Ugly Hedgehog® - Photography Forum
Photographic Ethics -- Your Opportunity to Contribute to Class Content
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Jul 30, 2020 22:01:38   #
larryepage Loc: North Texas
 
As I've commented a couple of places here, I will be teaching basic documentary photography, photographic editing, and journalistic photographic ethics to about 130 high school juniors during the first weeks of school as I substitute for a teacher who is having bilateral knee replacement. She is planning on my being there for two weeks of classes (a little longer than that on the calendar, including some days off)...I think it may be longer. The context is that these kids will be organized into 10-12 teams, and each team will producing an 8 page newspaper from scratch...researching, writing articles, editing, creating accompanying art work, typesetting, and publishing the paper. Actual printing will be done by a company that handles that function for several local newspapers.

The curriculum and specific basic course content is pretty closely defined, but there is always some time for discussion beyond these basics. I've known these kids for a couple of years and know that a key opportunity with them is going to be having a couple of really good sessions around ethics and integrity. Some of them understand those topics well, but for many of them, continuing to develop a stronger compass will be very important. We've been working on this for a year or so as I have opportunity to be with them, and while they continue to make good progress, their journey is not complete.

My preparations for this are nearing completion, but I'd like to give folks here an opportunity to be part of them. Realizing that most folks here consider themselves as artists rather than photojournalists, I'd like to get responses to a couple of questions to help as we discuss the finer points around making ethical photojournalistic discussions. Most of the discussion will be based around rules adopted by the Associated Press and the NPPA. We'll also look at National Geographic Society's rules. Here are a couple of discussion questions that I plan to use beyond that:

1. It is pretty clear that staging or framing or editing journalistic photographs in a way that distorts facts, like exaggerating or under-depicting crowd sizes, or recreating specific events differently from the way they actually occurred, or exaggerating the size of a fire, or relocating one of the pyramids is not OK. It's not like recreating exchanges of vows or the ring exchange after a wedding service. But the question is...how would you feel if you found that a photograph that seemed to indicate that the photographer was "in the middle of the action" was actually captured with a 600mm lens, perhaps with a teleconverter, while the photographer huddled safely at a distance?

2. Photographs of weather systems can be profoundly impacted by making relatively slight changes in exposure. Underexposing clouds by a single f/stop can, in some cases, change a few fair-weather cumulus clouds into threatening storm clouds. What is the harm in underexposing photographs intended to accompany a news story about a severe thunderstorm, since the ethics rules specifically allow lightening or darkening photographs?

OK. It's your turn now. Let's see what you think.

| Reply
Jul 30, 2020 22:22:22   #
cameranut Loc: North Carolina
 
As for the staying at a safe distance from the subject, depending on the event, that may be in the best interest of the photographer. For instance, if you were at a "safe" distance from a burning building, you would be less likely to interfere with those working to put out or control the fire. Same thing with any emergency situation. I don't know what the legal aspects would be. A lot may depend on what you plan to do with the photos. As far as ethics, I don't know why someone couldn't report a news worthy event with photos. For a newspaper, it is more about human interest than image quality. Is this the kind of input you were looking for?

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Jul 30, 2020 22:31:45   #
larryepage Loc: North Texas
 
cameranut wrote:
As for the staying at a safe distance from the subject, depending on the event, that may be in the best interest of the photographer. For instance, if you were at a "safe" distance from a burning building, you would be less likely to interfere with those working to put out or control the fire. Same thing with any emergency situation. I don't know what the legal aspects would be. A lot may depend on what you plan to do with the photos. As far as ethics, I don't know why someone couldn't report a news worthy event with photos. For a newspaper, it is more about human interest than image quality. Is this the kind of input you were looking for?
As for the staying at a safe distance from the sub... (show quote)


Thanks. The goal here is to explore around the boundaries of what is ethical and what is not. Certainly safety is important and as an ex safety guy, I'd never ask anyone to sacrifice that. The question is really around intent...making the photograph look more dangerous to get than it really might have been.

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Jul 30, 2020 23:07:42   #
Darkroom317 Loc: Bloomington, IN
 
You may already know these as you are teaching this class. Are you familiar with the NPPA ethics code or the SPJ ethics code?

https://www.spj.org/ethicscode.asp

https://nppa.org/code-ethics

Edit: I just noticed that you mention NPPA in your original post.

A major ethical quandary that is raised in academic art circles is that of agency of the subject. This revolves around consent, privilege, power and the potential of harm to the subject from the work.

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Jul 30, 2020 23:43:49   #
larryepage Loc: North Texas
 
Darkroom317 wrote:
You may already know these as you are teaching this class. Are you familiar with the NPPA ethics code or the SPJ ethics code?

https://www.spj.org/ethicscode.asp

https://nppa.org/code-ethics

Edit: I just noticed that you mention NPPA in your original post.

