Issues?!? Ethics??!! OMG


These new issues bring up a very real challenge when discussing the ethics behind photo editing. 

  • Who’s in charge? 
  • Who manages the release of photos?
  • And what happens when no one is in charge? 
  • How do you police, prevent, or hold people account for doing this? And should we?
  • What about the internet?


These are issues that even ten years ago weren’t nearly as relevant as they are in today’s media market.  For many of these questions, there are not clear answers yet and hot debate and discussion is still on everyone’s tongues.  But what can be looked at are a few of the more clear and easily recognized factors at hand when discussing this issue.


In the past there were always different standard for those in the media and the average “non-media” individuals when it came to news in general and photography in particular.  If you were media personnel you had to be held to professional standards of what was right and wrong, ethical and unethical. 

In the early 19th century the press held a solid place in society as the “fourth estate”.  This creation allowed for and required they be held to professional sandards of ethical behavior. 

According to the Society of Professional Journalist in 1987, media’s responsibility was defined as, “the public’s right to know of events of public importance and interest is the overriding mission of the mass media.  The purpose of distributing news and enlightened opinion is to serve the general welfare.  Journalists who use their professional status as representatives of the public for selfish or other unworthy motives violate a high trust.” 

It is that high trust that is the question and issue now, who should be held this and exactly what are those standards now.  How much photo editing should be allowed, if any, and at what point does it become unethical?

So to this effect, the media have a very important role to play in society.  They should be and are held to higher standards of ethical behavior than the ‘common’ individual. 

But in today’s society just about anyone can lay claim to being “part of the media’.  And whether you agree or disagree, these “bloggers” and “online journalists” are increasingly being considered legitimate news organizations. 

Don’t believe it? Just last week President Obama held a press conference, which was called an online town hall meeting.  All the questions taken were from people online.  Anyone can blog online about anything they think is news, and someone else in the world can read it and think its news. Similarly, anyone can post a picture with that ‘news’ story and misrepresent what actualy happened throuhg photo manipulation.

Should that person be held to the same high standards as a professional member of the media?  (The ‘new’ age-old question and debate.) 

This is right at the heart of our issue. 

With the technology and ability to manipulate images and publish them over the internet or even to sell them to the newspapers, or even for professional members of the media to be able to manipulate photos without anyone possibility knowing or being able to find out.  What are managers, editors, and the general public to do? 

These different standard lines are being blurred.  It doesn’t help the situation when different media outlets are held to different standards even within the field.  Advertisers are held to a different standard then traditional news media outlets.  When you are trying to make a profit form your images and outputs, then you can allowed much more ‘wiggle-room’ with your images.  You can ‘photoshop’ much more and it be more acceptable in the eyes of the general public.  But this is creating a big mess in the news media forum. 

How much is ok?

And when does it become not ok?  

Here are some example of what has been done about this at different publications: 


2003: This digital composite of a British soldier in Basra, gesturing to Iraqi civilians urging them to seek cover, appeared on the front page of the Los Angeles Times shortly after the U.S. invaded Iraq. Brian Walski, a staff photographer for the Los Angeles Times and a 30-year veteran of the news business, was fired after his editors discovered that he had combined two of his photographs to “improve” the composition.




2006: The Charlotte Observer fired photographer Patrick Schneider for altering this image of a fire fighter. Following the incident, the paper released the following statement: “Photographer Patrick Schneider’s photo depicted a Charlotte firefighter on a ladder, silhouetted by the light of the early morning sun. In the original photo, the sky in the photo was brownish-gray. Enhanced with photo-editing software, the sky became a deep red and the sun took on a more distinct halo. The Observer’s photo policy states: No colors will be altered from the original scene photographed.” Schneider said that he only meant to restore the actual color of the sky that was lost when he underexposed the photo. Schneider was suspended in an earlier episode after it was revealed that his award-winning photographs had been manipulated. Schneider allowed this case to be used to educate other professional photographers in ethics seminars. At the time he pledged, “I will no longer tone my background down that far.”





So where do we go from here?

 Traditionally, in a news media forum, selecting a photographer to either hire as a freelancer or someone who works for you starts with the assignment.  

Photo editors and managers have the tedious job of knowing who is going to be the best photographer for the jobs for the particular assignment they are handing out.  It is the job of the upper-level mangers to review portfolios weekly, even daily to make sure they are up to date onwhat kind of photography best for which assignments and which photographer would best fit that assignment.

This is one way in which a photo editor or a media manager can prevent or try to limit the possibility of running into a problem with photo manipulation ending up in their publication.  

To cut down on them having to continually be better than the photographers, which is probably an impossibility, they can become familiar with as many professional photographers as they can.  

Surprisingly enough, most of the photo editors of many publications are completely (or mostly) in the dark about photography (Kobre 129).  A timeless question which must be brought up as a factor involved in studying photo editing ethics is if photographers should even be allowed to edit their own work for a publication or not.  Some schools of thought believe that they (the photographers) are too close to their work, to “emotionally involved” to look at their work as work and thus would not be able to objectively edit their own work.  After all photography is still considered an art form and thus the photographer an artist selling his or her work.  So, if the photographer does tone and edit his or her own work, what can be done by media managers to keep ethics in the minds of these folks?


Along this same line of thinking…

A question in studying photo editing ethics is if photographers should even be allowed to edit their own work for a publication or not.  

Some believe that photographers are too “emotionally involved” to objectively edit their own work.  Photography is still considered an art form and thus the photographer an artist selling his or her work.  

So, if the photographer does tone and edit his or her own work, what can be done by media managers to keep ethics in the minds of these people?

Another solution is to make each media outlet create their own set of rules and standards (which could be based on a previously made sets like NPPA’s photojournalism standards) and make them available for people if they believe there is a problem.  

The members of the photo staff, as well as members of the management team, should be involved in this process so that everyone has a say and also so that everyone knows the ethical standards they are going to be held to.

A third possible solution would be to create a standard set of ethics for all media.  This option has many drawbacks, such as the specific publication or role of that particular media, but would allow less wiggle room with-in the industry about knowing what is right and wrong in the field of photo editing.   

Photojournalism ethics are constantly changing.  

These three options are all mere suggestions.  The real answer is not even yet on the horizon.  These are our best guesses at what a solution could possibily be.  

Where the photography world is going is a mystery, but where the field of photojournalism is too a mystery with more at stake. 

 The news people get relies on the journalists that provide it and that too is changing.  

So ultimately…

All we are left with is the same thing we started with… 



3 Responses to “Issues?!? Ethics??!! OMG”

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  2. Great website you have here.

  3. nice work for photo editing,

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