Monthly Archives: April 2011

A Little Bit About Photojournalism

In my Ethics and Media class this week, we had a 30 year veteran of photojournalism come in and discuss ethics of his profession. His talk opened my eyes to how truly amazing images can be in relation to the news. It made me want to look a little bit deeper into not only the ethics that photojournalists adhere to, but also the importance of photography in the media in general.

Photojournalism is a type of journalism that depends on images to tell a story. It is an important aspect of the news media because the photographs, a lot of the time, summarize a story that has been written. For people who don’t necessarily like to read, the pictures can be what conveys the news. Images can allow people to relate real life scenes, and what it must feel like to be in that actual place at that actual time, to the stories that they are reading.

Dillon Westbrook talks about A Brief History of Photojournalism explaining that photojournalism distinguishes itself from other forms of professional photography  by its adherence to the principles of journalism: timeliness, accuracy, fair representation of the context of events and facts reported, and accountability to the public. A photojournalist cannot be held to the demands of the photographic subject, but rather they must be concerned with producing accurate news for the public.

Our speaker claimed he’d never let the subject of one of his photos see the picture after he took it. With digital photography, people want to see the pictures you took of them. This is a big ethical no-no for him because it is giving them the opportunity to say they don’t like the picture and want him to take a new one. It’s up to him and his editors what photos are appropriate and should run, not the person in the image.

The speaker in our class also claimed that he would never set up the image just to have a photo. For example, if he were covering a marathon runner, he’d ask the runner to run their usual route and he’d follow ahead in his car and get the photos as the person was running, rather than just having the runner run up and down the street by their house. He also told of a time when he was covering workers in the middle of summer and he stood around at the construction site for an hour waiting for a photo, which turned out to be a man taking a drink of water, rather than just asking the worker to take a drink of the water for his picture.

Also when talking about Ethics, the issue of altering photos arose. In the article Photojournalism Ethics: “The Problem Seems To Be A Lot Deeper” Donald R. Winslow covered how altering images is a huge ethical problem that many photographers and editors are violating. “We need to examine the ethical issues involved in ‘photo opportunities,’ in picture editing and design, and in graphics,” Dr. Julianne Newton, visual journalism professor at the University of Oregon, said. Journalism is based on accuracy which includes the accuracy of images. “If you can’t use the picture as it is, don’t use it,” John Long, NPPA’s chairman of the Ethics and Standards committee, said.

With all the talk of ethics and the importance of photojournalism, I was interested in seeing some of the best photos that photojournalists have captured. After all, what is a blog about photojournalism without any pictures in it?


World Press Photo of the Year: 1994 James Nachtwey, USA, Magnum Photos for Time. Rwanda, June 1994. Hutu man mutilated by the Hutu ‘Interahamwe’ militia, who suspected him of sympathizing with the Tutsi rebels. About the image Nachtwey says his specialty is dealing with ground level realities with a human dimension. He feels that people need photography to help them understand what’s going on in the world, and believes that pictures can have a great influence on shaping public opinion and mobilizing protest.


Malawian boy running after 4×4
“I took the photo while on my one-month stint in Malawi Africa where I mainly worked in orphan day-care centres, also visiting Mulanji Hospital. The photo was taken from the Mulanji Hospital four-wheel-drive ambulance, travelling on the extremely rough roads from village to village, visiting the sick who were unable to reach the hospital.” Photo taken by Cameron Herweynen.


Bhopal Disaster
This photograph from December 4, 1984 shows victims who lost their sight in the Bhopal poison gas tragedy as they sit outside the Union Carbide factory in Bhopal, India.
(No citation of photographer given)


Hhaing The Yu
Hhaing The Yu, 29, holds his face in his hand as rain falls on the decimated remains of his home in the Swhe Pyi Tha township, near Myanmar’s capital of Yangon (Rangoon), on Sunday, May 11th, 2008. Cyclone Nargis struck southern Myanmar a week ago leaving millions homeless and has claimed up to 100,000 lives.
(No citation of photographer given)


Aftermath of Earthquake in Balakot, Pakistan. 2005
This image was taken about one month after the earthquake in Pakistan. People were still coming down from the mountains trying to find shelter and were suffering from trauma. Winter was on the way and the need for shelter was urgent. This father with his child had been collecting food. I spent ten days in Balakot documenting the situation after the quake. People were still digging for their family members.
(No citation of photographer given)


Sichuan Earthquake
A man is crying while he flips through a family album he found in the rubbles of his old house.
(No citation of photographer given)

How do you all feel about these photos? Do you believe they portray a story? Do you think any of them could be considered controversial? What do you think makes a really excellent photojournalism picture?

