Photojournalism and digital imaging ethics
Photojournalism, present day finds itself standing at the proverbial crossroads. Will digital imaging technologies and public cynicism lead to its downfall or will journalists rise to the challenge by practicing a new more credible form of visual /photo journalism. Ethical blunders by such journalistic icons as National Geographic and TIME have all contributed to visual journalism losing credibility with the public. It was only a hundred years ago that people believed what saw in photographs was true. On the other hand present day, the increasing response to an unusual photograph is "They did that with PhotoShop." Where does this leave a medium whose mission is to deliver a realistic eyewitness account of the public and events all over the world? As a result digital imaging technology had led to an increased awareness of the ease of manipulation to photographs with programs like Adobe PhotoShop has brought to light in visual journalism the need for a re-examination of the preconceived logic that suggests that because a machine makes photographs, that photography is free of the bias resulting from human intervention, leading photojournalism towards higher, not lower ethical standards. Genuine photos can change the hearts and minds of the people. Real photographs can change how we view war and how we view or society. Vietnam is a prime example. Two photos sum up that war: the Nick Ut's photo of the girl burned by napalm running naked down the street
and the Eddie Adams' photo of a man being executed on the streets of Saigon. These photos changed how we perceived that war. They are powerful and they get their power from the fact that they are real moments captured for all time on film. It is the photojournalist responsibility to let no one change the content of these photos or the content of any documentary photo. It is an obligation to history. The public regards photography, especially news photography, as verifiable fact. And unfortunately, in a digital age, nothing could be farther from the truth. "People believe in news photographs. They have more inherent trust in what they see than what they read," Ken Kobre, head of photojournalism studies at San Francisco State University, "Digital manipulation throws all pictures into a questionable light. It's a gradual process of creating doubts in the viewer's mind." Previously in the century, publishers had discovered the advantage of adding illustrations to the written word. Photography's incorporation into journalism during the late nineteenth century presented a number of advantages to those who produced the news. The addition of pictures and photographs in the press increased circulation, expanding the appeal and the reach of the existing publications. Just as the move from hand drawn illustrations to photographs in the press altered the routine habits and assumptions regarding news images, the introduction of digital imaging, ushered in new technology that forced a fundamental change in the news industry. There can be no doubt that now a days, in a digital age, the photograph is no longer an irrefutable witness to the world and its events, if it ever was, thus making ethics the most important issue in photojournalism today.
A most blatant and widely recognized case was the computer enhancement of the TIME Magazine cover photo of O.J. Simpson. TIME took the mug shot of Simpson when he was arrested and changed it before using it on their cover. TIME darkened the Simpson photo creating a five o'clock shadow and a more menacing look; in addition they darken the top edges of the photograph and made the police numbers line up. In and editorial the next week , TIME's managing editor wrote, " The harshness of the mug shot- the merciless bright light, the stubble on Simpson's face, the cold specificity of the picture had been subtly smoothed and shaped into an icon of tragedy." (Long 1). All the same TIME changed the photo...
Cited: Barney, Ralph. Black, Jay. Steele, Bob Editors. Doing Ethics in Journalism. Third Edition. Allyn and Bacon. Needham Heights, Massachusetts. 1999.
Kobre, Ken . Photojournalism : The professionals Approach. Fifth Editon. Focal Press. 2004.
Irby, Kenny. A photojournalistic confession. August 22, 2003
Schwartz, Dona. Images Ethics in the Digital Age. University of Minnesota Press. 2003.
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