Ethics Matters

Confluence of ethics matters

January 25th, 2014 | Uncategorized | No comments

Some thoughts on photojournalism ethics today
By Ethics committee members
John Long, Steve Raymer, Peter Southwick and Sean Elliot

There was an interesting confluence of ethics oriented events this week: AP dismissed a freelancer for digitally altering a photo; VOGUE magazine retouched a series of photos of Lena Dunham and was criticized for doing so by another magazine; and an online publication over-processed a photo of Edward Snowden raising the specter of the famous O.J. TIME cover – three incidents that exemplify the state of discussions surrounding photojournalism ethics today.

We have become quite sophisticated in our understanding of digital manipulation (the O.J. cover, for example), and while we have all but given up on VOGUE and similar celebrity publications ever “getting it” when it comes to photography, the credible news gathering organizations (AP in this case) have taken a much needed and appreciated hard line on ethics violations.

VOGUE produced a major piece on Lena Dunham, the force behind and star of the hit HBO show “Girls”, who is known for looking like a normal woman instead of a super model. The photos were reworked to make her look thinner etc. and a pigeon sitting on her head was added to one photo. “Jezebel,” a web site that criticizes celebrity magazines such as VOGUE, took issue with this “enhancement”, but unfortunately the criticism had nothing to do with the digital alteration of the photos. The issue they raised was the portrayal of women in VOGUE and other magazines of its kind. The manipulation of the photos seemed to be accepted as normal practice.

My question is this – if the photos are works of fantasy, why should we believe the words? If we can’t believe the photos of Lena Dunham why should we believe the story that accompanies them? If the words are expected to be accurate, shouldn’t the photos be accurate also?

As this issue was being debated, “The Fiscal Times” blog ran a story accompanied by a highly over processed image of Edward Snowden. The photo is one of the few available of Snowden and comes from “The Guardian.” It has been used many times by a range of publications and it may be that “The Fiscal Times” was trying to spice up their story with a bit of graphic overkill (or they made a technical error of gargantuan proportions), but it ended up reminding many people of the infamous O. J. TIME cover. TIME manipulated the police handout photo of O. J. Simpson and bragged about creating “an icon of tragedy”. In other words, they editorialized. They decided he was guilty and manipulated the photo to make him look guilty.

“The Fiscal Times” has a written policy that declares, “We strive above all to present fair and accurate information in every original news article that we publish.” Some who contacted the ethics committee thought the photo was an editorial along the lines of the TIME photo, that “The Fiscal Times” was trying to make Snowden look like a monster or at least evil.

Regardless of the reasoning behind the use of the photo, it flies in the face of their expressed ideals and is a mistake. Readers have become quite sophisticated in understanding how photography works and do not like being lied to in any way.

And yet, there is still hope. AP has severed all ties with Pulitzer Prize-winning freelance photographer Narciso Conteras after he admitted altering a photo he made in Syria. Conteras removed a small camera in the corner of his photo, enough for AP to say they would never use his services again. AP also went into their archives to delete every photo Conteras ever made for the wire service. This was an extreme but necessary measure in order to preserve AP’s credibility. It is the same action Reuters took several years ago when freelancer Adnan Hajj was found to have modified a photo he made in Lebanon. Reuters said they would never use him again and deleted every photo Hajj had made for Reuters.

Three separate incidents over the past few days, but each helps define the state of photojournalism ethics in 2014.

For further information on these issues, check these URLs:

June National Geographic Cover debated

June 6th, 2013 | Uncategorized | No comments

June National Geographic cover debated
Compiled by John Long, Ethics Committee Chair
With Committee members Steve Raymer, Peter Southwick and Sean Elliot

It was a simple note from an NPPA member questioning the use of a digitally created photo on the cover of the June 2013 issue of National Geographic. One message – no massive outcry, no flood of protests. I began to wonder if we have become numb to the digital manipulation of photos or if no one cares anymore. Has the digital revolution passed and left a handful of buggy whip makers bemoaning the new age? Or does this cover simply not rise to the level of the famous Pyramids cover? One email comment: “What was a cardinal sin in the ’80’s (pyramids, for instance) seems to be pretty common practice now. I’ll never like it, or even find it interesting, but it’s clearly here to stay.”

The cover depicts James Cameron kneeling of the floor of the ocean sans mask and air source, surrounded by lights and bubbles and rocks and sand. It is dramatic but does it really fool anyone. Is the reader deceived? On page 143, there is an explanation of how the illustration was created, complete with photos.

This became an interesting discussion among the members of the Ethics Committee with widely differing points of view.

First question – does this photo deceive the reader? Not really. Nobody sits on the ocean floor, well groomed, well lit, without breathing apparatus. “It looks like something out of a James Cameron sci-fi film … Quite frankly.”

Second question – was there an intention to deceive the reader? Obviously not since they ran an entire page explaining how they made the picture.

Thirdly, it is a portrait, not a documentary image. The rules are a little different.

Our first reaction was that there was nothing here but then we started to think about it a little more.

As one of us wrote, “If this were a Vanity Fair cover, I’d say, “Fine. ‘Tis in keeping with the character of the magazine.” But to put a fake photograph on the cover of a magazine that claims to be about documentary photography cheapens the brand.” Context is an important aspect of ethical discussions. In the context of National Geographic, is this photo too digitally modified to be ethical?

But is this even an ethical issue? We are faced with poor journalism when a quality publication such as National Geographic stoops to using photo illustrations instead of documentary photographs, but is this unethical? And if it is not an ethical problem, should our committee be involved with this discussion at all?

One member’s comment: This, “I think, is where I was at the beginning, the question being more one of journalistic standards than one of ethics. Though I think we could make an argument that the use of such illustrations, regardless of how up front their use may be, nonetheless degrades the overall sense of integrity of journalistic images. The fact that images are so easily altered/fabricated does not do a service to the trust we need in our work.”

And another: “I’ve had to think long and hard about it, but in my case it comes down to one thing: manufactured photos don’t interest me, and never have. I like real moments, and always have. I’ve been looking at magazine covers for as long as I can remember, and rarely has something phony caught my eye in a way that makes me want to buy or read the publication (that is the goal, isn’t it?).”

And yet, when stated this way, does the use of a digitally created photo qualify as an ethical issue? “The cover of the Geographic certainly seems like a case of betraying our collective value of truth, as well as one of the core values of the National Geographic Society.”

We use the word “ethics” as an all-encompassing guide but in reality, ethics refers to the recommended actions for the participants in a group. Ethics are based on loyalties and principles. Principles are based on values.

One member’s perspective- “My problem with this focus (on ethics alone) is that in today’s professions, journalism being one, we can not easily separate classic “textbook ethics” of Aristotle, Bentham, Kant, and other great philosophers, from professional values and professional practice. This is why most university-level classes are now called “media ethics and values.” Ethical theory, or ethics, informs our professional practice.” I don’t think we can separate ethics from values and loyalties.”

With this definition, it is quite proper for the ethics committee to take issue with the James Cameron cover since it seems to violate National Geographic’s value structure and its belief in the value of documentary photography.