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Fighting Human Trafficking in Our Own Backyard

An NKU student brings her idea and dream to life as she continues to try to raise awareness about sex trafficking through the campus organization Fighting Against Sex Trafficking.

Fighting Against Sex Trafficking is a relatively new special interest student organization on NKU’s campus created by Rebecca Potzner, a sophomore PR major. The main goal of this organization as a whole is to raise money for organizations that help victims, or future victims, of human trafficking. The other goal is to raise awareness about the fact that human trafficking is still a problem today, even in the United States.

Potzner had the idea to start this organization in high school after she attended a Christ in Youth conference where she first saw the movie ‘Baht.’ This movie is about a girl in Cambodia who was told she was being taken to a restaurant job, but instead was taken to a brothel and forced into prostitution.

“It’s hard to explain what I felt when I was watching the video, but at the end I knew I had to do something about it,” Potzner said. “Working against sex trafficking has become something dear to my heart.”

Potzner explained that in high school, she and a group of friends had the idea to start F.A.S.T, but they all went their separate ways. She didn’t want the idea to die, so she started the organization at NKU in the spring of 2010. She thought NKU would be a perfect place to start raising awareness.

“With NKU being so close to Ohio, there could be such a huge impact on people because Ohio is in the top 12 states with the largest trafficking problem,” said Potzner.

Dr. Sharlene Lassiter Boltz, a professor of law at NKU, and a member of Partnership Against Trafficking Humans, also believes that students need to be further educated about human trafficking. She explains getting more information out there to college students about why human trafficking is important because they need to become more observant, informed citizens.

P.A.T.H. of Northern Kentucky seeks to increase public and professional awareness of human trafficking and increase the number of traffic victims identified, rescued, protected and served in Kentucky. It is a synergy of various social service agencies, law enforcement, public and private attorneys, and non-governmental agencies committed to the anti-trafficking movement.

“Human trafficking is the second largest money maker world wide, second to drug trafficking.” Lassiter Boltz said. “The key components of human trafficking are force, fraud and coercion. That’s how victim’s get trapped.”

Lassiter Boltz and Potzner are both advocates for bringing knowledge about this topic to the students of NKU and the surrounding community. Both women have a passion and drive to fight against human trafficking.

F.A.S.T is holding an event on Thursday, Mar. 17 from noon to 2p.m. in the Student Union Ballroom for anyone at NKU to attend and learn what the organization is all about. There will be stations with facts, a documentary viewing, letter writing to survivors of sex trafficking and a sign-up table to join the organization. For students who can’t make it to the event and are interested in joining, they can contact Rebecca Potzner at potznerr1@nku.edu, or they can join F.A.S.T on OrgSync.com.

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PR Ethics

Here’s the pretext to this post:

You are a public relations professional for a housing developer. Your company’s next project is multi-family housing for middle-income families. In gathering information related to the project, you find that the land for the complex was the site of a landfill. An EPA report shows very low levels of contaminants that are not life-threatening hazards. You discuss this information with your supervising boss, who is not a public relations professional, and recommend ways to explain the landfill history in promotional materials. Your boss tells you the landfill information is not to be included in the materials. He does not want the issue proactively discussed. What do you do?

When reviewing this case study, it became clear that there was going to be one major conflict of interest. That conflict is between my own PR ethical practices and the demands and personal judgment of my supervisor. Though I’d try very hard to find a common ground first, overall I believe it is my duty as a PR professional to stick to my ethical practices and own moral compass.

 There are numerous ethical issues and conflicts with this situation. In the Public Relations Society of America’s Code of Ethics, one of their statements of professional values is Honesty. This value states that PR professionals adhere to the highest standards of accuracy and truth in advancing the interests of those they represent and in communicating with the public. This housing situation also violates at least two of the PRSA Code Provisions such as Free Flow of Information and Disclosure of Information.

