Tuesday, September 17, 2013

A picture is worth a thousand words

Alex Westerh

Images can inspire, motivate, captivate and propel an audience into action. In some cases, entire wars can be started over a single picture. Just as a journalist has a responsibility of truth and honesty in their work, a photojournalist is held to the same standards by their organization -- or at least they should be.

The National Press Photographers Association is a group that advocates for photojournalists, and also maintains a code of ethics that is very similar to the Society of Professional Journalists code of ethics. Both of these codes set standards to strive for honesty, truth, independence and accountability. These are the values that all communications professionals should strive for throughout their careers.

As technology evolves, so does the way journalists, photographers and public relations professionals communicate. The blurred lines between the way we communicate can cause easy lapse of judgements. It is easier today, more so than ever, to make a mistake while on the job. It is easy to send a misleading tweet, Instagram picture, or even a Vine which should hold the same weight as a traditional newscast, front-page photo or a print story.

A big mistake
Breaking these journalistic values will usually come with the cost of your job, and rightfully so. Sadly, because of capitalism and the basic human instinct to strive, to be the “best,” people such as Brian Walski and Allan Detrich will always exist. These two are just a few examples of photojournalists who intentionally broke their own ethical values for the sake of prizes, money and recognition. They were immediately fired from their respective jobs at The LA Times and The Toledo Blade upon discovery of their wrongdoing. The image below shows how Detrich clearly altered a photo of the Bluffton Baseball team, following the tragedy of their bus accident in 2007.
Picture courtesy of Studiolighting.net

When questioned about the photo he continued to lie and said that he had accidentally sent the wrong picture; upon an investigation by The Toledo Blade, he was rightfully fired and has not returned back to the news industry.

A journalist is only worth their credibility and it is not something that can be won back. Unethical journalists should be blacklisted from the profession and never return. In addition editors should also be held accountable to their review of images. They need to do a better job enforcing the values set by our profession.

Image courtesy of businessjournalism.org

In closing…

As journalists we need to keep in mind that our single most important tool is our credibility. If that is ever lost, so is our job. It is easier now than ever to lose that with one bad decision. To help combat that fear, we as journalists should have as many checks and balances between ourselves to minimize the harm resulting from our work. Editors need to do a better job proofing, and reporters and photographers need to spend more time debating their own values.

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