The committee contacted Chris Johns, Executive Vice President, group editorial director and Editor in Chief, National Geographic Magazine, and in part here is what he replied:

“Documentary photography is in National Geographic’s DNA, but we also embrace a wide variety of photographic approaches. We work with photographers from around the world who offer different points of view and stylistic approaches to story telling. We push them to grow, improve, never be satisfied with their work, and constantly raise the bar of excellence. They push us to be bold, passionate, innovative, and constantly evolving. I am convinced this dynamic relationship makes us richer and better. It also means we honestly and openly push the envelope, knowing that in order to grow and become increasingly relevant we have to be open yet remain true to our values.

National Geographic’s June 2013 cover isn’t the first studio portrait to grace the cover, nor will it be the last. In full transparency we stated in the magazine that the James Cameron portrait was digitally altered, in collaboration with the subject and the photographer. We felt strongly that we should put Jim on the cover because he represents National Geographic’s values in being named Explorer of the Year and the recipient of the Hubbard Medal. We know the cover is one of our most effective marketing tools in a competitive media environment. We wanted Jim’s portrait to be as powerful, provocative, and eloquent as possible and pull people into an issue packed with thoughtful content.
Thanks, again, for your interest in the June issue. Chris”

The members of the ethics committee have come to widely different conclusions as to the magnitude of the issue. Some thought it was a tempest in a teapot. Some thought it was merely part of the evolution of digital photography and quite in keeping with today’s standards. Some thought that, though the use of this cover was not an ethical problem, in the strict sense of being a violation of the Code of Ethics, it was not worthy of the values National Geographic has always represented to those of us who revere the magazine as the last bastion of documentary greatness.

What seemed to be a simple problem turned into a major debate on the value of “quality.” This makes me want to reread Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.


Chicago Sun-Times lays off photo staff

June 3rd, 2013 | Uncategorized | No comments

Chicago Sun-Times lays off entire photo staff.
Compiled by John Long, ethics chair

This past week, the NPPA Ethics Committee (John Long, retired Hartford Courant photographer and past president of NPPA , Peter Southwick, Associate Professor of Journalism, Boston University, Steve Raymer, former staff photographer National Geographic and now Professor of Journalism, Indiana University and NPPA Past President Sean Elliot, staff photographer, The Day, New London, CT) had been deeply involved in discussing whether the June 2013 National Geographic cover photo of explorer James Cameron was a violation of accepted journalistic ethics and values. We will post a full blog on this issue alone in a few days.

However, what has taken precedence in our discussions is the firing of the entire photographic staff of The Chicago Sun-Times, including a Pulitzer Prize winner, replacing them with reporters carrying Apple iPhones. This sent shock waves through the profession. We had an explosion of emails on the value of quality photojournalism (ie: National Geographic) and its value in the face of the possible collapse of our profession.

Is the demise of a staff of photojournalists an ethical issue? Usually we deal with lying and the other aspects of our Code of Ethics, but we all felt (very deeply) that this is probably one of the most basic ethical issues we face today. It is the ethics of survival; the survival of our profession and the survival of our American way of life itself in that a free society cannot exist without access to accurate information.

This blog attempts to compile (in edited form) what we have written as a group in the past few days. We enter the discussion in media res (at this point someone expressed the opinion that National Geographic cover photos meant nothing in light of the firing of the Sun-Times staff):


Over some years, National Geographic got rid of its staff photographers — that is how I landed in academia — but it remained true, until perhaps the June 2013 cover, to its core mission. We still need media outlets and venues for the best in photojournalism and documentary photography. I am sorry for what happened to the staff at the Sun Times, but we move on. Winston Churchill once said, “success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.” Among other things, one of our focuses at IU is to teach students to be entrepreneurial. In the end, we are talking about two separate but equally important issues, in my view. Structural changes in the profession undermine the core mission of photojournalism, which is to accurately, truthfully, and professionally document history, make government accountable, and show us our common humanity.

I have few worries for the brightest kids in the new school of communication, media studies, and journalism at IU. They will innovate, improvise, and adapt, especially with our new wider course offerings. Who would have thought ten years ago that one of the most compelling persons to speak truth to power in the media would be a satirist named Jon Stewart? But he, too, reports the news in a fashion that is sometimes more meaningful to his audience than following the conventions we learned years ago. The problem is to help people already in the profession reinvent themselves as the print media continues a downward spiral. I have a former student who was a picture editor at SI and Gourmet magazines who is now a lawyer, another who is in med school. To be continued.


My best students will also do fine, in a variety of roles. I worry about everyone who is in the business now and how they will evolve, but I also have so much more concern about what will be lost to our culture and the world at large if what the Sun-Times has done becomes an industry trend. I don’t have to wax eloquent about how devastating that will be on so many levels. You guys already know, in your hearts and guts.

This is about survival; not only the survival of our peculiar “species”, but the continuation of the value of visual journalism and what that means to the health of a democracy and the free flow of information around the world.

As my good friend and colleague Bill Greene said after the Marathon bombings, there were thousands of people around with cell phone cameras. But where are those pictures? Did any of them resonate with anyone? Do they have lasting value? No. The photos that are seared in our memories were taken by John Tlumacki of the Boston Globe and Charlie Krupa of the AP, seasoned professionals who knew what to do. No matter what the training, there is no replacement for that kind of talent, skill, and (forgive me) courage. Corporate people who can eliminate an entire photography staff and absurdly claim they can be replaced by amateurs with cell phones are an existential danger to something far more important than just the people who hold those staff jobs. They are a danger to something vital, something that has brought the world closer to each of us for many, many decades. That can’t be laid off and replaced.


Well said, Peter, well said. Yes, the existential threats of corporate greed have diminished our profession as they have so many others. Look at medicine! And I think the judicious response from National Geographic about its June cover doesn’t make much sense either. But I remain an optimist, at age 67, though only a fool would try to predict the trajectory for visual journalism. In London two weeks ago today I went to Salgado’s latest exhibition on the last unspoiled places on the planet, “Genesis,” and now have his new book by the same title. ( Apart from our friendships of many years, Sebastiao has produced another work of grit and genius! My faith in the future of great visual story-telling is secure. At the risk of sounding like a heretic, professions and trades are always at a crossroads. In the 20th Century, society needed dramatically fewer blacksmiths by mid-century. In the 21st century, we made very well need far fewer daily newspaper photographers. But that doesn’t mean we will dispense with visual journalists and journalism, people with training, passion, and insight who can give meaning and context to the world. It’s just undoubtedly going to be different. Of course, this doesn’t answer questions for the Sun Times photo staff or the people of the Chicago metro area, who have been so well served by the Sun Times photographers. The dismantling of the Sun Times photo staff weakens the fabric of the community, certainly in the near term — I completely agree. We can only hope that some of those displaced photojournalists will find other venues for their work.


It never seems to fail that we start to get agitated over something and something else will crop up to make the first thing seem rather insignificant …

There is no doubt in my mind that the overall degradation of visual standards is an issue the NPPA ought to continue to address. Whether it be the “artifying” of photojournalism in the post-processing arena or an old standard bearer for the visual ideals copping to a cover illustration … all those feed in, eventually, to the mind set of executives who come to believe that an iPhone in the hands of a reporter is a more than adequate source of visual reporting for a news organization.

Now, does that mean I think there is a direct line of causation between Paul Hansen (et. al.) and the Geographic cover to the execs at the Sun-Times making the decision they did? Of course not. I seriously doubt that there are very many executives in the newspaper industry who look beyond the balance sheets anymore … I also think it’s possible that the line works both ways.

