Sunday, March 22, 2015

Don't manipulate that photo: Journalistic laws, ethics and the First Amendment

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for redress of grievances." First Amendment, U.S. Constitution
   If Congress holds up its end of the deal with the First Amendment, we photojournalists shall hold up our end by making ethical decisions when we shoot and publish photos.
   What really jumped out at me in this lesson was how photographers and editors blatantly violate the National Press Photographers Association Code of Ethics. Manipulating photos (aside from cropping and minor contrast adjustments), for an example, is not acceptable. Photojournalism is journalism, not art. Therefore, even slightly altering a photo, say, by removing an unwanted electrical socket on a wall or a Coca-Cola can from a portrait photo, is against our ethics. Nothing is perfect, so why strive for perfection in photojournalism?
   As a professional, I will always ask myself, “What’s more important, publishing a flawless, manipulated photo or maintaining credibility and reputability throughout your career?"
   It was also interesting to learn when and where a photojournalist can shoot. Kenneth Kobré’s excerpt on the Florida Publishing Co. (Times-Union) vs Fletcher case in “Photojournalism: The Professionals’ Approach” explained an exception to the law of trespassing for photos. In this case, the court ruled in favor of Times-Union photographer Bill Cranford, who entered the Fletcher’s house after a fire and took a photo of the spot where 14-year-old Cindy Fletcher’s burned body had left a silhouette scorched on the floor. Her mother was not home at the time of the fire, saw the photo in the next day’s newspaper, and attempted to sue the Times-Union paper. However, Fletcher lost the case because the police and fire marshal gave Cranford permission to enter the home and take photos, and since she was absent at the time, she did not object.
   Although this case may not be morally sound, Cranford did not actually break the law. Along with this example, this lesson provided a complete guide on the First Amendment and journalistic ethics and laws.

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