Ethics In Photojournalism: Past, Present, And Future

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Ethics in Photojournalism: Past, Present, and FutureByDaniel R. BersakS.B. Comparative Media Studies & Electrical Engineering/Computer ScienceMassachusetts Institute of Technology, 2003SUBMITTED TO THE DEPARTMENT OF COMPARATIVE MEDIA STUDIES INPARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OFMASTER OF SCIENCE IN COMPARATIVE MEDIA STUDIESAT THEMASSACHUSETTS INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGYSEPTEMBER, 2006Copyright 2006 Daniel R. Bersak, All Rights ReservedThe author hereby grants to MIT permission to reproduce and distribute publicly paperand electronic copies of this thesis document in whole or in part in any medium nowknown or hereafter created.Signature of Author:Department of Comparative Media Studies, August 11, 2006Certified By:Edward BarrettSenior Lecturer, Department of WritingThesis SupervisorAccepted By:William UriccioProfessor of Comparative Media StudiesDirector

Ethics In Photojournalism: Past, Present, and FutureByDaniel R. BersakSubmitted to the Department of Comparative Media Studies,School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Scienceson August 11, 2006, in partial fulfillment of therequirements for the degree ofMaster of Science in Comparative Media StudiesAbstractLike writers and editors, photojournalists are held to a standard of ethics. Each publication has a set of rules, sometimes written, sometimes unwritten, that governs what thatpublication considers to be a truthful and faithful representation of images to the public.These rules cover a wide range of topics such as how a photographer should act whiletaking pictures, what he or she can and can’t photograph, and whether and how an image can be altered in the darkroom or on the computer. This ethical framework evolvedover time, influenced by such things as technological capability and community values;and it is continually developing today.This thesis details how photojournalism’s ethical system came to be, what the systemlooks like today, and where it will go in the future. The first chapter chronicles the history of ethics in photojournalism. The second chapter describes current ethical practices through specific case studies. The third and final chapter builds upon the first twoand uses technology and policy to examine the trajectory of photojournalistic ethics.Thesis Supervisor: Edward BarrettSenior Lecturer, Department of WritingThesis Supervisor: B.D. ColenLecturer, Department of Writing2

Biographical NoteDaniel Bersak was born in Ipswich, England in 1980. He later attended ManchesterHigh School West in Manchester, New Hampshire. Following high school he went toMIT, where he graduated with a combined degree in Comparative Media Studies andElectrical Engineering & Computer Science. While at MIT, Bersak joined the staff ofMIT’s newspaper The Tech after taking a course in Documentary Photography and Photojournalism. Eventually, he rose to the position of photo editor, and he began takingfreelance assignments. Bersak has worked for the Associated Press, AI Wire, SipaPress, Skybox Sports Scenes, the MIT News Department, and many others. His images have appeared in newspapers and magazines such as The New York Times, TheWashington Post, USA Today, The Boston Globe, The Boston Herald, Newsweek, GQMagazine, and ESPN Magazine. Bersak is a member of the National Press Photographers Association, the Boston Press Photographers Association, and is an active contributor to Bersak currently resides in Boston with his fiancée Ashley and his dog Fred.3

AcknowledgmentsThere are many people without whom I never could have completed this thesis. I wouldlike to thank B.D. Colen and Ed Barrett for mentoring me, for being on my thesis committee, and ultimately for accepting my defense of this thesis. I also owe a debt of gratitude to the professors who have helped me along the way. Susan Slyomovics, HenryJenkins, William Uriccio, Edward B. Turk, and Ted Selker have all contributed a greatdeal. I am fortunate to have an amazing collection of family and friends. My parents,Robert and Toby, and my sister Carrie provided love, support, and proofreading. Mydog Fred did his part as well, making sure I got plenty of walks, and recovering anythingI happened to throw in frustration. Last but not least, my sincerest love and thanks goto my fiancée, Ashley. She has read every draft of this document, and never once failedto improve it. She has taken care of me in every way possible, and without her I trulynever could have finished.4