The more executives anywhere devalue the visuals the easier it gets for those with a track record of good work to be demoralized and cease to care.

I think our (the NPPA’s) role needs to be to continue to make a fuss, whether that is just to express an opinion or find ways to educate and inspire, about each and every incident that has a negative impact on the field we represent. We can write-off the NG cover because what happened in Chicago is so much “bigger”, but I think we should point out the negative effects of both situations. Going to work and fighting the good fight for quality documentary photojournalism is difficult both because the execs in Chicago have devalued the contributions of a vital group of photojournalists and because the NG has said that a glamorized portrait is more than adequate to illustrate a story in a publication with a long history of putting very difficult to acquire images on the cover.

Southwick summarizes the issue:

I don’t disagree, but I still think there is a clear division between these two. In the case of NG, they made a decision to put resources toward something they thought would be effective and worthwhile for their cover. They gave it considerable thought, and it took skill and talent to make it happen. It’s safe to say we disagree with their decision and their approach, and we should express that. But what the Sun-Times management said was the opposite: photos just don’t matter, and neither do the talent and skill of those who produce good photojournalism. It means literally nothing to them, and they’ve sent that message to their readers/viewers loud and clear. They have created a vacuum into which they will disappear. What Geographic did was a disappointment, to be sure, and should be commented upon. What the Sun-Times did was journalistic suicide, a crime against the city and region they claim to serve.

Am I pissed? I guess you could say that.

Postscript: Fred Ritchin has a brand new book, Bending the Frame, from Aperture, that outlines an explosion of possibilities for photographers as newspapers fade and it is very worth reading/discussing.

Digital Processing

February 25th, 2013 | Uncategorized | No comments

In the past several days, two contest-winning photographs have become fuel for a Blog world explosion of opinions on the ethics involved in digital post-processing and proper journalistic captioning.

This NPPA Ethics Blog is a compilation of a series of eMails as these two issues came to light over a number of days. The participants in this discussion were John Long, chair of the NPPA Ethics Committee; committee members Peter Southwick and Steve Raymer; and NPPA’s immediate past president Sean D. Elliot.

The first photograph in question is the World Press Photo of the Year 2012 by Paul Hansen which was thought by some critics to be over-processed. The second is a photograph from a story on Rochester, NY, by Paolo Pellegrin of Magnum, which came under fire after winning spots in both the World Press Photo contest and the POYi contest. Some of the people involved as subjects in the story and as Pellegrin’s assistants objected to the captioning and the conduct of the photographer when creating the image. Discussions on both these images are still developing.

Both photographs are included here:



John Long wrote: “Let me start with a short story – An old Vermonter tells a tale:

“Last night I was headed home on my sleigh. It was snowing a bit and it was cold. My horse was uncomfortable but I stopped for a few minutes checking out how the woods near my farm looked. But after a few idle thoughts, I went home because I had a bunch of things to do.”

“But Robert Frost tells it a little different:

“Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

“My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near.
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

“He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

“The woods are lovely, dark and deep
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

“The words of Robert Frost are so well structured, so full of meaning, so concise, so full of emotion. These are the words of a person who knows what he is doing with language and has total control of his craft.

“Here’s the point: all art is one. The principles that apply to one art form apply to all art forms. A good photographer has control of his craft, knows how to construct an image, process an image to tell the story he is telling. The truth is in the clarity of the emotion. The presence of the photographer is in every great photograph.

“All this is prologue to the question at hand – what are the limits to processing images?

“This has become a hot topic of late, especially in the wake of the discussions surrounding the WPP shot by Hansen that shows a procession through a narrow street in Gaza City. The image looks over-processed to some, overly digitally enhanced to the point of no longer looking real.

“When I started in the business in 1971 I learned how to print black-and-white in tones appropriate for reproduction on an old hot lead printing press. Quality prints on Agfa Portriga looked terrible in our newspaper (flat and dark) so we printed in high contrast and airbrushed like crazy. We burned the heck out of the corners and skies. It was how we practiced our craft in that age. When color came into general newspaper use, we had long discussions on whether Kodak or Fuji made the more accurate color negative film.

“Today the question is over-processing RAW and JPEG images. Ethically it comes down to making the images look as accurate as we can to the original scene, as we remember it.

“Of course, the mind is a terrible thing. How we remember color, light, how we frame and select details, how we feel about the subject, how we remember the temperature, the air quality, the smells and the sounds around us, is all part of how we print our photos. And all our images are liquid today because all images in a computer are liquid.

“There is a mythos around photography that a photograph IS reality. The older I get the more I see that photography is honest, yes – as honest as painting, as honest as poetry – which is a really good thing. But we have imbued our photographs with a sense we are looking at reality itself and not a human construct.

“Convention tells us that today honest photographs do not have burned in sky, for example. Convention tells us honesty today is non-glaring color, non-extreme contrast. To make rules regulating limits in processing is impossible. It evolves as the technology evolves. Photography is much more subjective than I used to believe.

“For many younger photojournalists the profession is moving beyond our old concepts of what constitutes honest photojournalism to a more subjective approach. It only maters that the photograph expresses my truth. Accuracy be damned. I will never be able to buy into that idea!!!

“We ask: What model are we holding our photographs to today? What is the ideal tonality, what are the limits of contrast and coloration? What is honesty in a photograph and when do we all agree a photographer has gone too far?

“Rather, the question should be: does this image convey a sense of the reality of the event? If the craftsmanship of the photographer helps us be present for the events he or she is observing, to see these events through his or her eyes, to feel as though we are present for history as it is being made, then the photograph is successful and honest. If we are distracted by elements in the picture that detract from our seeing through the photograph to the reality for which the photographer was present, then the picture is a lie.

“Conventions change, evolve, mutate. The English language Chaucer used is almost unintelligible today, yet it is still English. The meanings of words evolve, as does spelling and syntax. The same can be said of photography. No one prints like Stieglitz today; no one uses Autochrome to document news events. We laugh at our old prints from the 1970’s when we see how we used to use the Hand Of God printing on our best black-and-white images.

“Great craftsmen are masters of technique and tools of the trade. When I looked at Ansel Adams’ photographs of Yosemite I felt I really knew the place. I sensed the grandeur of the valley. I was surprised when I visited Yosemite that there was green in the trees and blue in the sky. Without thinking logically about it, I imagined Yosemite in black-and-white because of Ansel Adams. His art conveyed a sense of truth in a beautiful way where the technique did not call attention to itself or detract from the integrity of the image. All great art works this way, including photographic art.

“For me the bottom line is this: if the digital processing helps us read the image, if it helps us feel we are there with the photojournalist as history is happening around him or her, if we sense the photographer is showing us what was happening as accurately as possible, then the processing has done its job. The best processing is invisible; it fades into the background and lets the meaning come forward without calling attention to itself. If we find ourselves discussing how the photograph was printed rather than what it means, then the image is a failure.

“In the end we need to trust the photographer to bring us accurate, fair, and complete information and if he or she is a great craftsman, all the better. Today we are blessed with a number of phenomenal photographers who have mastered the new realities of digital photojournalism and, just as Robert Frost, e.e.cummings (sic) and Ezra Pound pushed the boundaries of language in their poetry, these photographers sometimes confuse us and challenge us to rethink ‘honesty.’: It is a wonderful sign of the vibrancy our profession.”

