A picture is worth a thousand words

Posted by Raquel Rivera

Not everybody trusts paintings but people believe photographs. – Ansel Adams

After our discussion with Karen Mitchell it really got me thinking about how photography adds to news coverage. We hear about all of these terrible acts towards human kind and we feel a sense of sadness when reading about it, but the second we see a picture is when those feelings become real. Reading about a Syrian man holding the bloody body of his son, killed by the Syrian Army is different than seeing it. ImagePhotographer: Manu Brabo, puslished in LENS, a digital publication of Photography in New York Times

Do you think articles about war, abuse, drugs or anything of that sort would be as affective as if photographs weren’t used? Do photographs affect you more than words?

“In an era when photography has become an inseparable part of our lives, and accessible to all, it is important to contemplate its moral and political significance,” said Israeli photojournalist, Alex Levac.

Photography can be a very gray area, especially when it comes to knowing when to puclish a photo and when not to. Was it ethical to get an award for the above picture, capturing a moment so personal and publishing it for the world to see? Where do we draw the line of what should be published and what shouldn’t be? Just like the photographs of the woman being abused we talked about. Would that story have been as affective if we hadn’t seen the pictures of it?

Photojournalism ethics, just as in any other profession, are tricky and there are no right or wrong answers. Every situation could be a potential ethical danger.

For example, the question of ethics came up about a photo taken moments after a man was pushed onto subway tracks, and moments before he was hit and killed by an oncoming train.

The photographer, R. Umar Abbasi, said the photography was taken accidentally, he was flashing his camera light at the driver to warn him that someone was on the tracks. The picture was then used on the front page of New York Post. Ethical?

“ Intelligence is not to make no mistakes, but to see quickly how to make them good. ”- Bertolt Brecht


11 responses to “A picture is worth a thousand words

  1. I completely agree that photojournalism is a tricky job and is constantly presented with ethical dilemmas. Unfortunately, I feel like there is no right or wrong answer to whether or not revealing photos should be published. Yes, they sometimes reveal things that make us uncomfortable, but as you point out seeing an image from a situation can help us really feel the emotion of a story. I think it all depends on the photo and its context. I think it also depends on who is involved. As we have talked about, any time the photo involves children it is especially dicy. I personally would not publish something that exposed a child in a harmful way. As we have seen, however, other people would and have published things like this. I sometimes wish there were almost a set of guidelines that come with photojournalism. Right now every news outlet decides differently how they are going to use a photo. I guess my question would be how can we better define when a photo crosses a certain line? An editor has to think about their readers first. What are readers willing to see? What upsets them about photographs like the one above? How can we as future journalists make this gray area more clear?

    • I think you bring up a good point! What are the readers willing to see, depends on the context and where exactly the photo is being published. If the photo above was published in a newspaper/magazine geared towards parents the reaction would be very different compared it being published towards people whom do not have children.

  2. I believe photos should be more protected and held and at higher ethical standards that words. Because describing what happens through the imagery of adjectives and verbs has a lot less impact than the actual photo. That doesn’t make it any less real but an image that a reader doesn’t have to imagine makes it more relatable.

    It’s hard to place a measurement on how far is too far, and I think it goes beyond the question of ethics but more about your heart. Placing a picture of a man right before his death on the front cover a news paper, is going to far. It doesn’t tug on the heart strings of our readers but yanks them out.

    I believe editors should also step in. But photos alone tell such amazing stories on their own and it can be hard to determine when to publish them and when not to. For example the domestic violence photo story was risky and I’m sure faced ethical scrutiny in the newsroom but imagine how many lives it touched and maybe women a few photos saved.

    It’s a hard judgment call but as always a golden rule for journalist is to do no harm. And at the end of the day thats the best what to determine if you should run a photo. Who will be harmed if you do?

    • That’s a great question, the people who are being harmed could be more than the obvious and that’s when editors can run into a huge ethical problem and maybe even lawsuits. I wonder how many mistakes editors typically make about ethical decisions on a daily basis?

  3. I have found in many cases that without a strong photo, a simple headline won’t catch my attention if it doesn’t interest me. Seeing a photo like the one you posted about the Syrian man holding his son would lead me to want to investigate more. This is, like you said, a tricky subject. Photojournalists will always be intruding on someone’s personal moment, but I think what will distinguish them is how they approach the situation. Handling these tough moments with grace is something all journalists have to take into account, but photojournalists especially have to know when enough is enough. This is one of the strongest areas of journalism in the sense that it can convey more about a certain scene than any amount of writing could do.

    • Couldn’t agree more! I think photos can give words such power that words alone cannot give. My question is if the editor would get most of the rap for publishing the photo or the photographer for taking the photo in the first place.

  4. The ability of a photograph to capture an individual’s attention is unbeatable. Although it may be upsetting to writers who labor over recreating a scene, a photo creates a stronger connection to the reader.

    I love good photographs and I appreciate the extent that people have gone to in order to share an image with me. I also realize that at times the picture on the front page of the newspaper that creates this emotion may have cause the photographer to lose sleep.

    Life is filled with judgement calls. A career in journalism magnifies this because the information and photographs you share can affect others. Once a piece is published the series of events that follows may not be what you would have anticipated. On occasion, an article source may be unintentionally harmed or suffer a blow to their character. I find that unfortunate.

    But I think if the principles from “The Elements of Journalism” by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel (a book read in J66) that a journalist can feel confident they are publishing articles, and photos appropriately. I think the most applicable advice this book offers is to “seek the truth and report it” as well as “minimizing harm.” If a story needs to be covered and a journalist attempts to minimize the possible backlash of a piece or photograph, I think they have a valid argument for their decision.

    • I think what you said in the last paragraph is spot on. That makes me think of the domestic violence photos we talked about in class. They needed to be published in order to help other people suffering from domestic violence and the photographer stepped up and defended her photos.

  5. This is a really tricky area, and I’m glad you addressed it with this post! While all forms of journalism carry their own ethical dilemmas, I think you’re right in that photojournalists have an especially difficult drawing the line between right and wrong. Like Karen Mitchell talked about, the most poignant photographs are never of happy things, but are usually of people in moments of distress or intense emotion. While these pictures are just another form of storytelling, just like writing, somehow the photograph is so much more personal, I think because it is so much more powerful. Thus, photojournalists have to be extra careful to consider the well-being of their subjects in publishing a photo. I think a journalist must never endanger a person’s health or safety (physical or emotional) in the name of getting a photo. Yet, journalism is by nature an industry built on difficult interactions with people and photojournalists need to be prepared for that as well.

    • I thought it was really interesting when Mitchell said that the most powerful photos are of moments of intense distress. I instantly thought of black and white photos of children or someone looking directly in the camera. These kind of pictures really portray ones character I think. I think what makes pictures more personal is we don’t have to use our imagination, the information of what is actually happening is clear for us to see and in some cases can be even worse than we imagined. This also helps the readers imagine more about what the text is saying.

  6. Pingback: News Buried Amongst the Boston Bombing Rubble: 2013 Pulitzer Prizes Announced | Media Editing

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