Photojournalism survey probes ethics

January 23, 2014 01:30

In 2013, a survey on photojournalism ethics was launched by Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, Texas, focusing on opinions from high school students, college journalism students/educators and industry professionals. It followed a year of high-profile cases, including a prize-winning photograph that was not what he appeared to be, a New York Post front-page photo of a man on a subway track, a Chicago-area photographer dismissed for fabricating quotes in captions, and the U.S. House minority leader's office sending out a doctored photo of women in Congress, featuring four members who weren't available when the main photo was taken on the capitol steps.

In the survey, Dr. Bradley Wilson offered examples such as cropping, editing to enhance color, and digital alterations which move or removed elements in a photo. He asked whether the changes would be acceptable for hard news images, features, photoillustrations, or whether they were acceptable at all in the context of journalism. Student opinions were largely in step with the professionals, although the student responses indicated they were less willing than the professionals to alter photos. Cropping and color correction were deemed more acceptable than altering or removing objects or people from images. The study also showed relatively few newsrooms with specific policies governing the alteration of images.

The study concluded that more photojournalism editorial policies are needed in school and professional settings, manipulations of spot news images should be minimalized and limited to what it takes to improve reproduction quality, and that photojournalists in the street will need additional training as editors, because it is becoming increasingly easy to post raw images from the field during breaking news situations.

Click here to view the survey presentation, which contains graphic images from the Boston Marathon bombing. Dr. Wilson indicates he is writing a detailed paper on the results, to be released at a future date.