A major ethical quandary that is raised in academic art circles is that of agency of the subject. This revolves around consent, privilege, power and the potential of harm to the subject from the work.


Thanks. The SPJ code provides additional context, since it is written to cover the whole of journalism.

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Jul 31, 2020 04:05:45   #
R.G. Loc: Scotland
 
Thank goodness you're showing a concern for these matters. In this time of lying politicians and news media reporters we're all badly in need of reporters who have some sort of moral compass, as opposed to those who have sold themselves out for financial gain or career advancement.

Hopefully your teaching will focus on the role of intention, which is highlighted by the difference between documentary and journalistic photography. With documentary photography the intention is to be as accurate and as factual as possible. With journalism, the intention can include doing things for dramatic effect, and in that context a bit of exaggeration may be seen as acceptable. However, the intention should never include the desire to deceive or mislead. If we see exaggeration as being acceptable it would be very easy to start seeing all truth as being open to "interpretation", where interpretation means manipulation, and in the absence of ethics, manipulation can easily turn into deliberate misrepresentation.

The truth is rarely absolute and in that sense there's usually some leeway regarding how the truth is interpreted and represented. However, intention is a less grey area and if we are to be honest, most of the time intention is fairly clear-cut and unambiguous. For example, the intention to exaggerate for dramatic effect is distinct from the intention to deceive.

So what's the difference between exaggeration and deception? That's where the question of ethics comes in, and the bottom line is that ethics is a matter of conscience. Hopefully you will be teaching your students that it is a journalist's responsibility to report truthfully because we the public are entitled to know the truth. Any journalist not reporting truthfully isn't just betraying their own conscience, they're also betraying the public.

That also applies to any newspaper/news channel that they are working for. There may come a time in their future when your students have to ask themselves if they are willing to work for an employer who is pressurising them into being deliberately deceptive. The question is, do they want to become a vehicle for the truth or for deception and lies. If the latter is the case I would say that they shouldn't be in journalism.

When the news agencies themselves are willing to perpetuate deception we should always ask ourselves what the agendas might be. We should also never underestimate how potentially damaging things like fake news are. Whatever form it takes, deliberate dishonesty in the public domain is almost always undesirable and damaging.

Hopefully you will be instilling in your students not just a sense of ethics but also a sense of responsibility. Thank you for your concern in these matters.

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Jul 31, 2020 06:39:45   #
User ID
 
1. If the photograph is to depict the size and nature of the crowd it doesn’t matter how it is accomplished if all methods give basically the same info and impression. The differences in “optical compression” need not falsify anything unless skillfully intentionally manipulated to deceive.

2. Technically the dynamic range ability of the photographic system forces a degree of “artistic interpretation” onto photos of weather and sky. Therefore all possible images are illustrations. The rendering that best supports the message of the reportage is the one to use. If the article warns to stock up your emergency shelter then the most threatening rendering is justified, etc etc.

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Jul 31, 2020 07:09:43   #
Dalek Loc: Detroit, Miami, Goffstown
 
I think cell phones have changed the concept of photo ethics

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Jul 31, 2020 07:12:50   #
IHH61 Loc: Homestead Fl
 
As to your first scenario: if the photo tells the story accurately Photog’s position and lens choice doesn’t matter. In covering several protest/demonstrations lately I told my boss when we were discussing safety, “I have good situational awareness and a long lens.”
Second scenario: I think it depends on whether the photo is meant to depict a particular storm or to illustrate what storms look like. If the former making the clouds look more dramatic than the appeared when the photo was taken is a big no no. If the latter go for it

Hugh

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Jul 31, 2020 07:25:49   #
iamimdoc
 
Re: item 1. Could you export this course to the TV “news” channels for their use as they seem to have never taken similar?

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Jul 31, 2020 07:29:43   #
rplain1 Loc: Dayton, Oh.
 
larryepage wrote:
Thanks. The goal here is to explore around the boundaries of what is ethical and what is not. Certainly safety is important and as an ex safety guy, I'd never ask anyone to sacrifice that. The question is really around intent...making the photograph look more dangerous to get than it really might have been.


I don't do any reporting or documentary photography, but my rule for myself in anything (including photography) is that if I have to ask myself if what I'm about to do is ethical - then I don't do it.

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Jul 31, 2020 07:42:52   #
jaymatt Loc: Alexandria, Indiana
 
R.G. wrote:
Thank goodness you're showing a concern for these matters. In this time of lying politicians and news media reporters we're all badly in need of reporters who have some sort of moral compass, as opposed to those who have sold themselves out for financial gain or career advancement.

Hopefully your teaching will focus on the role of intention, which is highlighted by the difference between documentary and journalistic photography. With documentary photography the intention is to be as accurate and as factual as possible. With journalism, the intention can include doing things for dramatic effect, and in that context a bit of exaggeration may be seen as acceptable. However, the intention should never include the desire to deceive or mislead. If we see exaggeration as being acceptable it would be very easy to start seeing all truth as being open to "interpretation", where interpretation means manipulation, and in the absence of ethics, manipulation can easily turn into deliberate misrepresentation.