 Core Principle Protecting and advancing the free flow of accurate and truthful information is essential to serving the public interest and contributing to informed decision making. The intent of this provision is to maintain the integrity of relationships with the media, government officials and the public. It is also to aid with informed decision-making. The guidelines of this provision state that a member shall preserve the integrity of the process of communication and be honest and accurate in all communications. If the supervisor advises the PR professional to not include the landfill information in the materials and does not what the information proactively discussed then that is not being honest or accurate in communicating to the public. Though the contaminants of the land fill are non life-threatening, the public still deserves the right to all of the information and should be able to make an informed decision based off of that information.

 The Code Provision ‘Disclosure of Information’ is very similar in the fact that its intent is to build trust with the public by revealing all information needed for responsible decision making. The guidelines of this provision state that a member shall, yet again, be honest and accurate in all communications and to also avoid deceptive practices. Similar to the last provision, leaving out the information that the complex was the site of a landfill in which EPA reports show levels of contamination is deceptive and withholding information from the public. This leads to the failure of being honest and accurate in communications, therefore preventing the public from being able to make informed decisions.

 There are numerous internal and external factors to consider in regards to this case study. I would have to take into consideration the fact that my supervisor is not a PR professional and therefore doesn’t have as good of an understanding about the ethical issues that arise when leaving out the information. I have to consider the fact that I would like to keep my job, though I could only do that by following my boss’s orders. Though it is my duty in my job to listen to my boss, it is also my duty to do my job to the best of my ability, and if I completely disregard the ethics that arise by following my boss’s instructions, then I’m completely ignoring my duty to the public. The fact that the company would be profiting from the multi-housing development also plays a roll in my decision to act ethically.

 Since the clash is between my own PR ethical practices and my supervisor’s demands and personal judgment, what’s coming into conflict is my obligation to serve the company and my own personal beliefs. I do believe that my supervisor’s demands were not thought through clearly and I realize he probably fears that this information would bring harm to the success of this project, but there is a way to possibly satisfy my boss’s instructions and my moral compass, and possibly keep my job, by applying two different types of philosophies to the situation.

 I plan to implement Aristotle’s ‘The Golden Mean’ philosophy to this situation because it’s in everyone’s best interest to find the happy medium in the situation. With this philosophy, I would find the common ground between not revealing anything, as my boss wants, and/or reveal everything and possibly harm the success of the project. The Golden Mean would allow me to reveal only certain things, or the specific things I wanted to reveal. When revealing the information to the public, I would inform them that the land being used is a landfill, though I think a better word such as ‘recycling station’ is necessary. Though I wouldn’t mention that low levels of contamination were found, I would inform them that we looked at the EPA reports of the area and found that they concluded that the site was safe and non life-threatening to live in because we want to ensure the safety of future residents. I believe this philosophy would help me feel okay about being honest with the public, because everything I said is accurate, but it would also satisfy my boss because I kept the information positive.

 Another principle that could be really effective is the Utilitarianism philosophy of John Stuart Mill that states “ everyone should try to act in a way that will produce the greatest good for the greatest number.” Though it would upset my boss to disclose the information after being told not to, the public has the right to be informed before the information about contamination comes out from another source. That would damage our company’s credibility and therefore cause more harm than good to the company. By revealing the information, we’re letting the public know that we’ re interested in their safety and well-being, so if they found out we were withholding information, especially after they are giving us their money, it would do serious harm to the reputation of the company. I believe with this philosophy it would be our duty to reveal the history of the land to produce the greatest good and outcome.

 I would not implement these strategies until after I discussed them with my boss. I would explain to him my concerns about withholding the information, and describe to him the reasons why these are our best options. I would hope that he’d see the thought and consideration I put into the situation, and would agree to follow through with one of my strategies, thus, keeping my job. (Woo!) If he still did not agree and decided to tell me to not disclose any of the information, I don’t believe I’d be able to continue working on the project. Obstructing the free flow and disclosure of information is not something I’m ethically comfortable with. 

