Monday, September 16, 2013

Photo J-- A Source of Ethics Decay

Ann Watercutter

As we move further and further into the digital world, the ethical code of photojournalists is increasingly challenged. In some industries it seems as if truth no longer has value at all.

Beauty Over Artistry. 
Women's magazines were the first images that popped into my mind as I read articles discussing the integrity of photojournalism in a world of photoshop and other advanced image-editing softwares.

While the photographers may not be the ones editing the images for a magazine, they sign over their work knowing that it will be altered to something that may as well be considered a cartoon. This is a violation of that magazines responsibility to publish truth, but also a clear example of photographers being influenced by publishers in order to make money.

While it can be argued that these magazines are not serious news publications, they still produce content meant for mass audiences. Their journalists conduct interviews and the occasional investigative story, which binds the publication to act under a journalistic code of ethics. This should especially apply to visual images because of the power of visual communication.

Generations of readers are now growing up in a culture that idolizes a beauty that does not exist. As a result, eating disorders and depression in teenagers is on the rise. Not only is photojournalistic integrity compromised, but the public is harmed by the overwhelming number of false images they see daily.

The issue is most prominent is these types of publications, but even the New York Times took notice of the fact that this is taking place in other publications like Garden and Gun and Architectural Digest. 

In The Times article, we learn that there aren't even guidelines regulating this type of powerful journalism. "Sid Holt, chief executive of the American Society of Magazine Editors, said that in the past the industry only established guidelines regarding advertising and editorial conflicts. After much discussion, the society concluded that editors can continue to regulate themselves for now."

The idea of photo editing has become so common that it has trickled down into the world of social media. While a user used to be able to simply edit red eye before uploading a photo, there is now a whole app built around filtered photos. Future journalists are growing up in this kind of culture and, without a formal authority to declare where the line is, editing will continue in increasing extremes.

The Code
Fortunately the National Press Photographers Association, NPPA, has a code of ethics that more magazine editors should allow photographers to follow.

Among the values the code discusses some relevant points include,

  • Be accurate and comprehensive in the representation of subjects.
  • Resist being manipulated by staged photo opportunities.
  • Editing should maintain the integrity of the photographic images' content and context. 
  • Respect the integrity of the photographic moment. 

My hope is that all journalists, including photojournalists, enter the field with some kind of ethics training. As the lines continue to blur, a strong-willed and principled press is invaluable.

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