Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Bigger Picture of Ethics in Photojournalism

Kathryn Safreed

"Pics or it didn't happen."

Especially among the millennial generation, we as media consumers are likely to rely on and be swayed by photographs. With so many different distractions in our lives, we often rely on pictures to tell us the whole story, and sometimes won't believe a story if there is no pictorial evidence. In fact, we have flocked in the millions to Instagram, a social media mobile-based application where the picture tells the entire story. From retailers to presidential candidates, people everywhere are embracing the power of photographs. So, what could go wrong?

Well, when it comes to the "pics or it didn't happen" mentality, we may think we are just asking for some photographic proof. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words. However, with easy to access and relatively inexpensive photo editing programs, there is a huge temptation in newsrooms and advertising agencies everywhere to bend--or edit out--the truth. No more should we accept a picture as proof something happened. Instead, we have to adopt the mentality of "pics or it might have happened."

We all know photoshop is alive and well within the advertising and fashion industry. We've even accepted it as fact by encouraging young men and women to recognize photoshop and the dangers of believing the bodies they see in magazines are "real." What we don't do, however, is campaign against using extreme photoshop on models, which is what we should perhaps focus on instead. Even though a magazine may be of the fashion genera, it is still a magazine and therefore is still news.

Although it is important to keep photoshopping out of magazines, we have to also be mindful of photoshopping in our mainstream news as well. Yes, photographers often edit pictures, but not with any malice. It's extremely difficult to capture the perfect image, so when things are blurry or difficult to read, an editor might touch them up for clarity. What is not acceptable, however, is to completely alter the picture, as Toledo Blade photographer Allen Detrich did to almost 80 of his pictures.

In this example, Detrich didn't just add clarity, he added a basketball in an attempt to make the shot more dramatic. He completely changed the meaning of the photograph and what story it was telling.

With great editing power comes great responsibility. However, not only do we want our journalists to be honest about what happened in their pictures, but we also want to ask ourselves if we want to know about it in the first place. While we as media enthusiasts may be on a mission to consume as much content as possible, we also have to use discretion when determining what images and videos are appropriate to display to our audience.

When a reporter and a camera man were gunned down on live television in late August, controversies arose over whether or not to replay the same video that residents of their area saw on that early morning broadcast. There was also a video that the gunman himself took, and debates centered on whether that media should be made available to watch.

The Washington Post ran an article criticizing the New York Daily Post for featuring shots from the gunman's video on the front page of their paper. Although these images and videos are available, the article argues that the media has a responsibility to be ethical with what pictures they allow to be shown alongside their stories.

What we need to learn from all of this is that photoshopping isn't all bad. With digital tools, photojournalists can made their work easier to view and understand. While I am not advocating for a complete ban on these tools, I believe journalists should be required in every newsroom and ad agency to turn in a copy of the original picture and have it be accessible by the public online. That way, the two can be compared by both editors and the public.

We also need to be more mindful of what we are putting in our ads and alongside our stories. While there is a need for people to be able to access media that may cause controversy, we don't need to broadcast it on live television at 6pm or place it on the front page of our newspapers. There is danger in burring graphic pictures, but not everyone wants to have those pictures shoved in their face. To be mindful of that, we should put graphic images and video online on a webpage one can only access if they read a warning message telling them exactly what they are about to see. That way, those that want the information can find it, and those that would rather not view disturbing media can avoid it.

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