Knowledge of Digital Video Manipulation Techniques
and its Effect on the Preceived Credibility of Television News
Introduction & Problem Statement
This research project seeks to investigate the effects of technique on perception. By “technique” I mean the body of methods and progression of tasks that are executed in order to achieve a desired result. All human activity employs technique, but, in the context of this project, “technique” refers to the methods and knowledge—“knowhow”—by which humans make artifacts out of raw material found in their environment. Specifically, this project is concerned with the diffusion and adoption of newly discovered techniques used to produce digital video content for mass media industries and specifically how knowledge of such techniques may affect the perceived credibility of television news among potential viewers. As image-making techniques evolve alongside the rapid adoption of digital media production tools and new media distribution channels, understanding the parameters of image manipulation is more important than ever. Additionally, these evolving techniques are widely unknown and they may be underemphasized in current media literacy education.
It is apparent that digital still imagery is vulnerable to manipulation by virtue of some famous visual alterations that sparked critical debate in the press and in public discourse. There are a host of classic examples. For example, in 1983, editors of National Geographic Magazine altered the positions of the pryamids at Giza in order to fit the vertical framing of the magazine cover. Another famous example occurred when, during the O.J. Simpson trial in 1994, Time Magazine altered Simpon’s mugshot to make the defendant appear more sinister when compared to the same mugshot published on the cover of Newsweek.
Figure 1 | Unaltered mugshot (left), altered mugshot (right) (source: wikipedia url)
Recent examples include a Reuters news service photograph of a city skyline in Lebanon during the recent Israeli–Lebanese conflict in 2006. Fany Farid, a digital image analysis researcher at Dartmouth College who creates software algorithms that detect digital image manipulation, characterized the public reaction to the Reuters photo as “one of outrage and anger,” and concluded that that the “manipulation was simply inexcusable.” (Farid 2006)
Figure 3 | Published doctored photo of skyline in
Lebanon (Farid 2006)
Figure 2 | Original photo of skyline in Lebanon
In 2003 a freelance photographer was accused of doctoring a photograph of an American soldier interacting with Iraqi citizens in the current Iraq war. The published image is a composite of two digital images taken at the same scene at different points in time. It appeared on the cover of the Los Angeles Times that very year. (Farid 2006)
Figure 4 | Original A
Figure 5 | Original B
Figure 6 | Published composite
These examples and others with varying degrees of ethical deviation show how vulnerable the journalistic photograph is today.
Audience reaction to manipulated imagery differs depending on the context and circulation of the image. Between friends image manipulation can be humorous, and society accepts the incredulous behavior of photo editors who contribute to celebrity gossip tabloids. In contrast, when an image is circulated to a mass audience, and the subject matter is serious in nature, manipulation is hardly taken lightly. Some critics and researchers have noted recent trends in graphical overlays, screen layout, and packaging techniques for television news, but have left out issues concerning direct video image manipulation. Fox, Lang, et al. (2004) investigated viewer comprehension of television news information as related to the superimposition of graphics over video. In addition, some research mapped and codified photographic and visual design conventions used in the packaging of...
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