Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Creating or Capturing an Image?

Ashley Gammella
In a world where it is possible for images to be created rather than captured, it is crucial that ethical principles be understood and followed. With an already skeptical public to please, and image doctoring technologies becoming more readily available, it is essential that journalists adhere to a code of ethics in order to preserve the legitimacy of the journalism profession. Specifically in the area of photojournalism, which has seen its fair share of controversy in recent years.

The article Distorted Picture from the American Journalism Review, detailed Allan Detrich’s pattern of doctoring photographs for The Toledo Blade. He routinely added and removed elements to the photos, which enhanced their aesthetic qualities, yet removed their authenticity and credibility. According to the article, visual communication expert David Perlmutter posed the question “Is the craft I love being murdered, committing suicide or both?" I found this to be a very valid question considering the conduct of some journalists is like a suicide. They are within the journalism field and when they hang themselves in scandal, they also hang the industry. On the other end, technologies that are being released can have a murderous effect on the profession because they enable these offenses to occur more easily.  

The Internet has helped to facilitate the distribution of doctored photos and considering there are no editors that police the Internet, it can lead to more unauthentic images being perceived as real. Certain sites on the Internet are not considered as credible as mainstream publications, yet when photos look genuine it can impact viewers. An example is the doctored John Kerry and Jane Fonda photo.

Some may not find this alarming and may believe it is all in jest, however as Ken Light, photographer of the authentic Kerry photo points out “What if that photo had floated around two days before the general election and there wasn't time to say it's not true?" 

Certain journalists may feel pressure to perform to an unobtainable standard and that is why they risk their careers and the notoriety of their publication. Yet, even journalists with an immaculate record can exercise poor judgment. The article L.A. Times Photographer Fired Over Altered Image, detailed how esteemed photojournalist Brian Walski, who was covering the War in Iraq, submitted a false image that ran nationwide. He combined two images that he captured into one photograph (third photo is the doctored image.)

Once the image was discovered as adjusted, Walski was fired. It was found that his previous images were legitimate and it was an isolated incident. Yet, it only takes one error to cause the public to be skeptical. 

It seems that print journalists are held to a higher standard than those in broadcast, when it comes to presenting authentic photos and content. The article Viewer Beware discusses this seeming lapse in ethical accountability. News stations have added sound and imagery without completely explaining these adjustments to the viewing public. In the article photojournalist Scott Jensen who works for a television station commented, "Still photographers get fired for staging…We get a slap on the back." 

It is interesting to me that news photojournalists are more severely penalized, considering almost every magazine image detailing a woman is airbrushed and retouched to present her as more sexually appealing. Fashion and men’s magazines are not particularly “news worthy,” yet they do hold a place in popular culture and if we are saying the technique of doctoring images is unethical I think that these mediums should also be more closely evaluated. The article Photoshop Legislation Won’t Fix The Real Problem from Jezebel, elaborates on the problem and its effects on women.

Images of warfare bring up an entirely new ethical question of sensitivity and news worthiness. Many families who lost loved ones overseas have a heightened level of sensitivity to the issue. The article Images of Horror from Fallujah, details the ethical concerns that journalists faced when violent photos of Americans being burned and hung were taken. Editors grappled about what photos should be released, where in the publication they should be placed, and if they should be presented in color or blurred out. I feel the photographs were newsworthy, and should be presented without modification. Yet, the more explicit and violent images should not be presented on the front page, and possibly should only be available over the Internet or in magazines. I feel newspapers are more commonly found on the breakfast table, and should be more careful of the images they present, as to not offend a more diverse audience.

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