Steve Raymer wrote: “There is post-processing and there is post-processing. I feel strongly that in setting any standard in photojournalism, there needs to be room for the creative choices of a photographer. Just as we allow creative choices for print and broadcast journalists in HOW they would frame a story and/or tell that story – first person narrative, backing into a story with an anecdote, etc. – so, too, do photojournalists need freedom in how to present a job.

“Light, of course, is our single strongest storytelling element. And composition. And in today’s world, color. As I have said a million times, when I was a staff photographer at National Geographic, I would leave the office with four or five different Kodak and Fuji color transparency films. All would present the same subject in a different way in terms of contrast, saturation (intensity of a hue), color bias, etc. In today’s professional world, the overwhelming majority of magazine and documentary photographers shoot RAW files that need to be processed. In a RAW file there is nothing there but digital ones and zeroes (plus a crappy little JPEG preview). The photographer then needs to interpret their file, just as we had creative choice in the darkroom about what grade of paper on which to print a black-and-white image.

“I realize newspaper people shoot JPEG files in which the color processing is, by and large, done in the camera, not the computer. But please don’t negate or dismiss the prerogative of the photojournalist decide how to tell their story.”

Raymer also wrote: “I have seen a lot of chatter on social media about the winning image from Syria in the World Press Photo contest. My first reaction was the same as many, I suspect: Where is the strong side light coming from? The question remains, where do we draw the line? John Long once appeared in a video and talked about visual grammar, what was allowed in the darkroom in the days of film, etc and it all made sense. But we now have a generation and a half of photographers who never worked in the darkroom and, increasingly, their focus is not on the reader but on themselves and their creation. Would sure make a great round table discussion with representatives from industry, various news media, and a creative director thrown in for good measure.”

Peter Southwick wrote: “I have to admit I’m not that wound up about this one [Hansen’s World Press image]. I don’t see the processed version as being radically different from the other, and I don’t think it deceives or misinforms the viewer. If anything it makes it possible to see more clearly what’s in the photograph, and certainly it still qualifies as a moment.

“I’m not for a minute denying that there are issues to discuss when it comes to processing, whether this photograph or countless others. But once again I do a little thinking back to an earlier era that some people hold up as the high point of photojournalistic integrity. Those black-and-white, really grainy, high contrast, heavily dodged, hand-of-God burned images that were the standard then were no more ‘real’ than some processed images from this day and age. I recently looked back at a few contest books from the 1970’s and early 1980’s, and it’s pretty appalling what won prizes then. Suffice it to say it was no golden age.

“Absolutely, we should continue to talk about and debate the appropriateness of using the tools we have in our hands now, but for me the bottom line is always going to be: did we inform the viewer/reader without confusion or deception?

“This photo, a clearly outstanding image, works for me in either version.”

Southwick also wrote: “One aspect I would like to see added to our debate on all of this is the expectations and level of knowledge of the viewing/reading audience. They haven’t stood still all these years, and they are much more up to speed on what can be done to photographs than we might suspect. Based on my unscientific research (asking people!), they know a great deal about Photoshop etc., and they expect that whatever they are looking at has been “processed” to some degree. However, this doesn’t mean they don’t necessarily trust what they see. They just assume that’s part of the photographic process, and they are more sophisticated than we think when it comes to seeing the reality of the image past the special effects.

“I think that younger people (I’m talking general population, not professional photographers) not only don’t pay much attention to this issue, they really don’t think it matters. It’s just part of their world, and there is no way time is going to run backwards to an era when this didn’t exist.

“The bottom line is that photojournalism is produced for a mass market (we hope) and the thoughts of those on the receiving end matter. Once again, I’m not for a minute saying this isn’t important. The fundamentals of photojournalism will always matter, and images that deliver information without deception or misinformation are always the goal. We need to keep talking about where those lines are drawn, even if they are constantly in motion. But we also have to make sure we don’t marginalize these conversations to the point that they will only resonate with a small number of veteran photojournalists.”

Sean D. Elliot wrote: “This is my latest missive on the discussion raging on the Photojournalists Cooperative Facebook group: All I can say is that if I turned in a caption that was that lacking in detail my boss would rip me a new one … and then if the subject of the photograph called when it was published to say I’d got such basic facts wrong … I might not sit for a week … figuratively. Even if this were only a case of sloppy journalism (and I’m sorry, it sure looks like a little more than that to me) it still is an example of why standards are so important. It’s why I’ve spent the last decade-plus of my life pushing the NPPA and its Code Of Ethics and the role of a cohesive professional community in creating and upholding standards.

“The photojournalism world has become so fractured, so scattered. We all work via remote … we don’t work in an office, our photo editors have been laid-off (or if not downsized then carrying such a workload as to be ineffective at editing) … our staffs, if they exist, are smaller and busier.

“I’m blown-away by the length and passion of this thread … it’s more of what we need. This discussion needs to have legs. Photojournalists all over the world need to be thinking about these things. Students need to be taught these issues, professionals need to think about them every day.

“Journalism is being diluted by increased workloads, reliance on handouts and citizen submissions … whether we are talking about established western democracies or emerging ones, the vitality of a free press is so important. Visual reporting is part of that mix and it must be seen as fair, accurate, ethical and thoughtful. We can’t parachute into places just because we think it might be interesting. We need journalists in our communities who can tell the stories and spread them to a wider audience. The journalists in Rochester are the ones who ought to be telling that story. Maybe they’re not because they’ve been downsized into submission … but the solution is not to bring-in outsiders, the solution is to find the model that allows for serious, ethical, professional journalist to do their work in their communities.

“This incident is a symptom … the disease is far bigger than Paolo Pellegrin and his Rochester jaunt.”


Subway photo

December 5th, 2012 | Uncategorized | No comments

On Tuesday, the New York Post ran a front page photo of a man about to die as a subway train approached a station where the man had been pushed into the path of the train. The ethical questions that have arisen over the conduct of the photographer, R. Umar Abbasi, (and the conduct of the New York Post in printing the photo) have caused a storm within and without the journalism world. The NPPA Ethics Committee has attempted to bring some perspective to the discussion. The discussion collected here is from emails by John Long, Ethics Chair NPPA, Steve Raymer, Peter Southwick, Committee members, and NPPA President Sean Elliot.

New York Subway Photo
By John Long

First, I cannot look into the heart of another man and judge him. If the photographer thought in the panic of the moment that flashing his strobe would alert the train driver, so be it. I do not know how far he was from the victim or how fast the train was going or if he could have pulled the man up or any details about the event. I cannot and will not pass judgment on another man’s motives.

That being said, was anyone there who could have pulled the victim up? The photographer is getting all the attention because he put himself into the story by making photographs and thereby calling attention to his presence at the scene.

I have very strong opinions on putting the camera down and helping but there are many well-meaning photojournalists who totally disagree with me. Some say the photographer has no right to participate in the story he or she is covering, that the photographer must remain objective, merely observe and not become a participant.

I do not believe it is possible to be totally objective. Your very presence at the scene changes the event you are covering to some degree.

For 25 years I have said the same thing: It is a matter of values.

Principles emanate from your values and this is the principle that works for me: “If you have placed yourself in a position where you can help, I feel you are morally obligated to help.” I am a human being first and a photojournalist second. In my world-view, my family comes first, my church second and my photojournalism third. I have to sleep at night.

