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Category Archives: Ethics

The U.S. military in Afghanistan has changed the rules which members of the media must follow when embedded with a unit. The key change is in section 14:

14. Media will not be allowed to photograph or record video of U.S. personnel killed in action.



The New York Times‘ Lens blog (really, a must read at this point) has an essay up by David Hume Kennerly where he talks about a photo he shot of former Vice President Dick Cheney at home with his family preparing a dinner meal. The image was picked up by Newsweek, but two thirds of it was cropped out. Kennerly believes this radically changed the meaning of the image and damaged his credibility.

Photojournalists fight the credibility battle every day, from combating digitally faked photos to being lumped in with the paparazzi, a group of camera-carrying cretins who have no respect for anything, particularly the people they hound. In the case of my Cheney photo, Newsweek is guilty not just of blurring but of blowing up that line between tabloid-style sensationalism and honest photojournalism.

The comments, so far, are very telling as to how people think about images – they range from folks saying they believe he’s over-reacting to those who believe an image should never be cropped.

What do you think?

The Associated Press has come under a lot of fire this past week for moving an image of a mortally wounded American soldier in Afghanistan. The soldier was hit by a rocket propelled grenade in August and the wire service held the image until this past week. They were not being censored – it was their decision to hold it.

The New York Times‘ Lens blog has a good summation of the situation. I’ve been thinking about his image since first seeing it on Friday and have gone back and forth on it. My thinking, after all that ruminating, is that the AP has a responsibility to its members to provide whatever images it can – and then the member publications have a responsibility to decide what to run and what to hold back based on their individual communities.

Which is a heck of a non-decision decision on my part, isn’t it? So, had I been the photo editor at a small to mid size daily, perhaps where this soldier was from or where his unit (or others) were based, I don’t think I would run it. My decision has nothing to do with the graphic quality of the image, nor the technical problems – it’s that it isn’t a very strong photo. (That is not to say the photojournalist made any errors or mistakes here – she did everything she should have.) It does not tell me anything that happened, it does not illuminate me in some new way or give me a greater understanding of what war does to human beings. There is no context to the image – there is no cause and effect, there is only effect. And is that journalism?

And, if it is, is it a strong enough piece of journalism to overcome the quite probably negative reaction to the publication of the image? I, personally, don’t think so. And I argued for the running of images of jumpers from the World Trade Center towers in 2001 – vehemently, persistently and passionately – because I believed those images told an intensely personal story that helped shaped an incredibly impersonal series of events.

I am not taking the photojournalist, Julie Jacobson, to task here – I think she did a remarkable thing in making those (and many other) images. She should have made those photos as she did. The AP should have moved them on the wire. But I would not have lobbied for their publication in my organization. It’s not a corn flakes test for me – it’s a journalism test for me, and that image doesn’t pass it in my mind.

The Reader’s Representative Journal at the Los Angeles Times got a question from a reader pertaining to a photo they had published and suggesting they look into it.

Turns out, there’s nothing wrong with the image – it was made with a 400 mm lens and a 2x converter, which means it was shot at a focal length of 800 mm, giving the image a very large amount of compression. But the piece, and the comments that follow it, are a decent discussion of how suspicious readers are of photographs now – and should act as another warning to us that reality matters.

While many of our word colleagues are excited about the public release of the Reuters Handbook of Journalism, I wouldn’t expect many to start deviating from the more widely used Associated Press Stylebook.

For us, though, there is a very nice page on what you can and cannot do with photographs. I’m still processing a few bits of it, but it’s a pretty strong general guide and may be something used in future classes.

Uh oh … seems a photographer has been playing in Photoshop and sending the results off to the New York Times‘ Sunday magazine. I do love this quote, though, from Adam Gurno, the man who found the fakery:

When you work in computer programming … there’s a maxim in the programming world that says “all bugs are shallow to 10,000 eyes.” It means if you have something open source and you let 10,000 people look at it, they’re going to find all the little things about it.

Though I think his estimate on the number of eyes is low …

The Washington Times … well … read for yourself

Good grief.

Here we go again … is The Washingtonian a journalism entity? Or did they step over a line? You decide. 

Jesse Epstein has an opinion piece – done as a video – on the New York Times site about, “Sex, Lies and Photoshop.” It comes from a proposed law in France that would require magazines to delineate how much retouching has been done on the photos. Not overly deep, but worth five minutes of your day.

After the last post about how evil Newsweek was for not retouching a photo of vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin comes this post about whether using Palin’s legs as a framing device is sexist or not … 

Note the number of comments – more than 14,000 as of Friday morning. 
This is reminiscent of the photo of a Navy wife published in the Virginian Pilot earlier this year.