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Ethical photo editing, visuals QT31

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Guideline: Student media should avoid electronic manipulation that alters the truth of a photograph unless it is used as art. In that case it should be clearly labeled as a photo illustration.

Social Media Post: Filters are fun on social media, but are they journalistic? How do you know when editing crosses the line to unethical manipulation?

Reasoning/suggestions:

Photojournalism is still journalism, which means visual images should reflect the truth as accurately as other forms of reporting. Just as journalists shouldn’t manipulate a quote because it will “make the story sound better,” they also shouldn’t manipulate a photograph beyond basic editing that maintains the journalistic truth of the ima

Here are some tips to ensure you are being truthful visually:

  • Edit digital photographs minimally; limit changes to basic cropping (without removing important context), adjusting brightness or contrast, and minor color adjustments.
  • Do not flip images or edit out elements of the photo.
  • Avoid staging photographs and passing them off as candid shots; this is similar to asking someone to say something for a quote you need rather than gathering candid quotes.
  • Clearly label manipulated images used as art (filters, colorized images, etc.) as photo illustrations and use these sparingly to maintain the journalistic credibility of your publication.

Resources:

Visual ethics guidelines, Principal’s Guide to Scholastic Journalism

Visual Journalism, NPR Code of Ethics

Posing Questions of Photographic Ethics, James Estrin, New York Times

Lesson: A Picture Never Lies, Journalism Education Association

Lesson: When Journalists Err Ethically, Journalism Education Association

Lesson: Pushing Photo Editing Boundaries, Journalism Education Association

Lesson: With Freedom of the Press Comes Great Responsibility, Journalism Education Association

SPJ Code of Ethics, Society of Professional Journalists

NPPA Code of Ethics, National Press Photographers Association

Photojournalism ethics needs a reexamination, The Poynter Institute

Visual ethical guidelines join online, yearbook ethics, JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee

Audio: Using Images from Social Media, JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee Press Rights Minute

Audio: Ethics in Editing News Photos, JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee. Press Rights Minute

 

Blog – by Kristin Taylor

 

A reporter working on a story pauses from her transcription. “Hm,” she thinks. “This is a good quote, but my source could have said it so much better. I’ll just change it around and add a bit …”

 

By this point, responsible student journalists and their advisers are horrified. Of course you can’t change a source’s quote! Our job is to seek truth and report it, not to create fiction.

 

Yet those same students may have a harder time understanding why photo manipulation is just as problematic. In a time where social media platforms include an array of pre-made filters and changing a picture is as easy as swiping left or right, student journalists may need a reminder about the difference between ethical photo editing and unethical manipulation.

 

Photojournalism is still journalism, which means visual images should reflect the truth as accurately as other forms of reporting. Just as journalists shouldn’t manipulate a quote because it will “make the story sound better,” they also shouldn’t manipulate a photograph beyond basic editing that maintains the journalistic truth of the image.

 

Students wondering about the consequences of faking photographs professionally might benefit from reading cautionary tales about people such as Brian Walski, Souvid Datta or Narciso Contreras — these once respected photojournalists lost jobs, reputation or even awards as a result of their photo manipulation.

 

Here are some tips to ensure student journalists are being truthful visually:

  • Edit digital photographs minimally; limit changes to basic cropping (without removing important context), adjusting brightness or contrast, and minor color adjustments.
  • Do not flip images or edit out elements of the photo.
  • Avoid staging photographs and passing them off as candid shots; this is similar to asking someone to say something for a quote you need rather than gathering candid quotes.
  • Clearly label manipulated images used as art (filters, colorized images, etc.) as photo illustrations and use these sparingly to maintain the journalistic credibility of your publication.

 

Journalism is about seeking truth, and visual truth is just as important as written.

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