I look back at the photographs that have had some repercussions over the years. Nick Ut’s photo of the Vietnam girl running naked after being napalmed and the photo by Kevin Carter of the child in Somalia being stalked by a vulture. In the first case, Nick made the photo and then took the child to the hospital. In the second, Kevin walked away and shortly after receiving his Pulitzer Prize, committed suicide.

The question for all photographers is this: what is the value of human life? What is my role, here and now, in this time and in this place? What are my priorities? Is the greatest good served by making the photo or by helping the victim? I know what I believe, but every photojournalist must look into his or her own soul and decide.

Secondly, should the newspaper have run the photo? Another principle I espouse is this: if the public needs this information in order to make informed choices for society, then we must run the photo. This is why we ran the Black Hawk Down photo. This is why we ran the photos of bodies floating in the streets after Katrina; this is why we ran the photo of Ambassador Stevens a few weeks ago from the attack in Libya. Does this subway photo serve anything more than prurient interests? Personally I do not see any social value but every newspaper has to find its proper voice with its readers and the Post has traditionally had a higher tolerance on taste issues than most papers. It is not my choice for a front page but The Post does sell a very large number of copies every day.

Bottom line: I hope I am never faced with this kind of choice but I also hope if I am, I put the camera down and try to do something for the person involved. It is the human thing to do and in the end, your human values in turn give value to your photojournalism.

By Steve Raymer:

Our professional and personal values are often in conflict, which is why training in ethical decision-making and a commitment in news rooms to ethical decision-making, including discussions, is critical.

Please take a look at the new gallup poll of December 2012 that asked our fellow Americans about the honesty, ethical behavior, and integrity of various professions and see where journalists stand:

Only 24 percent of the public sees us as ethical, sandwiching journalists between bankers and business people. Not exactly the company we want to keep, I should think.

Hence the additional evidence, if we needed more, that the reading and viewing public views what we do with great suspicion. And when you see the front page of today’s New York Post the public has every right to hold this view.

The research from the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma, housed at The Columbia University School of Journalism, suggests that while “there isn’t a large amount of research on how traumatic images affect news consumers in particular…mental health experts who specialize in trauma know that news reports about a traumatic event can have an impact on the psychological life of an individual not only immediately after the event but for years down the road.”

Publishing that tasteless and inflammatory image on the front page of The New York Post carries the power to caused additional pain and trauma, including aggravating symptoms of post traumatic stress syndrome in individuals who have experienced trauma in the past. Moreover, research shows that the more we show cities as crime prone — 11 p.m. TV newscasts have been especially well studied — the more audiences see the community as prone to criminality and the more fearful TV viewers can become. I see this image as one of those cases. Imagine tens of thousands of New Yorkers going to work tomorrow and the tension on the subway platform.

My bottom-line : Put down the damned camera and do what we would elect of another human being, that is to render aid, however feeble and imperfect! As I tell students, inn the end, doing ethics is about being able to look at yourself in the morning when you are shaving or putting on your makeup. Something tells me this photographer will have a very hard time passing that test tomorrow, next week, next year, and maybe forever.

By Sean Elliot:

I could see condemning the publication, except what is the standard? Is this once again dead in the U.S. are too sensitive a topic while dead in Syria or wherever overseas are not?

papers run photos of people about to die in car wrecks, and fires … as John said, this is the NY Post, this is what they do … whether it’s titillating or horrifying … it’s what their readers expect. As long as those 500,000+ continue to buy the paper they’ll continue to publish along those lines.

I think the Post editors took their traditions too far, for sure. They jumped on a chance to run a sensational image because it was … sensational. And it has been. The Post could not buy the kind of PR they’re getting. And no matter how much we elitist snobs in the media elite complain, they’re not going to change. It’s a black-eye to all of use who work places and have standards that would never use that image. It’s not a public service, it’s not raising a greater awareness, it’s not elevating the discussion … it’s horrifying the audience that wants, because they are so over-stimulated by the entire media culture, to be horrified so as to feel something.

My gut reaction was to say why does this deserve to be published … but it calls to question practically every image that wins in the spot news category of any contest … look at the spot news winners in BOP, POY, World Press, the monthly clips especially …

if it bleeds it leads? Maybe it’s time for wider soul-searching well beyond the New York Post?

By Peter Southwick:

Here’s my own take.

I would also be hesitant to pass judgment on the photographer’s actions, having not been there myself. If his story is to be believed, then in my opinion he acted appropriately in attempting to alert the train’s driver. It’s quite likely it was already too late given the proximity of the train, but that’s not something that can be judged in a split second. The photographer’s actions following the incident could cause some skepticism: selling the photo to the Post, and refusing to talk to anyone in the media without being paid. But again, his motives after the incident are not what has been called into question.

I always go back to my three levels of decision-making when considering an incident like this one. First, the legal. Did the photographer break any laws? Clearly not. Second, ethical. Did he violate the standards of the profession? If we take his story at face value, the answer again is no. And third, what I call the moral. This is the “can he look at himself in the mirror” question. Only he can answer that one, and he is not talking about it. I have always agreed with John Long’s statement that if we have put ourselves in a position to help, we are obligated to help.

To comment on the actions of the New York Post seems like a fool’s errand. Never known for their high standards of journalistic integrity, perhaps this represents another low. Steve is right that publishing this kind of photo in a such a sensational way continues to undercut our standing in the eyes of the public, but this has never been the concern of publications like the Post. Page One of their paper was on the front of every web site in the country today, with commentary flooding in from all over. An unqualified success, I am sure, in the eyes of the Post. As John Long always says, we have to consider the context.
So this was a tragic incident to be sure, and it is important for us to discuss these kinds of events to see if there are broader lessons to be learned. In my opinion, it’s up to each of us to ask what we would have done in similar circumstances and to make sure we can live with our answer.


October 17th, 2012 | Uncategorized | No comments

It started as a simple request to the members of the Ethics Committee (Peter Southwick and Steve Raymer) and Sean Elliot, President of NPPA.
“Guys: is it OK with you if I post this as a blog?” In my simple newspaper background, it seemed to be an open and shut case of extreme digital manipulation. What this became was a complex and exceptional examination of magazine cover ethics, proving that ethics is an evolving process and not just a hard and fast set of dogmas. jl

John Long, Ethics Chair, wrote:

It might be time to bring back the “Jackelope Award.” Twenty years ago at an early Electronic Photojournalism Workshop, we created the Jackelope Award for the most ridiculous digitally manipulated photo of the year. Texas Monthly won the first for its cover photo of Governor Ann Richards on a motorcycle wherein the only thing in the photo that was Ann Richards’ was her head.

(The Jackelope, by the way, is the mythical creature that has the body of a jackrabbit but also has antlers. It has been an ongoing joke in the American Southwest for years and you can actually buy stuffed Jackelopes at roadside junk shops. It was created for gullible tourists. I have one in my photo memorabilia collection.)

National Review cover with altered photo

Actual photo from convention

National Review, a conservative news magazine, used a Reuters’ photo showing President Obama addressing the crowd at the Democratic Convention as their October First cover, but they changed all the FORWARD signs the people were holding into signs that said ABORTION. They credited the photographer and Reuters but failed at first to indicate that the photo was changed. Later on the web they said:

The image used on the cover and the contents page of the October 1, 2012, issue of National Review, in both the print and various digital editions, was altered by National Review. It is not the original photograph as provided by Reuters/Newscom, and therefore should not have been attributed to this organization, nor attributed to the photographer.

