Can Photojournalism No Longer Be Trusted?

Can Photojournalism No Longer Be Trusted?

Recently the New York Times revealed a staggering truth about modern photojournalism that has the field's ethics under scrutiny. It appears the acts of staging and manipulating images have become prevalent, which puts the field as a whole in question. Photojournalism is about capturing the truth and journalist often work under a strict code that incudes observation only. But the nature of competition has brought a staggering number of photojournalist to bend if not break this code by presenting images that they themselves setup under the guise journalism.

Setting up a shot to tell a story is editorializing, not photojournalism. Our news outlets as a whole live under scrutiny as ratings and selling ads are often seen as more important by the consumer than the actual validity of the news being told. It seems now photography needs to come under this same scrutiny.

The recent article from the New York Times goes into great depth to explain the recent attention to this issue. Much of the spotlight comes from this year's World Press Competition where "large numbers" of entries where disqualified for breaking the rules which include not setting up shots or manipulating them in post-processing. The article continues that in a recent survey completed by photojournalist, an unbelievable percent of those that completed the survey admitted to breaking the rules and ethics of photojournalism.

One of the most disturbing findings was that more than half of the news photographers who replied said they sometimes staged photos — with 12 percent saying they did so at least half the time. All of the major wire services and newspapers in the United States forbid staging news photos.

The article raises a larger question about the overall trust of the public in the media. Where do we go for honest information? Photography as a whole is continually under scrutiny for over photoshopping and major news stations are often the butt of jokes for their sensationalist styles. Now it seems a medium that feels honest, or at least it had to me, now deserves the same mistrust.

I highly encourage you to visit the full article.

Log in or register to post comments

14 Comments

michael buehrle's picture

i bet they used an iPhone.

Tom Lim's picture

I suppose the term "Photographic Evidence" could be in question as well.

Anonymous's picture

For years in Federal and State campaigns, a good number of project are "staged". Rationalization and justification is in the belly of beast from the get go, and the spin starts. For me personally, the trust factor is gone. So I think it is prudent to be a "brilliant skeptic".

Ever seen the new Prime Minister of Canada waiving to no one? He did it all campaign long while new media where the only ones there.

Photo journalism is dead in the news IMO. It still lives in photo-reporting on a single project but it's probably not the exact definition of photo journalism...

Rob Mynard's picture

“Government is the Entertainment division of the military-industrial complex.” ― Frank Zappa

That makes me sad. As someone who is new to the field, I hate reading about things like this. I don't want people to be suspicious of photos I have taken.

Rex Larsen's picture

Interesting subject but an overly broad headline to accompany the very brief text.
Sort of like publishing, "Is water no longer safe to drink ?" Or, " Can science be trusted ?"

That Dihydrogen oxyde is hella dangerous. Don't let your kids drink it!

Well, that´s hardly big news. It has become increasingly popular, and not just with joe-random-photographer but the big names, too (http://lens.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/02/22/a-prize-winning-ethics-lesson/). As a photojournalist, I find that disturbing, especially when entering images in a contest, let alone publishing them as journalistic.

Sorry, but "news' is just another form of entertainment now. Real news has too much competition.

Ralph Berrett's picture

Lets be Blunt here it is economics. I am talking from 20 years as photojournalist. Up until 2005 to work a newspaper or news service you needed 4 years of college, and to have done one or more internships while in school. When the news business collapsed they released a lot of photographers. Lee Enterprises Released many photojournalists with 5 or more years of experience to save on benefits and healthcare. The industry as a whole went from 6,000 to 3,000 employed photojournalist.
Now Newspapers are relying independent contractors, stringers and rookies. The side effect is a degradation of experience and institutions that enforced ethics. You have a lot of people out there that have not the experience nor the training reenforce journalistic ethics.
Realize the salary for a photojournalist is $25,000 -35,0000 a year. We had a joke one does not live on photojournalism alone. One commercial assignment for me would equal 2-4 weeks of pay at my last news company I worked for. A stringer is not surviving off of news alone jobs. It is hard to expect these people to have the same ethics as a seasoned veteran.

There is much valuable documentary photography that does not follow the rules of photojournalism. There are many ways to reveal truth, including staging (after all, what's a portrait?) and paying people to allow them to be photographed.
https://medium.com/absurdist/new-media-manifesto-fe36f19457d0