The Evolving Ethics of Photojournalism

Photos have long been regarded as “truth,” but in the past 40 years or so, that dialogue has changed. The rise of digital technology has allowed the general public to become documenters, storytellers, and liars. Photojournalism, the visual storytelling mechanism of using imagery to convey/support a story, has become increasingly intertwined with these changes.

In the below Ignite-style presentation, I discuss the complex history of photojournalism and how modern technology and society became a catalyst for the need for evolving ethics regarding this topic. When are things ethical and when are they simply a matter of personal taste? Is even being a photojournalist ethical considering the subjects they photograph do not profit or directly benefit from the sharing of their stories? These are the questions I strive to create engaged discussion around.

This presentation is the first part of my research and discovery process. Please check back in the coming weeks for the full report.

Sources Used in Presentation:

Bersak, D. R. (2006). Ethics in photojournalism: past, present, and future (Doctoral dissertation, Massachusetts Institute of Technology).

Gitner, S. (2015). Multimedia storytelling for digital communicators in a multiplatform world. New York: Routledge.

Lester, P. M. (2015). Photojournalism: An ethical approach. Routledge.

Mallonee, L. (2017, November 17). Infamously Altered Photos, Before and After Their Edits. Retrieved from https://www.wired.com/2015/07/bronx-documentary-center-infamously-altered-photos-edits/

Newton, J. (2013). The burden of visual truth: The role of photojournalism in mediating reality. Routledge.

Ritchin, F. (1985). The Future of Photojournalism. Aperture, (100), 42-50. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org.libraryproxy.quinnipiac.edu/stable/24472005

Walter, E., Gioglio, J., & Roam, D. (2014). The power of visual storytelling: how to use visuals, videos, and social media to market your brand. New York: McGraw-Hill Education.

5 thoughts on “The Evolving Ethics of Photojournalism

  1. Alex,

    Your topic is very interesting and I think you could find a lot of sources to back up your topic for your essay. I like how you created a timeline of how photojournalism started and evolved and how it is used and abused today. I think that you can have a fruitful essay by structuring it the way you did in your presentation. I can tell that you did a lot of research, and I love the examples you chose to explain how photojournalism is used in different media. I also think that a part of talking about the ethics of photojournalism, you can go into how photos can be interpreted using resources from previous lessons. For example, you can talk about how when people don’t follow the ethics of photojournalism, people interpret an image falsely because of Gestalt Principles, Top Down theory and colors depicted in the image. I definitely think that there is a lot of potential in this topic and that this is something that should be talked about, especially during this time of fake news and mass media. I think you did a great job in your presentation and good luck on the final!

    -Natalie

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Alex,

    I really enjoy your approach to this topic, its one that I hadn’t thought of. You did an excellent job of incorporating information from the readings without sounding like you were reading a direct quote. I like how you gave side by side examples that demonstrated the ideas that you were talking about. I think it would be interesting if you delve into how some of the visual storytelling elements help enhance what the journalists are trying to portray. For example, how the colors are used intentionally to help give a certain feel. Also, how they incorporated the Gestalt principles and why they may have done so. All of these will help provide a stronger critical analysis. I thought it was clever how you opened and closed with the same quote in different ways. I believe it is important to highlight the fact that good journalism is supposed to be unbias and how altering images to look a certain way is going against that. I’m interested to see how you expand upon this topic because it’s very interesting and definitely a topic of conversation that needs to be addressed more. Looking forward to your final paper!

    Best,
    Laura

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hey Alex:

    I like your topic. As someone who works in the Journalism field, and edits photos for stories constantly, the ethics of PhotoJournalism are important to me. Isn’t it funny how much times have changed? Imagine being an editor more than 40 years ago for a newspaper, when photos were black and white? The stories have changed just because the photos have been transferred to color, never mind everything else.

    Your presentation seems to me a lot like a TED Talk, which I think is a good thing. You’ve made a point and you’re able to back it up with some knowledge that I can tell you have earned from reading up and researching. I think the most crucial part of the presentation was when you spoke about cell phones and social media. This is one of the more important parts of the current PhotoJournalism “rules” which are difficult to come by. With social media, the eyes are always on photos. But finding which ones are the right photos and deciding whether or not to use them is really important. The job of an editor is getting harder and harder.

    Your conclusion inside the final 50 seconds wraps it well…. “the ethics of the photojournalism line are even blurrier”, you say. While the word choice in that statement might need to be cleaned up just a bit, the point is so clear and concise. Nice work on that. Strong ending.

    As far as your final paper goes, I wonder how you will piece everything together. Will you be looking for an opinion-based piece? I think you’d be better off doing the paper almost off the presentation, with a lot of the same content written out. You will be able to expand on it even more and publish and link to some of your sources where you got the information. Remember, just as in PhotoJournalism, the ethics of this paper are important! Can you maybe find someone who is a PhotoJournalist an include an interview with them? That would be perfect.

    Looking forward to seeing the final product. Goodluck!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Alex,
    I’m interested in the topic of evolving ethics of photojournalism so much as I chose ethical considerations of photojournalism, storytelling, and data visualization for my research and video presentation.

    The slideshow flows very smooth and presents each of your points well. The pace of the narrative was fast, and the text copy that you wrote has to be adjusted for the ear. I think it was written for the eye. https://melnikovagroup.com/solitary-warriors-blog/2019/5/9/differences-in-writing-for-the-ear-versus-writing-for-the-eye I hear many tongue-twisting phrases, but perhaps it happens because of the speed of reading.

    Your conclusion about the result of the rise of digital technology in the past years that “Social media and the harsh reporting of news has so much desensitized the masses. Violence, sex, and tragedy are no longer shocking to most.” frames your point of view on the topic precisely. The development of Web 2.0 allowed anybody to become a publisher of any content they choose no matter what content quality, moral values, and factual analysis they provide. As you say, “the general public became documenters, storytellers, and liars” within last years. Following principles of freedom of publishing, photojournalism abused many of the rules that used to be valuable 40 years ago. Even though such cases get caught by readers and content publishers get penalized for such actions, the practice of biased and unethical storytelling in photojournalism still exists. I would be an interesting approach in your essay if you could discover, categorize, and classify such unacceptable techniques used in modern photojournalism. I believe this list is growing with the development of technologies. I did not read anything that has a full and complex classification of modern photojournalist unethical methods. You can also analyze them from the point of gestalt principles applied and the emotions they evoke. It would be a fascinating reading.

    Good luck!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Alex,

    I really love what you did with your presentation, taking me on a journey of photography and images and what has changed over many years. It’s not something I think about very often but when I watched your video, it was glaringly obvious how ethics play a huge role in photos, now.

    Your introduction is what stood out to me the most; photographs used to be taken at 100% face value. There was no “Photoshopping” a picture so they concept of an image being untrue was inconceivable. Now, edited images are the norm, especially with our social platforms like Instagram and Snapchat using built-in filters.

    It is frightening to think about how easy it is to edit an image as well as how frequently it occurs. Wherever someone gets the news, whether on TV, the internet, or on social media, media can be manipulated. While it would be difficult to get away with edited images on TV, there are a number of ways media can be manipulated that don’t just have to do with direct changes — which you talked a bit about.

    Journalism is especially tricky now. The temptation to make edits in order to prove a point is high given the accessible ways it can be done. You do a fantastic job of driving a clear and direct narrative arch about this subject.

    Liked by 1 person

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