This photo is a blatant lie. It is not accurate. It is an insult to photojournalism and shows a total lack of understanding of or appreciation for the documentary photograph. I had hoped we were past this kind of stupidity years ago but it seems this battle will go on forever.

This is probably the most egregious cover I have seen in a long, long time and is the best example of a photo worthy of the Jackelope in many years.

Steve Raymer wrote:

Hold on, please, John, before you post this. You are ranting about a magazine cover — an area where traditionally the profession and the public have afforded us a lot wiggle room to alter photos. Covers serve both an advertising and an editorial function and always have. I think you are over reacting just a bit, John.

John Long wrote:

Steve, in case you did not see it, I have attached it, and a real photo of the event. This is beyond a tear added to Reagan’s cheek.

Steve Raymer wrote: Brother John,

This doesn’t pass the smell test. Who is deceived? Is there really a reader of The Nation who would look at this cover and say, wow, I didn’t know this happened? I think most readers are in on the side joke here, don’t you. Far more serious, I think, was The Economist cover last year that altered a photo of President Obama inspecting the Gulf of Mexico shoreline for oil residue that made it appear that the president was alone and had the weight of the world and the global environment on his shoulders. That was a lie; this is a modest joke, don’t you think?

Peter Southwick wrote:

I’m with John on this one. Steve, with all due respect, I have never accepted the whole thing about the cover being “different.” Just my background and my opinion. As abortion is one of the biggest hot button issues of our time, I think this goes over the line. I don’t see it as a joke. I see it as propaganda, and if they want to do stuff like that they should shoot their own photos and mess with them.
Steve Rayer wrote:

Well, Peter, perhaps in the context of THIS particular magazine and its conservative agenda, I agree that the intent is propaganda. But given my background as a “magazine guy” and a “book guy,” we think differently that covers must serve an advertising role as well as an editorial function.

President Sean Elliot wrote:

I understand your concern Steve, but there is a point at which a
manipulation goes beyond the pale …

Newsweek’s princess Di cover … so clearly an illustration … there are
even questions of those “advertising” aspects where it’s a question of
making a cover “work” graphically … the National Review cover really is
a pretty radical editorial commentary …

We do need to stand against photos being converted into editorial graphics

I think the blog could simply cite that cover as one example of the many
of late that make the old Jackalope Award relevant … rather than suggest
that National Review should be the sole recipient?

Steve Raymer wrote:

Dear Sean,

I do appreciate the position you, John, and Peter take on this. I just do not think you can lump magazines and websites of opinion, be it on the Right or the Left, into the same genre as newspapers, which appeal to much wider audiences with the values of impartiality, accuracy, fairness, etc. Magazines, and especially journals of opinion, operate under a somewhat differ set of values and loyalties. I am not apologizing for The Nation or the National Review or The New Republic or any of the rest of them. I just think you are comparing apples and oranges and look a bit silly doing it. If this were Time, The Economist, Newsweek, or the Geographic, I would be onboard. But I doubt a survey of The National Review’s readers would find the same outrage that I sense from you guys. It’s fair to go after magazines that say they reflect the world accurately. But this isn’t one of those times. And it’s great that we can disagree, huh?

Faithfully, Steve

Sean Elliot wrote:

I hear exactly what you’re saying Steve. I just think we need to decry the
manipulation regardless of the orientation of the publication. We may be
less surprised but it does not excuse the lie. If National Review wants to
illustrate … their belief that all the Democratic party cares about is
abortion … then commission a watercolor instead of making a fake photo

we may not be able to expect National Review, or Mother Jones, to
demonstrate any semblance of neutrality, but the documentary images they
use ought to be un-manipulated or not used at all.

John Long writes:

Thank you Steve, Peter and Sean. This is what an ethics debate should be – a difference of opinion debated with respect and friendship.

Ambassador Stevens photo

September 14th, 2012 | Uncategorized | 6 comments

Ethics blog 8/13/12

Thursday September 13, many news organizations published a photo of U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens either dead or dying after a terrorist attack on the American consulate in Benghazi. The ethics Committee would like to add some thoughts to the discussion on the use of this image. John Long, Steve Raymer, Peter Southwick and Donald Winslow (News Photographer Magazine editor) each contributed to this blog. An in-depth examination of these issues by Steve Raymer will appear in News Photographer Magazine but for today, this is a quick response to some of the questions being asked:

[LA Times home page showing picture of Ambassador Stevens' dead body]
By John Long, Ethics Committee Chair:

Photo editing is an art form. There are no absolutes. One person’s historical document is another’s inflammatory propaganda. Today we were presented with a case in point: a photo of Ambassador Chris Stevens being dragged through the streets of Benghazi, either dead or dying. I use the term “dragged through the streets” on purpose. These are also the words we used when the photo of an American soldier being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu during the1993 firefight in the Somali capital that became known as the infamous Black Hawk Down affair. In that old case, almost every newspaper in the United States, Europe, and Asia ran the photo. Were the same conditions in play today even though in Somalia it was a mob defiling an American and today it was a group trying to help the ambassador? Should the L. A. Times and many other newspapers and web sites have run the photo of Ambassador Stevens?

To begin, this is not an ethics issue for many of us. This is a taste issue with implications for families, our fellow citizens and their understanding of the Middle East and perhaps the upcoming presidential election.

We say taste because there is no lying, no deceit in this photo; it is an accurate depiction of what was happening in front of the camera at that time. If it is a matter of taste, you should ask the question, “does the public need this information in order to make informed decisions for society?” Does the public need to see this dying man, or the Falling Man, or the Black Hawk Down soldier, in order to fully understand what is happening? This is the art of photo editing.

Personally, as I get older the more I am inclined to use these photos. War is Hell and we should not be sugar coating reality. However, should we be inflaming the situation with photos that reflect a political agenda? We enjoy free speech but that does not allow us to yell “FIRE !!” in a crowded theater, unless there is a fire.

Does the photo today inform the discussion or inflame it? Does the public learn anything from this photo that they need to see in order to make informed decisions for our country?

Each newspaper, web site and television network must answer the question for themselves because each newspaper, web site and television network has a compact with its specific readers or viewers on what the limits of taste are for that publication. If I were still part of the editing staff at The Hartford Courant I would argue to use the photo inside. If I were working for the Daily News in NYC I would argue to run it on the front, in color. We all serve different expectations.

This is an ongoing discussion. Our hope is to bring some structure to the discussion. Below is a string of emails between the members of the committee and Don Winslow:

On Sep 13, 2012, at 13:54, Peter Southwick wrote:My initial reaction (after I gagged) was that this comes down to John’s tried and true distinction between ethics and taste. For me, it’s not an “ethics” question per se. There is nothing dishonest or incorrect in this photo. However, in my opinion it goes way over the line of taste judgment and has no place in any publication. It doesn’t lie to the public (an ethics violation), but it has no reason for being and serves no journalistic purpose other than shock value (a taste violation, to be sure).

On Sep 13, 2012, at 12:57 PM, Steve Raymer wrote:
I have tried this one on several colleagues and they agree that it is more taste issue than an ethical issue. Which, of course, still doesn’t let the profession or these newspapers off the hook in my view. There are still plenty of implication when you run this picture, from hurt to the parents, who live in Southern California, to inflaming anti-Muslim hatred.

