A Picture Worth a Thousand Lies

Photo  (cc) of Beirut during the 2006 Israel-Lebanon crisis, by Flickr user Xansas and published under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

Photo (cc) of Beirut during the 2006 Israel-Lebanon crisis, by Flickr user Xansas and published under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

Photos are powerful. They are powerful today and especially powerful in reporting the news. It is likely why many decided throughout history to manipulate their photos for the purpose of telling a better story. 

Is this right? What should happen when this is discovered? 

I came across this Slate article recently, titled "These Altered Images Show Photojournalism at Its Worst." Included in this article a 2006 photo of Beirut appeared to be manipulated by freelance photographer Adnan Hajj  who worked for Reuters at the time. A little more research online and you'll find the before and after photo showing the aftermath of an Israel Defense Forces attack in Beirut. Hajj duplicated smoke from the attack and several buildings. Reuters subsequently removed the photo and all photos in their database taken by him. 

This is the kind of move I respect as a reader. The photographer's mark was erased from their database. Displaying a loud message saying that photo manipulation has no place in the news at Reuters. They stuck with their code. Reuters states the following in their Handbook of Journalism:

As journalists, however, we have additional responsibilities if we are to fulfil the highest aspirations of our profession – to search for and report the truth, fairly, honestly and unfailingly.
— Reuters Handbook of Journalism

Seek truth and report it. But a story must be reported and whoever is telling it, be it a writer or photographer, wants to tell one that will get more engagement, more clicks, more shares, and more likes. But when this takes precedence over reporting the truth, news reporters end up fabricating the story, regardless of intention, and thus influence how readers consume it. The Slate article goes so far as to say, "In the digital age, a pressure to “feed the Web” has also led to sloppiness in newsrooms."

We cannot sit back and assume that the next generation will solve the problems of photo manipulation in journalism, like the article concludes. But we can get to a journalist truth, as Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel reference in The Elements of Journalism. The blog community, citizen and independent journalists, including the writer of the Slate article, all participate in the process of helping the truth emerge. This combined with abiding by a code from news organizations all help to maintain the first responsibility of seeking truth. 

 

 

 

Emily Turner1 Comment