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Freedom of Speech for Journalists

In America, citizens are privileged to have the freedom of speech. Our First Amendment protects our freedom of speech, press, religion, assembly and petition. Our freedom of speech is something that Americans hold very dear. We have the privilege of being able to say how we feel about our government, even burn an American flag if someone were to feel so inclined. Journalists, as part of the press, have the freedom to report what they see and cover interesting and sometimes scandalous news stories. But, are journalists limited when it comes to their freedom of speech?

 Journalists are required to report the facts from an objective viewpoint. They are not supposed to take sides or write their opinions. Their job is to view both sides of a story and report what they know to be true. Under the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics, one of the duties of a journalist is to distinguish between advocacy and news reporting. Analysis and commentary should be labeled and not misrepresent fact or context. I believe that this makes it clear that journalists should abstain from reporting about something they have a biased towards, because it will be much harder for them to remain objective. But, should journalists be prohibited from expressing their opinions in public or joining activists groups, as a way of maintaining their independence and objectivity?

 In my opinion, no, they should not be prohibited from doing these things. If we take away their ability to express their opinions and join interest groups, we’re essentially taking away their First Amendment right. Every human being on the planet has an opinion about something. Every person has a side that they choose over the other. Some people are extremely conservative, while others are far left wing liberals. This includes journalists. Journalists are people just like everyone else. They have opinions and biases, and I think that is okay as long as it doesn’t come through in their writing.

 Writing is a profession just like everything else. In my opinion, if a journalist can cover a story and present both sides and appear unbiased, and he does his job well, then how is it fair to ask him or her to abstain from voicing their opinions when they are in public? They aren’t covering a news story; they are doing this in their own free time.

 I do understand the predicament that if a journalist has an extreme opinion about something they are covering, they may try really hard to appear unbiased and actually sway in the other direction. They over compensate for the opinion they don’t agree with to make sure they are being unbiased, though this actually makes them look like they are biased, but from the other viewpoint.

 Under the SPJ code of ethics, journalists are supposed to avoid conflicts of interest in order to act independently. I believe this is applied to the news stories they cover. Journalists should avoid covering stories that causes a conflict of interest for them. It’s near impossible to cover a story objectively when the journalist is involved with, or has a strong advocacy for something. I don’t believe that code applies to a journalist’s life outside of their job.

 If a journalist isn’t reporting on the activist group they joined, and they aren’t representing their opinion in the stories they cover, then I believe it is completely unfair for them to prohibit a journalist, an American citizen, from expressing their opinion and taking part in activists groups or joining groups they want to advocate for. A journalist’s job is to report the facts to the people, and if they are doing that, and doing their job well, they should be allowed to partake in the freedom of speech amendment that every other American citizen is privileged to.

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Comparison of Codes of Ethics

A code of ethics is a set of guidelines which are designed to set out acceptable behaviors for members of a particular group, association or profession. Journalists, advertisers, and PR professionals each have their own separate code of ethics. These guidelines set by  different professions are very similar to one another, but also have their differences in relation to their actual profession. In this blog, I am going to compare and contrast the different codes of ethics, discuss why there are differences given the professional roles, and why or why not all mass media should or should not operate under one code of ethics.

Some of the major points that are similar throughout all of the codes are: truth, honesty, accountability, fairness, respect and avoiding conflicts of interest.

The American Advertising Federation (AAF) says that advertising shall tell the truth, and not mislead the public. AAF also has honesty in its code of ethics. In my opinion though, truth and honesty are essentially the same thing. If an advertiser isn’t being truthful, then they aren’t being honest either. Same with PR professionals and  journalists.

All of the codes of ethics expect their professionals to be held accountable for their own work. The Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) code of ethics say that journalists shall admit mistakes and correct them promptly. The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) also holds independence as a professional value saying that they are accountable for their own actions. Fairness, respect, and avoiding conflicts of interest are other values held throughout the different codes.

While most of these generalized and broad expectations of these different professionals are held throughout all of the different codes of ethics, there has to be some variances between them to adhere to the different jobs of the professions. For example, the American Marketing Association (AMA) values Citizenship in its code of ethics. Neither AAF, SJP, or PRSA have anything about citizenship in its codes. To AMA, citizenship is fulfilling the economic, legal, philanthropic and societal responsibilities that serve stakeholders in a strategic manner.