On Sep 13, 2012, at 14:03, Donald Winslow wrote:
I agree that it is a matter of taste and local sensibilities but it also carries an ethical responsibility, I think. In that it can potentially be viewed as inflammatory language. My example of Somalia and Blackhawk Down, Kevin Carter’s vulture, Nick Ut’s Napalm Girl, Eddie Adams’ Saigon Execution were all, in their own way, inflammatory. So was Joe’s flag raising over Iwo Jima, in a different way. George Stock’s Buna Beach in Life was inflammatory in that Henry Luce and Roosevelt wanted to re-invigorate a weary and growing apathetic American populous to start buying War Bonds again because USA was going broke in the two wars. So yes, it’s taste, but it also carries with it the ethical yardstick of being potentially inflammatory, and if it were hate speech, racial slurs, or incited violence, it would be run through an ethical barometer.

On Sep 13, 2012, at 1:09 PM, Steve Raymer wrote:
That’s exactly my point, Donald, that it may be taste, but it’s inflammatory. There was an image going around yesterday of Libyans standing in front of the US Embassy in Tripoli with hand-made signs says they were sorry and were apologizing for all of their countrymen and women. How many papers used that on their front pages? From a foreign policy perspective, this image is trouble. For President Obama the image spells trouble.

On Sep 13, 2012, at 13:54, Peter Southwick wrote:I think the examples that Donald cites are all good ones, but I’m also wary (as someone who sat at the Page One desk of a major metro daily while these decisions were being made) of editing or pulling back images because they might inflame people, or for political reasons. That can be said of so many photos, and it’s a tough line to draw. I’m not saying it shouldn’t ever be done, but it’s a tough call every time.

By the way, my old paper (The Boston Globe) was likely the only major paper in the US that didn’t use the pilot being dragged through the street in Somalia. I argued for using it. 

Blog 6, computer “fill Flash”

June 5th, 2012 | Uncategorized | 6 comments

There was some confusion caused by the three separate posts on the idea of “fill flash” in Photoshop that were posted June 3. This is a combination of these three posts. I hope this makes the debate easier to follow. JL

Blog One of Three

By John Long, Chairman, NPPA Ethics Committee

Recently I had a question from an NPPA member asking for an opinion on Photoshop’s “Fill flash” function. I sent a message back with a simple answer but I am having a harder and harder time with these issues. It used to be simple – new Photoshop functions had to be given time to become part of the normal processing tool chest. It seems time is up. Computational photography is replacing the Decisive Moment.

I wanted to open a discussion on this issue so I asked the other two members of the Ethics Committee, Steve Raymer and Peter Southwick, to write up their thoughts.

Our thoughts are presented three in three consecutive blog entries: the first by myself, the second by Peter Southwick and the third by Steve Raymer. We hope you find these thoughts helpful.

Response to a member’s question on Photoshop’s “Fill-Flash”:

You asked, “what are prevailing ethics standards at U.S. daily newspapers on use of Photoshop’s “fill flash” function?” My initial reaction is this: the Photoshop fill flash produces a photo that is not what the photographer saw and the technique used is not one we have become used to in traditional darkroom or camera functionality. In other words, it is not yet a part of the normal grammar of photography. I am afraid the wire services and major newspapers would steer clear of Photoshop fill flash because it changes the photo after the fact in the computer and the public would consider that to be a deceptive practice.

That being said, there is a revolution going on all around us and the very nature of photography is changing. “Computation photography” (the use of the computer to process photos, using all the bells and whistles the computer offers) is replacing the “Decisive Moment” as the central imperative of our profession. We have always had a battle between those who thought a documentary photo is supposed to be exactly what the camera recorded and those who thought the “Truth” of the photo was more important than a strict adherence to what the camera captured. HDR, computer stitching, Instagram photos and a vast multitude of new apps are flooding the tool chest. It feels overwhelming and that the forces of modern image making are leaving the old fashioned followers of Capa and Duncan and Smith in the dust. There is something inevitable about those who propose using Photoshop fill flash. But I feel as though I am working as a stagecoach driver being passed on the highway by a Porsche, or as though I am working for a newspaper in a digital age (wait a minute, I was working for a newspaper watching it die from within in the digital age).

I have such mixed feelings. I love the computer and the speed it provides but my hero has always been David Douglas Duncan.

Ethics. Photojournalism ethics. What are we trying to protect? What do we base our ethics on? Are we trying to protect “truthful” photography or Accurate photography? What is our ultimate good? What do we value the most? How long is a Moment? Can a Moment have multiple parts? These questions run through this debate.

I have used fill flash on my camera for years but I am uncomfortable using a computer to accomplish the same effect, mainly because it is not exactly the same effect. On camera fill flash is part of the normal “grammar” of photography in that a reasonably savvy reader understands what technique is being used to create a readable photograph and it happens as the photo is being made. I feel the same savvy reader would be uncomfortable knowing an effect was applied after the fact in a computer. It feels like deception, like an alteration of the Moment as captured in the split second the shutter was tripped.

I know this view is old fashioned and probably coming to an end soon but I am just not ready yet.

Thanks for listening, John

This is the second in the series of three blogs on “fill-Flash”.

Peter Southwick wrote:

My thoughts on Photoshop Fill Flash are much the same as I expressed on HDR. It is a tool, and the key consideration is not the tool itself, but how it is used. If it is employed to allow the viewer/reader to access the information in the photo more clearly and accurately, then I am all in favor. If, however, it is used to create something that is more a work of personal or artistic expression, I think that is inappropriate in journalism. After all, what was the purpose of in camera fill flash in the first place? We in the AP were forced to learn to use it when we went to all color shooting (on negative film) in the mid-1980’s, and those color images just didn’t hold up well when converted to black and white. It was a necessity to use fill flash in order to get acceptable results on the wire, and the idea that it might be an ethical issue never crossed our minds. The goal was then, as it should be now, to provide the best and most accessible image to readers/viewers.
When we get into the discussion of “what the photographer saw”, once again I’m afraid we are on shaky ground. Let’s go back to the not-so-good old days for an example. I started shooting professionally in the mid-1970’s. I often had to shoot in lousy light, which gave me two options. One: shoot with direct on camera flash, totally changing the look of whatever I was shooting, but producing a usable result. Or two: jack up the film speed to 1600 and shoot with available light, pushing the film in processing, yielding negatives with lots of grain, no shadow detail, blown out highlights, and quite often motion blur from slow shutter speeds. Which of these was “what I saw?” Neither, in my opinion. I used whatever technology I had available at the time and did the best I could. And this was a black and white world, removed from reality in its own unique way. Next example: my first big out of town assignment for the AP was to shoot the national championship college football game in the Superdome in New Orleans, with a game time of 8pm Saturday night, a total nightmare in terms of Sunday newspaper deadlines. We knew every paper in the country would hold press runs for the first picture from the game, and that was it. So all that mattered was speed. We shot three plays, shipped our film to the darkroom where it was souped in HC-110 for one minute at 100 degrees. You can imagine the results. Was the photo that ran in almost every paper in the country the next morning what I saw when I shot it? I don’t think so. And if someone had given us a magic tool (Photoshop, anyone?) that would have allowed us to see the running back’s face rather than the black hole we saw in that photo, would we have used that magic tool? Absolutely, and never looked back. Not because we were unethical, but because our job was to produce images that would communicate with readers, and it would have helped us do that.
And while we are at it, who in the news photo business never screwed up exposures on a critical picture? And remember all the tricks we would use to try to save a thin or thick negative when we had to? Ask Stan Forman about the negative of the City Hall Plaza attack photo. It was our job to make the most of the technology we had, as long as the goal was to give information to readers in the most faithful way we could. As Steve pointed out in the last debate, what about the differences between Kodachrome, Ektachrome, Velvia, etc.? Were those ethical issues? I don’t think so.
Remembering full well the cliché that to a kid with a hammer the whole world looks like a nail, that doesn’t negate the inherent worth of the hammer as an effective tool. There is no way we can keep trying to put some pieces of the digital genie back into the bottle. We need to embrace the technology and use it well and effectively, keeping a sharp eye out for those who use it for the wrong purposes, and as long as we remember the goal of every picture we can maintain our credibility with the public.
As always, just my two cents, worth no more than anyone else’s.
All the best, Peter