IntroductionNews images shape our culture in ways both profound and deep. Those who livedthrough the Vietnam era cannot help but remember the searing photographs that havecome to symbolize that conflict -- a Saigon street execution, a naked girl covered in napalm, a thousand-yard stare, and so on. These photos have woven themselves into thecollective memory of a generation. There are some who would even say that themounting weight of photographic evidence was the primary cause for public opinion toshift against the war in Vietnam, and hence effected an end to the war itself. As such, toborrow a phrase from pop culture, “With great power comes great responsibility.” 1 Responsible photojournalism means adherence to a standard of ethics.Merriam-Webster defines “ethics” as, “the code of good conduct for an individual orgroup,” and lists synonyms as, “morality, morals, principles, [and] standards.”2 In termsof ethics in photojournalism, the National Press Photographers Association's Code ofEthics reads, in part:Photographic and video images can reveal great truths, expose wrongdoing and neglect, inspire hope and understanding and connect people around the globe through the language of visual understanding. Photographs can also causegreat harm if they are callously intrusive or are manipulated.31IMDb, Spider-Man (2002), (8 August 2006).2The Merriam-Webster Online Thesaurus, Ethics, thesaurus?book Thesaurus&va ethics&x 0&y 0 (8 August 2006)3The National Press Photographers Association, NPPA Code of Ethics, development/business practices/ethics.html (8 August 2006)5

The Code of Ethics goes on to detail what is and is not acceptable in professional photojournalism. Though the standards may seem fairly crystalized, every day there arechallenging borderline cases. Considering that photography itself is barely 150 yearsold, one might wonder how these particular ethical guidelines came to be, and how theymay be evolving over time.As a topic, 'ethics in photojournalism' is difficult to approach, or even to define. In orderto ask questions such as, "what were photojournalistic ethics in the past," "what arephotojournalistic ethics today," and "what will photojournalistic ethics look like in the future," one must first carefully define the concepts of both ‘ethics’ and ‘photojournalism.’What exactly qualifies as photojournalism? The answer is somewhat hazy. If photojournalism is photography plus journalism, what is journalism? Princeton University'sWordNet defines 'journalism' as, "The profession of reporting or photographing or editing news stories for one of the media."4 Under that definition, someone who fakes animage of Bigfoot for the Weekly World News is as much a journalist as the man whotook the Pulitzer Prize winning photograph of a firefighter holding a baby after the 1995Oklahoma City bombing5. That man (Charles H. Porter IV) was employed as a utilityworker and not as a newspaper photographer at the, journalism - Definitions from, 2003, journalism (8 August 2006), Oklahoma City bombing, 8 August 2006, City bombing (8 August 2006).6

Fig. 1: Left: Image of Bigfoot on the cover of the Weekly World News, 30 October,2001.6 Right: Pulitzer Prize Winning photo of a firefighter holding a baby at the sceneof the Oklahoma City Bombing, 19 April, 1995.7Ethics is an inherently subjective field. In his seminal textbook, Photojournalism, theProfessionals’ Approach, author and photojournalism professor Kenneth Kobré writes,“Photojournalism has no Bible, no rabbinical college, no Pope to define correctchoices.”8 There is no sole arbiter of what is or isn't ethical, and even if there were, theline isn't always black and white. Most texts regarding ethics in photojournalism focuson the issue of what might be termed “photographic truth” - whether a particular imageaccurately represents the subject or whether it misleads the viewer. The National PressPhotographers Association Code of Ethics states that the “primary goal” of the photo-6University of Minnesota, Duluth, Bigfoot, Mapinguari (the Amazon), Sasquatch, or Yeti (Asia), cbigft.html (8 August 2006)7The Pulitzer Board, 1996 Pulitzer Prizes-SPOT NEWS PHOTOGRAPHY, Works, 1996, raphy/works/ (8 August 2006)8Kobré, Kenneth. 20Photojournalism, the Professionals’ Approach. Focal Press. 308.7