AAF has Guarantees and Warranties as a part of their code of ethics which neither of the other professions discuss. The Guarantees and Warranties code says that advertising of these things shall be explicit, with sufficient information to apprise consumers of their principal terms and limitations and that advertisement should clearly reveal where the full text of the guarantee or warranty can be examined before purchase. This is necessary for advertisers, but not necessarily a code that could apply to journalists.

Advocacy is a professional value of PRSA. Their code states that they serve the public interest by acting as responsible advocates for those they represent. The other professions don’t necessarily advocate as much as PR professionals do. It is especially important for journalists not to advocate and to provide alternative viewpoints in their work.

Minimizing harm is valued by the SPJ. It is necessary for journalists to treat sources, subjects, and colleagues as human beings deserving of respect. Journalists have to work very closely with their sources, and they also have the duty to seek the truth and report it. PR professionals and advertisers don’t necessarily have to work as closely with people about subjects that could be very sensitive. This is why it is more necessary to have minimizing harm as a value for journalists rather than advertisers and PR professionals.

I don’t think there should be one governing code of ethics for all of these different professions. I think all of them have the same general guidelines such as honesty, integrity, truth, respect and accountability.  But the jobs vary too much in some aspects to have one code of ethics apply to all of them. For example, journalists don’t need the code of bait advertising or price claims like the AAF has. Each code of ethics has specified what they expect of their professionals, and it is unreasonable to have one combined code of ethics that apply to some but not to all of the professionals in their respective jobs.

Codes of ethics are a necessity in every profession for many reasons. When an organization or profession has a set code of ethics, and it is perceived as an integral part of the organizations culture, when it is understood and when it is followed and enforced, it can provide protection for the organization. G.R. Claveria of eHow says a code of ethics is important because it prevents unjust treatment, promotes goodness for everyone, brings out the best in individuals, holds people socially responsible and creates higher standards.

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Absence of Malice

“Absence of Malice” is essentially a movie about a reporter named Megan Carter who unwittingly slanders a business man named Michael Gallagher in the newspaper she writes for while he is under federal investigation. It is a journalist’s duty to find stories, information and to inform the public, but it is also their duty to do this while following the SPJ code of ethics. Megan Carter struggles with line between doing her job well, and doing it ethically. She also has trouble keeping her personal life and her professional life separate.

 Carter’s unethical reporting begins at the very start of the movie when she takes a file of information that was unofficially leaked to her from an anonymous source. She eventually uses this information to write her initial story. In the SPJ Code of Ethics, it is stated that a reporter should “always question sources’ motives before promising them anonymity.” She should have questioned Rosen who was her source of the strike force about why he left this information sitting on his desk for her to read.

 As it turns out, this leak happened because the investigators wanted to see if they could get any information out of him that would help the investigation and give journalists’ something even more exciting to report on. Most people in the journalism world would call Carter’s coverage of the Diaz case a trial balloon by the D.A.’s office.

 Carter claims she wants to be fair and speak to Gallagher to get his side and opinion before she runs the story. She follows the SPJ Code to “diligently seek out subjects of news stories and give them the opportunity to respond to allegations of wrong doing.” Once Gallagher doesn’t answer the phone though, she throws this code out of the window and publishes the story anyways. She should have kept calling until she got him to pick up the phone. One call does not suffice in this case.

 Gallagher sees the story and this brings him into the office to complain about this unjust publishing of information. This prompts Carter to go out to lunch with Gallagher to get his side of the story. She blatantly and unethically gathers information at this lunch because she brings a recorder and a photographer with her. Wearing a wire breaks the SPJ Code to “avoid undercover or other surreptitious methods of gathering information except when traditional open methods will not yield information.” After this, Gallagher’s life seems to be spiraling out of control. This is when Carter starts to date Gallagher and look into his story even more. The SPJ Code to Act Independently has a few bullet points to go along with it, and this breaks just about every one of them.

