Monday, April 18, 2011

Picture Imperfect

Robert Guliano

Our recent readings have shed light on an interesting failure in journalistic values.

It is easy to imagine a written piece falling a little short of completely neutral and objective. It is natural that some degree of bias will show up one way or another in a wordy article. This is simply a byproduct of the english language. However, such a failure in the realm of "photo journalism" is not very conceivable and not likely excusable.

Photo's by their nature are journalistic. If a photo is taken and submitted as it comes out, no one on God's green Earth can plausibly question its objectivity. It touches all the fundamental values of journalism and does so naturally.

So, when a photo is doctored and published in a journalistic environment, it is surely subject to scrutiny. The idea that a professional "photo journalist" can make money by taking pictures is certainly generous enough. This only heightens the shame in abusing the privilege.

This holds true for writing and broadcasting as well (every blogger or even tweeter can be a reporter), but it is even easier for anyone to be a photographer (or photojournalist) by definition. Photographs can tell a story faster and with less effort (wording things for an audience or AP style). To put into perspective just how small the gap is between a paid photographer and a regular person, I like to use the following Ohio University example:

Every drunk college girl is a photographer or photojournalist on Thursday through Saturday nights.

Think about this statement another way. An Ohio University student wants to view media content covering Halloween night. Often times the first place that student gets the content is on social media.

Frequently, Sally Snapshot happens to be the same person as Fiona Friend Request. People will either inadvertently or purposely see her pictures on Facebook or Twitter long before they will go to The Post's new and improved website.

This makes the margin for error or ethical slip-up pretty tight in the world of photojournalism. Photojournalists seem like they are rather replaceable, especially at localized media outlets. It would be ignorant not to note that this very concept fuels photojournalists to compromise ethics.

If they can produce superior photographs, then their respective jobs will be safe. The media (perhaps more so than many other industries) is a highly competitive arena. From its management at the top to an individual level, it is full of competition. This may be natural of a capitalist economy, but it is vital to examine the possibility that people like photographers have incentive to push the envelope and set themselves apart from the pack.

The fascinating thing about examining the behavior of these photojournalists is that the same competitiveness that led to their professional prominence ended up sinking them in the end. That is why ethics is so inscrutable. It is not cut and dry like the law is (for the most part). Ethics has a slippery slope, notably in journalism.

Managing that slope is what #jour412 is all about.

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