Photojournalism ethics is a major concern in today’s media.
The “New” Media Debate:
When you are in media management, you hold to reigns not only to what information people get, but how they get it, in what order they see or hear it and sometimes how they feel about it.
With issues like this to weigh along with countless others, including but not nearly limited to, upper –management pressure, ratings pressures, employee pressure, how is a manager to deal when it comes to performance.
Managers are expected create and present top-notch broadcasts, newsprint, telecasts, and web posts among many other types of media. It is not surprising that a growing number of what many call ‘violations of ethics’ in the editing process are cropping up across all mediums of media.
With increasing ease, editors, photographers, and just about any Joe-shmo can open up Photoshop and wreak havoc on the ethics of hardworking journalists. Where in the distant past that honor was left up to the highly skilled, extremely patient hands of manipulative, trained photo developers.
Well, some might ask, “What’s so wrong with wanting to print, show and publish the best looking photos we can. It looks good and it wasn’t changed that much?”
But changed still the same, even toning photos for some publications without disclosure can come with a very high price, the price of your job.
What is right and what is wrong?
Doctoring photos has quite literally, whether the average person knows it or not, been around since the advent of the camera. It becomes not a question of if a photo has been manipulated (because most of them will be in someway) but of how much and does it change the original image so that the photo is no longer portraying the ‘truth.’
It becomes an issue of
‘Ethics’ vs. ‘Aesthetics’,
‘Art’ vs. ‘Journalism’.
If something is “ethical” by definition it is “conforming to professional standards of conduct” those standards are the ethics themselves, or “a set of moral principles or values.”
According to Jerry Lodriguss, it is “a fundamental fact that we usually forget… that when we take a picture we do not make a perfectly objective recording of reality. What we make is an interpretation of reality. There is no film or digital camera that perfectly and accurately records nature even on this simple level.”
Often times, for the individual and the personal, or even, professional photographer ‘photoshopping’ is no big deal. It is a little bit different for a media manager. They have to walk that thin line of portraying the truth of the scene, what actually happened, what it physically looked like, so that those that are learning about it through that managers organization are getting the truth, as best they can present.
With the invention of Photoshop and other photo editing programs, product validity has become an issue. Media managers struggle with this today due to its varying nature. The ability to take a newsworthy photograph no longer lies with professional photographers. The explosion of convergence media has made it possible for the “average Joe or Jane,” to take professional pictures; adapting each image to fit a particular communication style.
Adobe Photoshop, for example, has transformed photograph editing into an art. In the past, red eye reduction and photo retouching took hours. Thanks to the precision of programs like Photoshop and iPhoto, photographers can “fix” an image in a matter of seconds.
In the past, picture refinement, took several hours. Nowadays, all it takes is someone with a working knowledge of photo editing software. Online tutorials like Lynda.com, Photoshopstar.com, good-tutorials.com offer up-to-date information on how to use many of the Adobe CS3/CS4 Suites for less than $100 or for free! And for those, with limited cash to spare, the general web offers quick, “how to…” guides on how to fix or retouch photographs.
Anyone can sign up for a YouTube and have an endless array of free phoroshop and photo editing tutorials and ‘how-to’ videos at his or her finger tips.
Over the years, public apathy towards photojournalism ethics along with ignorance about the extent of photo manipulation has made it difficult for those working in the the media to implement any true, ‘followable’ standard for photographers and graphic designers in the field.
While there are rules that clearly state what a photographer can and cannot do, many feel as if the “rules” no longer apply to them, especially with the circulation of magazines like People, Star and the National Inquirer.
Doctored photographs are published all the time in magazines like those listed above, with the intention to increase readership and overall sales. Even, reputable organizations like Coca-Cola and the American Heart Association alter photographs to garner support for a particular cause or event.
Photo cropping and image scaling have been used to create a depth perception that at times, forces people to believe in something that never took place. Many companies use these techniques to increase consumer response, event coverage or product sales.
While many of these techniques are used regularly, the question of how often and how much comes into play. Is it right for companies or organizations to show images that distort an event? Is it right for consumers to think that they are buying into something that has generated a lot of buzz, when in reality the buzz has been created for them? It is easy to say no, but when this particular formula has been used for years, and increased product sales all across the board, the question is not whether it is right, but what and where are the guidelines?