 Towards the middle of the movie, there is a break in the story in that Theresa Perone came to Carter with an alibi for Gallagher. Gallagher was with her when she was having an abortion. Perone asked to remain anonymous because she was afraid she would lose her job, since she works at a catholic school, and be shunned in her community. Even though Carter did consider the consequences of running the story, she did so after she had already given the information to her editor. She allows the editor to run the story which ends in the death of Theresa Perone via suicide. Though Carter can’t be blamed or be held responsible for someone taking their own life, she should have seen how her actions towards this woman could have adversely affected her. If she would have stuck to the SPJ Code to “minimize harm” this tragedy may have been avoided.

 As the movie continues on after the death of Perone, Carter’s relationship with Gallagher continues to grow which leads to more ethical problems. Getting involved with Gallagher is causing Carter to break the SPJ Code that states, “ Avoid conflicts of interest” and to “remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity and damage credibility.” Carter also reveals that Rosen was her source of her initial story to Gallagher to somewhat patch her rocky relationship with him. This raises the question of whether or not Carter is even capable of keeping sources anonymity and if she is even trustworthy.

 Carter confronts Gallagher after she learns that he may have some connection of bribery with the D.A. and runs a story about it, yet again, without any solid evidence. Gallagher points out to Carter that she doesn’t report the truth, she just reports what people say. This is a fair point for Gallagher to make because Carter has never once tried to get any legitimate sources to confirm any information she had been given. Almost none of her sources wanted to be cited, so she should have found other sources to confirm the information she had been given. Carter and her editor should have spent less time analyzing which words to use and what details to include, and more time questioning the validity of the story they were trying to publish.

 Though there was sloppy reporting, in the end Carter’s publication of the story leads to the conflicts being sorted out and she attempts to redeem herself by not revealing the FBI man’s identity. But in my opinion, one small act like that does not redeem her of all the unethical practices she took place in over the course of the development of this story. Even though there legally was an “absence of malice and negligence” in the case, I still believe her moral compass was in a whirl, and her personal life and her professional life were far too intertwined to make her a valid news reporter. She acted recklessly and did much more harm than good.

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Bloggers Block

The dreaded, irritating dilemma that a lot of writers face is the writer’s (or blogger’s) block. I write blogs for at least three of my classes, so there are times when I run out of ideas, just like now. So, I’m going to give you some tips on how to com up with blog topics!

Darren Rowse dedicated a post on How to Choose a Topic for Your Next Blog Post. Here are some tips that he shared.
1. Identify a Need: Choose a concrete topic to write about and identify needs you’re aiming for the post to fulfill and questions that you want the post to answer.
2. Picture a Reader: To avoid writing another theoretical or abstract topic, keep the readers situations, needs, questions and challenges in front of you and picture them in your mind when you’re choosing or writing a topic.
3. Break Out of the Echo Chamber: Do avoid regurgitating similar topics that other people are posting, find a way to put your own unique spin on the same topic, and pose different questions that gets the reader to think.
4. Write Something that Matters to You: When something matters to you, it shines through in the way you communicate about it and this has a way of engaging readers who also believe the topic matters.
5. Write Something Topical: Writing a topic that is currently popular or a lot of people are searching for information on is definitely something to keep in mind when selecting a topic to post on.
6. One Topic Per Post: Posts that really hone in on one particular topic and communicate one main idea tend to do the best.
7. Plan Ahead: pretty self explanatory.

Blog Ideas I Found
Chris Brogan wrote a post about 100 Blog Topics I Hope YOU Write. Here are some of my favorites.
1. Ways to Save a Bad Time at a Conference
2. How Women Use Social Media
3. A Hard Look at My Media Habits
4.Ten Guilty Pleasures
5. Media Topics That Need More Coverage

Tim Taylor also gives different ideas for blog posts on his post Can’t Think of a Blog Post: Here’s Suggestions. They aren’t so much related to journalism, but they are still some great ideas. Some of my favorites are:
1. How Long Has It Been Since You’ve Laughed and What Does Laughter Mean to You?
2. What’s Your Favorite Website and Why?
3. What One Thing Did You Hear Or See Today That Caught Your Attention?
4. What Are Your Favorite Words and Why?
5. Name Your 10 Favorite Outfits of All Time

If you feel like you’re still having trouble blogging, you may want to check out this video. Hire Jenna Marbles and she’ll whip your blogging butt into shape.

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