journalist is the “.faithful and comprehensive depiction of the subject at hand.” 9 Can aphotographer pose a news photo? Can he alter it, in the darkroom or otherwise? Arethe results of these actions “faithful and comprehensive depictions?” While myriad textsattempt to answer these particular questions, the scope of photojournalistic ethics extends significantly beyond them.For example, the distinction between ethics and taste is constantly up for debate, especially in relation to violent or sexual imagery.10 While some see sex and violence as issues of taste, others include them under the heading of ethics.Additionally, photojournalistic ethics might encompass the choices an individual photographer makes while shooting. For example, should a war photographer put down hiscameras in order to help an injured soldier? If someone asks that his or her photo notbe taken, is it ethical to photograph that person anyway? If ethics in photojournalism isabout being “faithful and comprehensive,” is intentionally underexposing or poorly focusing unethical? Some of these questions sit on the line between journalistic ethics andprofessionalism.In his book Photojournalism: An Ethical Approach, California State University FullertonProfessor Paul Martin Lester outlines six ethical philosophies intended to help photographers and editors answer questions like those outlined above:9The National Press Photographers Association, NPPA Code of Ethics10Long, John, Ethics in the Age of Digital Photography, September, 1999, development/self-training resources/eadp report/ (8 August2006).8

1. The Categorical Imperative is a distilled version of Kant’s notion that what is acceptable for a single person should be acceptable for everyone, almost like a theoretical“nondiscrimination clause.” For example, suppose a newspaper editor is trying to decide whether to publish an image of a partially nude young woman fleeing a house fire.That editor should consider whether he would publish the image under different circumstances - if the subject was male, or elderly, or obese. The Categorical imperative saysthat what goes for one should go for everyone.2. Utilitarianism as a philosophy attempts to weigh positives and negatives of a situation, and maximize the good for the greatest number of people. For example, if gruesome photos of a car crash offend the victims’ families, but shock the community intodriving safely, then by Utilitarianism the taking and publication of those photos isdeemed to be ethical.3. Hedonism represents the “do what feels good” school of thought, and might be usedto justify printing explicit photos simply because they are titillating. Publishing a provocative front page photo simply for the sake of selling newspapers would be an example of hedonism.4. The Golden Mean philosophy concerns compromise. If there is a less intrusive, offensive, or disagreeable photo that still tells the story, that is the better option. The emphasis is on finding middle ground rather than an all-or-nothing approach.9

5. The Veil of Ignorance asks the photographer or editor to consider how they would feelif they were the subject. If they would not feel good in the subject’s place, it would bebetter to look for a different image.6. The Golden Rule is sometimes phrased “love thy neighbor as thyself.” As an ethicalphilosophy it requires that a photographer or editor treat his subjects as he would treathimself.11 This, of course, leaves decisions subject to the photographer’s, editor’s, orinstitution’s ethics.I find all of these philosophies, as well as the questions above them, compelling because I am a photojournalist. I have worked for small local newspapers and large international wire services. I have covered professional sports, politics, entertainment, general and breaking news, and everything in between. In order to illuminate the issuesnoted above I have used my experience to narrow the field of photojournalistic ethics toa manageable breadth. A comprehensive survey of ethics in photojournalism, even ifpossible, would require thousands of pages and many years of work. In this thesis I willexamine the trajectory over time of ethics in American photojournalism.To that end, I have chosen to study photojournalism as published in major newspapersand magazines. While photojournalism does exist well outside of that classification, it is11Lester, Paul Martin. 1991. Photojournalism: An Ethical Approach. Hillsdale, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.10

beyond the scope of this thesis. The underlying tenets of ethical news imagery areroughly consistent across international markets, however practices can vary widely fromregion to region and from country to country. I am limiting this examination by focusingonly on American photojournalism ethics.Likewise, I have chosen to divide ethics into two categories - institutional ethics andphotographer-centric ethics. The policies of a particular newspaper or magazine wouldfall under institutional ethics. For example, if a newspaper chooses not to publish animage for fear it is too graphic, that is an issue of institutional ethics or taste (and I willdiscuss the differences between the two later in this thesis.) Photographer-centric ethics have to do with photographers’ choices at the time news photos are captured up until the photos are handed off to an editor. Whether or not to pose a subject, the questionregarding what to do with a wounded soldier in combat, and how a photographer treatsan image in the darkroom (or in the computer) are all matters of photographer-centricethics.Up to this point I have taken for granted the fact that there is an ethical system at workin American photojournalism. Since photography itself is only about 150 years old, thiswas not always the case. It would be impossible, of course, for “photojournalistic ethics”to predate photojournalism itself. In the first chapter I will examine visual imagery innewspapers and magazines dating back to before those publications included photographs. In order to frame the various ethical developments, I will discuss The New YorkTimes, by decade. Starting in the 1880’s, I will detail the emergence and development11