The truth is rarely absolute and in that sense there's usually some leeway regarding how the truth is interpreted and represented. However, intention is a less grey area and if we are to be honest, most of the time intention is fairly clear-cut and unambiguous. For example, the intention to exaggerate for dramatic effect is distinct from the intention to deceive.

So what's the difference between exaggeration and deception? That's where the question of ethics comes in, and the bottom line is that ethics is a matter of conscience. Hopefully you will be teaching your students that it is a journalist's responsibility to report truthfully because we the public are entitled to know the truth. Any journalist not reporting truthfully isn't just betraying their own conscience, they're also betraying the public.

That also applies to any newspaper/news channel that they are working for. There may come a time in their future when your students have to ask themselves if they are willing to work for an employer who is pressurising them into being deliberately deceptive. The question is, do they want to become a vehicle for the truth or for deception and lies. If the latter is the case I would say that they shouldn't be in journalism.

When the news agencies themselves are willing to perpetuate deception we should always ask ourselves what the agendas might be. We should also never underestimate how potentially damaging things like fake news are. Whatever form it takes, deliberate dishonesty in the public domain is almost always undesirable and damaging.

Hopefully you will be instilling in your students not just a sense of ethics but also a sense of responsibility. Thank you for your concern in these matters.
Thank goodness you're showing a concern for these ... (show quote)


Well said!

| Reply
Jul 31, 2020 07:43:43   #
jaymatt Loc: Alexandria, Indiana
 
iamimdoc wrote:
Re: item 1. Could you export this course to the TV “news” channels for their use as they seem to have never taken similar?



| Reply
Jul 31, 2020 07:48:06   #
jaymatt Loc: Alexandria, Indiana
 
When I taught journalism years ago, my students were drilled in honesty. If their stories and photographs were honest to the situation, they were doing their jobs. If they weren’t, they knew both feet were coming.

| Reply
Jul 31, 2020 09:25:45   #
Blair Shaw Jr
 
larryepage wrote:
As I've commented a couple of places here, I will be teaching basic documentary photography, photographic editing, and journalistic photographic ethics to about 130 high school juniors during the first weeks of school as I substitute for a teacher who is having bilateral knee replacement. She is planning on my being there for two weeks of classes (a little longer than that on the calendar, including some days off)...I think it may be longer. The context is that these kids will be organized into 10-12 teams, and each team will producing an 8 page newspaper from scratch...researching, writing articles, editing, creating accompanying art work, typesetting, and publishing the paper. Actual printing will be done by a company that handles that function for several local newspapers.

The curriculum and specific basic course content is pretty closely defined, but there is always some time for discussion beyond these basics. I've known these kids for a couple of years and know that a key opportunity with them is going to be having a couple of really good sessions around ethics and integrity. Some of them understand those topics well, but for many of them, continuing to develop a stronger compass will be very important. We've been working on this for a year or so as I have opportunity to be with them, and while they continue to make good progress, their journey is not complete.

My preparations for this are nearing completion, but I'd like to give folks here an opportunity to be part of them. Realizing that most folks here consider themselves as artists rather than photojournalists, I'd like to get responses to a couple of questions to help as we discuss the finer points around making ethical photojournalistic discussions. Most of the discussion will be based around rules adopted by the Associated Press and the NPPA. We'll also look at National Geographic Society's rules. Here are a couple of discussion questions that I plan to use beyond that:

1. It is pretty clear that staging or framing or editing journalistic photographs in a way that distorts facts, like exaggerating or under-depicting crowd sizes, or recreating specific events differently from the way they actually occurred, or exaggerating the size of a fire, or relocating one of the pyramids is not OK. It's not like recreating exchanges of vows or the ring exchange after a wedding service. But the question is...how would you feel if you found that a photograph that seemed to indicate that the photographer was "in the middle of the action" was actually captured with a 600mm lens, perhaps with a teleconverter, while the photographer huddled safely at a distance?

2. Photographs of weather systems can be profoundly impacted by making relatively slight changes in exposure. Underexposing clouds by a single f/stop can, in some cases, change a few fair-weather cumulus clouds into threatening storm clouds. What is the harm in underexposing photographs intended to accompany a news story about a severe thunderstorm, since the ethics rules specifically allow lightening or darkening photographs?

OK. It's your turn now. Let's see what you think.
As I've commented a couple of places here, I will ... (show quote)


I am encouraged to hear that Ethics are being taught in any school curriculum and even more so in journalism and photographic representation . Thank you for what you are trying to bring to light.

It matters greatly , given our current media practices and our kids need to understand the differences these practices can produce and the potential harm it carries. Thank you.

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