Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The perfect picture comes at a cost

Shawna Polivka

Journalists are constantly pushed to be the best and outdo their coworkers. The difference between employed and fired can come down to capturing the perfect attention grabbing spot or photo. But at what cost? Photojournalists need to be held accountable, too.

Newspapers and magazines with exciting, colorful front covers are the first items to catch my attention at the newsstand. I never wonder if an image is in its original form. It is not Facebook; I should not fear the spam with a picture of Osama Bin Laden’s corpse. It is a newsstand full of works by professional journalists. I expect the truth.

First, I read articles on Allan Detrich and Brian Walski that described how and why they altered photos for the newspapers. Now, I’ve always used Photoshop to hide the pimple I sported to a birthday party, but I never even considered a professional would do this. Although erasing the knees out of a photo, such as the photo altered by Detrich, does not seem like a big deal, I think it shows that he does not have faith in his work. Walski, on the other hand, calls his merging of two photos a lapse in judgment. I make mistakes all the time, but when you knowingly deceive people, you should probably stop making excuses. I thought that it was a photojournalist’s job to be able to take a great photo the first time. It’s their profession!

Although I do not fear the cropping of a lamppost or a knee, I do mind when the correction leads to a change in meaning. For example, this photo crops out a woman standing next to president Obama. The meaning of the photo changes from the president listening, to him being greatly distressed about the oil spill.

I decided to look up the guidelines ( that photojournalist’s should follow. The National Press Photographers Association says, visually, a photojournalist needs to “respect the integrity of the photographic moment.” I do not want to be deceived or run the chance of that happening. It takes away from the truth that a journalist vows to report. Newspapers need to keep readers. If I cannot even trust the photo, how can I trust a journalist’s words?

I feel as if telling and showing the truth is the first step of being a journalist. As Dr. Paul Lester says in his article ( on photojournalism ethics, “Journalism professionals need to face the issue of photojournalism images being replaced by illustrations and not concern themselves so much with the tool that makes that ethical problem topical.”

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