The “Dark Side” of Journalism

There is a long list of ‘dont’s’ in the world of professional journalism. Pulling out quotes to make it appear as though an individual said one thing, when in truth they said another, saying that you were somewhere or saw something when you were not and did not, etc. But one that is frowned upon more often and severely than others is doctoring a photograph. A journalist can accidentally use a quote incorrectly. Doctoring a photograph takes a conscience decision.

One example of a doctored photograph (and one that in this case got the photographer fired) is a picture from the Iraq war, and it depicts a British soldier instructing Iraqi citizens to take cover, assumedly in fear of enemy fire. Following the publication of this picture in the LA Times, it was pointed out that many of the civilians were shown twice, leading to several questions regarding the legitimacy of the image. Having been reached over the phone while in Iraq, Brian Walski, the man who took and altered the images, admitted to having combined two of his photographs to “improve the composition”. Within short order, Mr. Walski was relieved of his duties as a photographer for the LA Times.

After reading this article, which sheds a bit of light on the whole situation, and looking back on the past couple of weeks of my multimedia class, in which we learned of the many uses for Photoshop and Final Cut Pro, it caught me as strange that this man was fired for applying (in some sense) the basics of what I was currently being taught in class. I had to ask myself, What makes what I do to my photographs in class better than what this man did in Iraq? I changed composition, lighting, size, pixilation, and a whole host of other items in several photographs, all at the instruction of my professor.  Meanwhile, this man combines two photographs, taken an insignificant amount of time apart, to make what, whatever might be said, is a much more powerful image than either of the original two, and this one move costs him his livelihood, as well as his reputation as a professional photographer.

I have no straightforward answer for this question. Was it the magnitude of where he was? Clearly there is a large difference between photographing the campus of the University of Missouri and photographing the largest conflict in recent American history, but does that make changing photos for the benefit of the reader any better or worse in either situation? I would think, and hope, not.

And yet as I go forward in my schooling and my career, I will presumably take several photographs, editing bits and pieces here and there of each, to the satisfaction of my professors and editors, and nobody will think twice about it. Heck, I might even be applauded for it.

So, what I will be left wondering is, Where is the line drawn between ‘manipulation’ and ‘edited’?

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