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Seeking visual truth is just as important
as written truth QT48

Posted by on Feb 5, 2018 in Blog, Ethical Issues, Quick Tips, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching, Visual Reporting | 0 comments

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

Quick Tip: Ethical photo editing vs. unethical manipulation  

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 image.

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

 

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In plain view from public places: Photojournalists and free speech

Posted by on Oct 18, 2016 in Blog, Law and Ethics, Legal issues, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching, Visual Reporting | 0 comments

freespeechweek_logo_mainWhat can and cannot be photographed continues to fall under question, bringing attention to photojournalists and igniting important First Amendment conversations. As part of other Free Speech Week lessons and activities, teachers may use this opportunity to incorporate key readings and discussion geared toward visual storytellers.

For starters, journalism students paying attention to current events likely caught last week’s story of documentarian Deia Schlosberg arrested while filming an oil pipeline protest in North Dakota. If needed, teachers can engage students in a quick research activity to update each other. Key questions: What’s the story? How does this relate to the First Amendment? How does a photojournalist’s role compare to that of a documentarian?

Photojournalists use the phrase “in plain view from public spaces” to describe in broad terms their interpretation of access and privacy as related to their First Amendment rights. What does this mean? Teachers can consider this as a warm-up writing prompt or partner conversation between students before sharing as a larger group.

To read more about photojournalists and the First Amendment, teachers can assign small groups to read and report on any of these articles:

NYT Lens blog: Criminalizing photography

University of Missouri protest “muscle” incident

Pennsylvania student shooting routine traffic stop

First Amendment Center: Photographs as speech

ACLU: What to do if you’re detained

Police, cameras and the Constitution

To tie in a media literacy component, teachers may add “Photography and the Law: Know Your Rights” from Photojojo. How is this article more or less credible? How does the material compare to the other articles under discussion? What factor(s) affected your analysis?


It’s likely that most journalism classes already discussed this photo from Aleppo and a related article
 back in August, but the connection here is strong between the power of a photo and why the world depends on photojournalists to capture what audiences need to see, regardless of how terrifying, depressing or controversial those images may be.

The National Press Photographers Association offers this statement about its advocacy work protecting photojournalists’ rights.
After reading related articles and discussing efforts underway to protect those constitutional freedoms, teachers may want to present powerful storytelling images that may spark debate about free speech and/or the ethical considerations photojournalists face. One option is to assign students to find and share photos on their own.

Here is a simple list of possible photos and/or photographers to research and discuss:

  • Yannis Behrakis, winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news photography, on the refugee crisis in Greece
  • General Nguyen Ngoc Loan Executing a Viet Cong Prisoner in Saigon” by Eddie Adams in 1968
  • Pulitzer Prize-winning photos taken by photojournalist Paul Watson of a dead American soldier being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu
  • Image galleries showing treatment of Iraq prisoners in the Abu Ghraib prison complex
  • “The vulture and the little girl” by South African photojournalist Kevin Carter in 1993
  • “The Falling Man” by Richard Drew during 9/11 attacks
  • “Fire on Marlborough Street” or “Fire escape collapse” by Stanley Forman
  • “The Burning Monk” by Malcolm Browne

From celebrating Free Speech Week and First Amendment protection of what photojournalists can do legally to the ongoing considerations of what they should do ethically, the topic is one worth exploring on a regular basis.

by Sarah Nichols, MJE

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