of ethical practices. I will also trace the history, evolution, and availability of photographic equipment, and tie this progression to the emerging ethical system.In the second chapter, I will discuss ethics in photojournalism as they exist today. I willdiscuss the role of the National Press Photographers Association in defining and enforcing ethics within the American photojournalism community. I will also examine contemporary case studies that have stretched journalistic ethics both institutionally and per theindividual photographer. These examples include the Abu Ghraib prison photos andBrian Walski’s doctored image of US Marines in Iraq. I will draw upon my own experience as a photographer during the 2004 Boston Red Sox American League Championship Series riots, and analyze the capture and use of my photos. Ultimately, I will illuminate and detail today’s ethical system in photojournalism.For the final chapter I will look at where photojournalism is going with respect to journalistic ethics. I will discuss the pressures of the “new media” newsroom, and study whathappens to ethical decisions when they are made under tight deadlines. I will alsocover the topic of “citizen photojournalism.” As more and more people carry electronicdevices that include cameras (cell phones, Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs), etc.),editors will have to sort through an increasing number of images from people who arenot professional journalists. When the London subway was bombed during the summerof 2005, photo departments the world over were bombarded with images. As mobiledevices become widely adopted, sorting through these images in real time will be bothmore important and more difficult.12

SECTION ONE: YesterdayWhile the concept of “ethics” has been around since the dawn of recorded history, photography has not. As of this writing, photography is still less than two hundred yearsold. It is fairly obvious that no ethical system could exist for any sort of photojournalismbefore photography was invented. This might appear to suggest an acceptable datefrom which to begin studying ethics in American photojournalism - why not start at thebeginning of photography? Even after Nicéphore Niépce fixed the first permanent photographic images in 1826, it took several decades (and several inventors) before mankind had the technology to marry photography with text on the printed page.12The method used to reproduce photographs on the printing press was not perfected until the 1880’s13 , and it was not widely adopted for several more years. The New YorkTimes, for example, did not publish photos until 1896.14 Photographers throughout themid 19th century used other avenues to share their images with viewers. Gallery exhibitions and magic lantern shows were held in France and the United States, and booksof photographs were published. Jacob Riis, for example, published his groundbreakingHow the Other Half Lives in 1890.12 Greenspun,Philip, History of Photography Timeline (8 August 2006)13Ibid.14The New York Times Company, New York Times Timeline 1881-1910, 2006, (8 August 2006)13

Though The New York Times printed its first photographs in a Sunday Magazine in1896, the newspaper was not without visual imagery before then. Advertisements inThe Times throughout the 1880’s feature drawings and etchings, and those tools wereoccasionally used for news purposes. For example, when Civil War hero and formerPresident Ulysses S. Grant died, the paper ran a front page engraving of an artist’s rendition of Grant’s Tomb.Fig. 2: Portion of The New York Times front page from 1885, depicting Grant’s Tomb.15In this specific case, a photograph would have been impossible as the etching depictsthe plan for Grant’s Tomb rather than the tomb itself. Though photography was knownto many people and gaining popularity as an art form at the time, newspapers lackedthe technology (and therefore the ability) to include photographic images as part of their15New York Times July 29, 1885 Page 1 via ProQuest14

reportage. This, however, did not stop some newspapers from hiring photographersand making use of their images. Some period newspapers employed both graphic artists and news photographers. The Daily Graphic, an evening newspaper serving NewYork City and surrounding areas, had a process in which a photographer would go outand photograph a news event, and an artist would create publishable drawings basedon the photographs.16This process was used at many different newspapers from the late 1800’s to t

journalism is photography plus journalism, what is journalism? Princeton University's WordNet defines 'journalism' as, "The profession of reporting or photographing or edit-ing news stories for one of the media."4 Under that definition, someone who fakes an image of Bigfoot for the Weekly World

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