Gustavo Martinez Contreras, a former photojournalist for Asbury Park Press, was fired from his position this week after inappropriately captioning one of his photographs that featured a nurse administering one of the pandemic vaccines.
Last weekend, the third-largest paper in New Jersey received serious backlash, not for the photo of the nurse, but for caption it was given.
The photo was a close-up of a nurse in a mask, carefully measuring the dosage of the vaccine as she filled a syringe to administer.
The caption read:
"A f**king hot nurse, a total J*P, loads a syringe with a dose of the [pandemic] vaccine, during a in [sic] the Center for Health Education, Medicine, and Denistry vaccination tent in Lakewood, New Jersey, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021."
The caption contained an expletive, "hot" as an objectification of the nurse, and "J*P," which is an antisemitic slur and acronym for "Jewish American Princess."
The photograph and caption were then credited to Martinez Contreras, as well as the bylined article, which covered the city's attempts to bring the vaccine to the people of color in their populace.
The photo and caption have since been taken down.
Several major political figures in the New Jersey area spoke out against the incident.
State Senator Vin Gopal wrote:
"This is beyond the pale and disgusting."
"Asbury Park Press needs to provide an explanation and apology ASAP on why and how this was posted."
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy also stated:
"I frankly didn't believe it. I then read it with my own eyes, and it is unfathomable that someone could have written that, even privately, never mind that it was published."
"I would think, with all due respect, someone has to pay a price for that. That's completely, incredibly offensive."
Once the editors at Asbury Park Press became aware of the problem, they put into effect a new system, where each writer has to cross-check their work with another writer and have it approved by them before an article, photo, or other content can go live on the website.
Executive Editor Paul D'Ambrosio issued a statement on Tuesday:
"The words in the caption were totally unacceptable and in no way reflect the principles and practices of the staff of the Press and Gannett."
"The Press and Gannett have a long history of fighting for inclusiveness, diversity and women's rights."
"We took immediate and significant action once we became aware of the issue, and we changed our online procedures to ensure such an event never happens again."
By "immediate and significant action," D'Ambrosio meant that Martinez Contreras lost his position at the Press.
D'Ambrosio also shared that Martinez Contreras issued an apology at the Press.
Martinez Contreras wrote:
"I've prided myself as a man who has been an advocate and supporter of women's rights and cultural sensitivity, but this caption shows that I have plenty of work to do to address my own issues to make sure that my words and actions always treat others with respect."
Some agreed with the Press's decision.
The conclusion. I don't relish anyone losing their job. In this economy or industry. And I know it will create even… https://t.co/ypJFBrGwEU— Sara C. Tobias (@Sara C. Tobias)1616526698.0
@nypost How can anyone be dumb enough to write that in their caption?— tost (@tost)1616541705.0
And the correction of the year award goes to ... https://t.co/aXnCNABZEu via @nypost— Phil Kuntz (@Phil Kuntz)1616535067.0
Others weren't so convinced.
As captions go, this ain’t cutting it, Asbury Park Press. https://t.co/YR5EoFpnve— Daren Smith (@Daren Smith)1616446368.0
I’ve complained about the apparent end of editing for years, and what the Asbury Park Press, where I once worked, p… https://t.co/FZCdQxz7bw— Perry Michael Simon (@Perry Michael Simon)1616606520.0
The @AsburyParkPress @Gannett photo caption was unacceptable, and taking it down without adequate explanation is no… https://t.co/GAUkRu9xNa— Alyana Alfaro Post (@Alyana Alfaro Post)1616433257.0
Hopefully this will be a lesson to working writers everywhere: don't write crude statements, whether or not you mean them, and whether or not you plan for them to be published.
We can do better, even for placeholder text.