Monday, April 18, 2011

When Photoshop becomes photos shopped

Pat Holmes

"There are no statistics on the number of rule-breakers, but indicators within the profession do not bode well for the cherished precept of visual accuracy" (Ricchiardi, 2007). In her article "Distorted Picture" Sherry Ricchiardi did not paint a pretty picture regarding the ethical state of photojournalism.  Assuming the smallest advances in photograph software, including Photoshop, this does not bode well for the field. 

In a 2007 article discussing unethical uses of Photoshop, Roger Sinclair, legal consultant at Egos Ltd, a contract, commercial and media law specialist said the improper use of the program to alter an images is a blatant disregard for the truth.

“But if you're using it to make material changes to a picture which you are using to report an event, and to make it seem something different to what it in fact was, then there's a technical term for that which you'd better get to grips with: it's a 'lie'," Sinclair said.

As we see in the Photoshop tutorial below, the technology is there. It exists. With relative ease, a photo can be altered to portray a different side of a story, or an entirely different story altogether.

One of the most high profile examples of photo tampering comes from the June 27, 1994 issues of Time and Newsweek magazines during coverage of the O.J. Simpson homicide case.

Time was accused of racism by minority groups for darkening the photograph, making Simpson look (obviously darker, but) sinister. This didn't change the image in a drastic manner, but shows how big of an effect just a simple change in tone can have.

 In a 2004 article Viewer Beware from the American Journalism Review, Deborah Potter discusses the fact that altering images isn't the only unethical way news is portrayed. Some local news stations in Memphis had began using reenactments on their newscasts at the time of the article, adding sound effects to alter and perhaps enhance news stories.

"The pressure in newsrooms to grab and hold viewers has escalated the use of techniques that add visual appeal and immediacy to the news ... anything that can bring a story to life appears to be fair game. It shouldn't be," Potter said.

Whether it be a darkened mugshot or a dramatically altered photo from war showing fighting during an actual time of peace, the issue of altering images will not go away - especially as programs such as Photoshop become exponentially better at what they do.

In a world of the 24-hour news cycle, the ethical decision comes comes down to whether or not a journalist (broadcast or photo) is willing to cheat the system to quickly put out sensational material. The competitive nature of the field can be dangerous; especially when choosing between the truth and the scoop.

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