As journalists we believe the guiding principle of our profession is accuracy; therefore, we believe it is wrong to alter the content of a photograph in any way that deceives the public.

As photojournalists, we have the responsibility to document society and to preserve its images as a matter of historical record. It is clear that the emerging electronic technologies provide new challenges to the integrity of photographic images … in light of this, we the National Press Photographers Association, reaffirm the basis of our ethics: Accurate representation is the benchmark of our profession. We believe photojournalistic guidelines for fair and accurate reporting should be the criteria for judging what may be done electronically to a photograph. Altering the editorial content … is a breach of the ethical standards recognized by the NPPA.

This is the center of the debate. I agree, designers, photographers and journalists shouldn’t add or take things away from a photo that will change the “integrity” of the photo. If you take out a person or a building or even add a person or building, that shouldn’t be done if the photo is being published in a newspaper or magazine. But what if you have a photo of a person with the background cutout and the photographer decided to take a photo with the half of one of the shoes cropped off. Does the designer whip out the graphics tablet and open up Illustrator and paint in the tip of the shoe, to complete the photo? I would say, yes, you should, especially if you are cutting out the background and there would be an awkward cropped foot floating in the middle of the page.

This exact thing happened this week in the Index (see this pdf). They published a photo that had the background cutout of a person’s foot but it was cropped off. It looked horrible and very incomplete. As a designer I saw laziness on behalf of the photographer and designer. But it wasn’t laziness, it simply was due to their ‘ethical’ restrictions. So, after looking at the PDF I realize they DID manipulate the photo, they placed a cutout photo on top of the rectangular photo with big fatty white drop shadow. Don’t believe me, check out this photo. They cutout this photo and placed it on another photo, to look like the person was in a different photo. Now if this isn’t changing the integrity of a photo, I don’t know what is. Maybe it’s unethical to also to publish recipes that are correct (see the Instructions section of the currey rice recipe where they call for chocolate chips and walnuts).

If it’s unethical to enhance photos without changing the meaning or integrity of the photo, then I’ll never work for a newspaper. I agree that we shouldn’t add or delete major aspects of a photo, but simply finishing the job of the lazy photographer I think is justified.

The other thing is that the photos a designer chooses should be ones he can successfully implement into his design. If we, as designers aren’t allowed to make photos look great through color correcting, levels, cropping and slight enhancements, then we shouldn’t use a photo. Maybe we’ll make the writer mad by using only typography or simply find another job, one that allows for creativity.

I heard someone in our discussion say that newspapers shouldn’t look pretty, they should just convey information.

Yeah. Right.

If the paper didn’t look pretty, no one would pick it up besides the newspaper staff who wrote it. Designers also make things functional and usable, not just pretty.  Think about posters, you don’t even look at the ugly ones, you are drawn to the readable, functional, beautiful ones.

My final thoughts: I believe editing photos in order to create the best image for the specific layout or story is what we should do, not follow an ambiguous rules, that don’t keep design in mind. Why can’t the newspaper designers have a code of ethics that begins with “As designers, we believe that….” ?

Check back with me in 5 years, I guarantee I won’t be working for a newspaper.

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