronto’s director of strategic communications. “We want everyone to feel involved and welcome to participate in everything. That’s the only goal. Nothing wrong with that.”

The move was in accordance with a policy dated April 11, 2008, signed by former city manager Shirley Hoy directing staff to ensure the true kaleidoscope of Toronto residents is represented in all its communications materials.

“The policy doesn’t say PhotoShop, the policy says ‘show diversity’ and that’s of course what we try and do because we want all of our publications to reflect the community that we serve,” explained Mr. Sack, who oversees city communications. “That’s only fair. People should see themselves reflected in city services because it’s everyone who uses them.”

There are no criteria for what constitutes diversity, he acknowledged when asked how the policy is implemented in practice and why the family in the initial image didn’t seem to fit the bill.

“That’s an interesting conversation,” Mr. Sack said. “This does not look like a nondescript white family, it looks maybe Latino.”

While stock photography was used for the current Fun Guide cover, city publications such as Our Toronto also use original images sometimes. In fact, the city is currently running a photo contest it hopes will supply images of and by Toronto residents for use in the future.

“When you’re publishing something with the deadlines and you don’t have the right photo, the objective is to communicate the service,” Mr. Sack said.

“We’re in one of the most diverse cities in the world. I hope that doesn’t pose a problem for anybody. Capturing that diversity is not difficult. That’s been our general experience.”