This is the third in the series of three blogs on “fill-Flash”.

Steve Raymer wrote:

Wish that I could add something thoughtful to Peter’s compelling email, but I can’t. Peter has said it all. Tools do not make a picture more or less ethical and, moreover, I am coming around to Peter’s position on “what the photographer saw,” which is always different that what the photographer recorded or was capable of recording. My standard remains one of intent: did the photographer intend to deceive by changing the content of a picture – or manipulate the elements of lighting, contrast, color balance, etc. beyond any reasonable or faithful representation of the original situation. As lawyers love to say, proving intent is a slippery slope.

But we have sadly seen numerous examples in recent years of news photographers adding or subtracting content. Finally, and this is way off the point of Photoshop CS6 and fill flash, reader/viewer expectations have to be taken into account. Magazine covers, aside from a few stalwart, are notorious for content that has been manipulated. And studies show that “it depends” whether this troubles readers.

They don’t want National Geographic to change content but could care less about lifestyle magazines. And editors and publishers say covers are advertising vehicles. So, again, all we can do is to try to reinforce the message that in doing journalism, we don’t lie and deceive while doing our best with the technology at hand to come up with engaging, intimate, memorable images that take readers and viewers to places they could never go. I am in London and it seems that in the city center on this beautiful weekend, every second person has a camera. And a good one! Same in Berlin a few weeks ago. You cannot, as Peter says, put the technology genie back in the bottle. But I would like to think that the images I am trying to make are done with respect, sensitivity, etc. for the integrity of the subject and moment. Perhaps the issue we need to talk about is what separates “us from them.” Certainly there are more of them than us. But, again, Peter’s analysis is brilliant and cogent.

All best,


HDR debate

March 26th, 2012 | Uncategorized | 7 comments

Blog Two


The Ethics Committee held an open discussion on the subject of High Dynamic Range photography at the recent Northern Short Course. We found that each of the three members of the committee had different levels of acceptance of HDR but that we all agreed on the basics. The discussion was precipitated by the use of an HDR image on the front page of the Washington Post several weeks before the NSC. It was a photograph of a plane flying over the 14th Street Bridge in Washington for a story on the anniversary of the horrific crash there. Six frames were used to create the photo and the colors were more saturated than could be obtained by normal
photographic techniques. The Poynter Institute raised questions concerning the appropriateness of using the image in a news context and NPPA’s president Sean Elliot commented that he thought it might be inappropriate to use an HDR image due to the fact that the public might think there was some photographic deception in the use of HDR on the front page in a news story. Elliot wrote before the NSC, “My argument with the HDR is less than it being an intentional deception but that it is too easily lumped into the category of manipulated images. This may be less true of single-frame HDR processes but it still begs the question in the viewers’ minds of how much manipulation is going on and whether or not that effects a wider sense of trust.”

All agreed that was no attempt to deceive the public in the use of the photo. The Post was trying to use new technology to make an interesting photo from a potentially dull situation (anniversary photos can be very dull). This point is what makes the HDR situation different from the L. A. Times incident several years ago where two photos were combined to create a third, more interesting photo. That deception cost the photographer his job.

Steve Raymer was the most accepting. He wrote, “If I had to summarize, I’d say that Peter and I argued that so-called high dynamic resolution photographs were part of a long evolution of photographers finding innovative ways of seeing the world — one that is being accelerated by rapidly changing technology. So long as HDR photographs are published in ways that do not deceive readers, they do not breach ethical norms.”

Peter said, “I came away with the feeling that we agree far more than we disagree, and that we are all committed to defending the same turf: the fundamental integrity and purpose of photojournalism.”

There was no sense that deception was intended but some, especially John Long, felt that even though it might not be intentional, the question remains, “is the public well enough aware of the technique to understand it or does the newness of the process cause red flags for the reading public?”

Long also had reservations due to the fact that it usually takes multiple exposures to make one HDR image, thereby challenging the idea of “Moment.” Using Henri Cartier-Bresson’s definition of a Decisive Moment being that instant when form and content come together to create the perfect photograph, does the HDR process negate this concept and if so, it is time we redefine “Moment?” This is a great concern for Long and one that he will discuss in a future column.

After many questions from the audience, the consensus seemed to be that HDR is a technique worth exploring as part of the inevitable evolution of photography but that it is important that it not be used to create inaccurate photos. Honest reporting is always the goal and if HDR images help in this pursuit, there is no ethical problem.

blog one

March 23rd, 2012 | Uncategorized | No comments


Welcome to the new NPPA blog for ethics, “Ethics Matters.” The name was chosen for its dual meanings – we will discuss ethical issues in visual journalism which are essential to the credibility and continued viability of our profession. We will not be posting every day, but as issues arise that are of interest to the visual journalism community, we will have discussions among the three members of the NPPA Ethics Committee and guest commentators when appropriate. If you have comments or suggestions, you can email any or all of the three of us. We have found that there are enough differences among the committee members to make discussion quite lively.

The members of the committee are John Long, Steve Raymer and Peter Southwick.

John Long was a staff photographer and photo editor at The Hartford Courant for 35 years before retiring in2006. He went on to teach as an adjunct at the Newhouse School, Syracuse University for two semesters and had previously taught at Manchester Community College for many years. John was the President of NPPA in 1989-90 and has served as Ethics Chairman of NPPA for over ten years. He has written extensively on the ethics of photojournalism, produced a video that has been widely used in colleges and guest lectured all over the U.S. and in many foreign countries.

Steve Raymer was a National Geographic Magazine staff photographer for many years, he is the author of five books of photography, and he is a tenured full professor of journalism at Indiana University in Bloomington.

Peter Southwick is an Associate Professor of Journalism and director of the photojournalism program at Boston University. He was a staff photographer for the Associated Press for ten years, and photo editor and director of photography at The Boston Globe for ten years.

Our goal is to keep you informed in a timely and engaging manner. The study of ethics is not static; it is full of debate, nuance and widely divergent points of view. We hope to bring some structure and insight to the conversation.

Ethics matters!

March 8th, 2012 | Uncategorized | No comments

The NPPA Ethics Committee has compiled a collection of “Ethics Matters” columns that originally appeared in News Photographer Magazine. It is hoped that this compilation will be a resource for students and professionals alike.