Is it safe to believe the photographs that we see everyday?
Among media managers in the communication industry today, photojournalism ethics is one of several issues that many entering the business will eventually address. “Most people haven’t noticed, but it’s getting more and more difficult to recognize reality in photographic journalism” (http://www.60-seconds.com/168_ethics.html). Due to the complex nature of photo editing programs, it has become almost impossible to note the alternations found in most media.
“While the unwary public soaks up newspaper and broadcast news reports which show stark photography, those of us who know what can be done with today’s software are taking a more careful look. A recent photo in the local newspaper editorialized the aftermath of a house fire. Most people looked at the story it told. [However,] I saw the affects of over-sharpening and was [amazed] that the image had been manipulated”
Newspapers like the New York Times, the Washington Post and USA Today provide photographers with strict guidelines on how to shoot and edit their photographs. (EXAMPLE: The Charlotte Observer’s photo policy states, “No colors will be altered from the original scene photographed” (http://www.nppa.org/news_and_events/news/2006/08/ethics.html)).
Photojournalists are required to turn in all of their proofs as well as their final portfolio in order for their photographs to be used. Although magazines like Star and the National Inquirer, require less ethics from their photographers, the problem, or question, remains the same, is it safe to believe the pictures we see in the media today?
Only time will tell.
In the past, photograph distortion took several weeks. As time progressed, photograph distortion went from taking weeks, to a few hours, to now only a few minutes. Photoshop has made it easy to doctor a photo or graphic design, with very little help.
Simple color change or image scaling can alter the perception of those looking at the design or picture. “Any [technique] that can alter the original [image] or scene captured by the camera…” is considered unethical.
And while these “rules” may apply to those working in the media, they can and do apply to anyone taking pictures to be viewed by the public, hence the problem. The creation of multi-purpose cell phones, computers, and cameras have made it easy for just about anyone to become a journalist. Nowadays, media outlets rely on the public to help them capture the news. Therefore, it is important for media managers to know and understand the ethical issues behind photojournalism. Photographs are used to help deliver a story and add validity to an event, or breaking news story. Pictures or images that distort or alter the publics’ ability to achieve an accurate representation of a news story, or product, create problems that could result in a decline in sales, product recall and overall lack of trust among consumers.
While the idea is to increase sales and product revenue, it is important for photojournalists in all markets to report what they see as they see it.
Policies like those found at the New York Times, the Charlotte Observer and the Washington Post are used to enhance the validity of stories read or viewed in print and online.
“However, I can tell you why we have policies governing the alteration of photographs. Journalism cannot be about original works of art unless it is labeled as such. That is why we label photo and art illustrations. It’s why editorials go on pages labeled for opinion. Journalism, however, does often capture art in real life. Photojournalism is one means of doing that. Writing that’s grounded in factual reporting is another. Sometimes, our tools fail us. The camera settings don’t accommodate the circumstances. The notes aren’t legible in our notebooks. The tape-recorder fails. To the extent that we journalists are confident about what we saw or heard, we may rely on our memory to tone a photo to reflect the original scene photographed, or to reconstruct the quotes. Toning for accuracy is allowable under the language of our photo policy”
It is important for journalists and photojournalists to report what they see, the use of alteration tools like cropping, blemish reduction and color modification can change the ebb and flow of an article or graphic design. One should be able to see the original version and generate his/her own thoughts on the issue or event, not the other way around. Although story angles are used to sell a particular article or picture or graphic design, audience perceptions should be left to the audience. Spinning a story or changing a photograph to reflect or depict a certain feeling or emotion is unethical and should be left to the public.
The history of doctoring photographs dates back to the 1860s, only a few decades after Niepce created the first photograph in 1814, photographs were already being manipulated. The nearly iconic portrait of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln is a composite of Lincoln’s head and the Southern politician John Calhoun’s body.
Around the 1910s, photographic composites of different images were created by commercial photographic studios to bring family members together into one picture when they were not together in reality for the portrait session.
They were cut out of other photos and pasted on top of a photo of the woman at right and re-photographed in a composite image.
1937: In this doctored photograph, Adolf Hitler had Joseph Goebbels (second from the right) removed from the original photograph. It remains unclear why exactly Goebbels fell out of favor with Hitler.
1942: In order to create a more heroic portrait of himself, Benito Mussolini had the horse handler removed from the original photograph.
1982: In this National Geographic magazine cover story on Egypt, photographer Gordon Gahen took a horizontal picture of the Great Pyramids of Giza, which had to be “squeezed” together to fit the magazine’s vertical format. Tom Kennedy, who became the director of photography at National Geographic after the cover was manipulated, stated that, “We no longer use that technology to manipulate elements in a photo simply to achieve a more compelling graphic effect. We regarded that afterwards as a mistake, and we wouldn’t repeat that mistake today.”
1989: The cover of TV Guide displayed this picture of daytime talk-show host Oprah Winfrey. This picture was created by splicing the head of Winfrey onto the body of actress Ann-Margret, taken from a 1979 publicity shot. The composite was created without permission of Winfrey or Ann-Margret, and was detected by Ann-Margret’s fashion designer, who recognized the dress.
1992: This cover of Texas Monthly shows former Texas Governor Ann Richards astride a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. This picture was created by splicing the head of Richards onto the body of a model. The editors explained that their credit page disclosed this fact by noting in the credits page “Cover Photograph by Jim Myers … Stock photograph (head shot) By Kevin Vandivier / Texastock.”
Entering the 1990s, with the advent of high-resolution digital cameras, powerful personal computers and sophisticated photo editing software, it is becoming more common to manipulate photographs. It is also harder to detect fake photos.
1994: This digitally altered photograph of OJ Simpson appeared on the cover of Time magazine shortly after Simpson’s arrest for murder. This photograph was manipulated from the original mug shot that appeared, unaltered, on the cover of Newsweek. Time was subsequently accused of manipulating the photograph to make Simpson appear “darker” and “menacing.”
1997: This digitally altered photograph of Kenny and Bobbi McCaughey appeared on the cover of Newsweek shortly after Bobbi gave birth to septuplets. This photograph was manipulated from the original that appeared, unaltered, on the cover of Time. Newsweek manipulated the photograph to make Bobbi’s teeth straighter, and were accused of trying to make her “more attractive.”
2000: Hoping to illustrate its diverse enrollment, the University of Wisconsin at Madison doctored a photograph on a brochure cover by digitally inserting a black student in a crowd of white football fans. The original photograph of white fans was taken in 1993. The additional black student, senior Diallo Shabazz, was taken in 1994. University officials said that they spent the summer looking for pictures that would show the school’s diversity — but had no luck.
2004: This digital composite of Senator John Kerry and Jane Fonda sharing a stage at an anti-war rally emerged during the 2004 Presidential primaries as Senator Kerry was campaigning for the Democratic nomination. The picture of Senator Kerry was captured by photographer Ken Light as Kerry was preparing to give a speech at the Register for Peace Rally held in Mineola, New York, in June 1971. The picture of Jane Fonda was captured by Owen Franken as Fonda was speaking at a political rally in Miami Beach, Florida, in August 1972.
2006: A photograph of CBS news anchor Katie Couric was digitally altered from this original to give Couric a trimmer waistline and a thinner face. This photo appeared in CBS’ in-house magazine Watch! CBS spokesman, Gil Schwartz, said the doctored image was the work of a CBS photo department employee who got a little zealous.” Schwartz added, “I talked to my photo department; we had a discussion about it; I think photo understands this is not something we’d do in the future.”
2008: This photo of Governor Sarah Palin was widely distributed across the Internet shortly after Palin was announced as the vice presidential nominee for the Republican ticket. Shortly after its release the photo was revealed to be a composite of Palin’s head and somebody else’s body.
2009: This photo of Heath Ledger and Christopher Nolan of “The Dark Knight” appeared in Vanity Fair as part of a series of photographs of acclaimed actors and directors. The photo of Ledger, who died in 2008, is from 2005 as he was promoting the film “Brokeback Mountain.” Nolan (shown on the left) was digitally inserted into this photo.
Photo Tampering Throughout History, http://www.cs.dartmouth.edu/farid/research/digitaltampering/
The Ethics of Digital Manipulation, http://www.astropix.com/HTML/J_DIGIT/ETHICS.HTM
National Press Photographers Association, Ethics in the Age of Digital Photograph,