In this day and age, it’s no surprise that practically every image you see is altered. People edit blemishes off their faces and make super models look flawless in advertising. It’s hard to look at an image and think that it’s the original. It’s so easy to modify things nowadays, with free photo fixings on computers and online. And if you really want to do damage, there’s a large array of photo editing software on the market that would only set you back around $100.
I personally like to use photo editing to correct mistakes (such as too little or too much exposure) and to maybe change the overall tone of the photo to reflect a certain mood I’m trying to express. I think these kind of edits are okay for the news world, especially the technical aspect of it. If you’re editing to make a “true” image show more of the truth by making it a bit clearer, that’s not lying. But if something were added or taken away, that’s where the real headaches start.
When I was going through the readings for this week’s reading quiz in good ol’ J2150 I came across the golfing article. I glanced at the photo and saw that it was a fairly tight shot of one man, and I thought, “How could they have possibly altered that very much?” It turns out that the original photograph shows a caddy behind the golfer who is the main focus. It’s not something I noticed right away, I had to read the article to know what the difference was between the two photos. My immediate reaction was, “How is that so awful? The caddy isn’t an essential aspect to the story, and the photo does look a little more clean without him in the background.” I was also egged on by the fact that the caddy in question wasn’t noticeable to me. I figured that if I didn’t know the difference, many other people probably wouldn’t either. That sort of justified it to me, that people wouldn’t even know that a caddy was cropped out. It wasn’t just that, but it was also that he didn’t add anything to the photo, or the overall story. I still understood the story without him in the frame.
As logical as these reasonings are, I realized that the main problem was one of ethics. When completely removing or adding something to a photo, the “fact becomes fiction”. If readers found out that a photo was altered in such a way, they may not trust the publication anymore. Every time they would look at a photo they would probably wonder if that photo was missing something essential. It worsens the publications credibility which leads to less audience members. Even if people didn’t notice a change, it’s still a lie. And lying to one’s readers is a slippery slope. I can see how a photo such as the golfing one could be a gateway for more deceit and alterations that could have more of an impact than something as simple as removing a caddy from the background. A lot of ethics points to previous cases to make decisions, especially in court. And when something of this nature is seen as acceptable in a newsroom, it becomes the new model for the other reporters to follow, who may then reach out to their journalistic acquaintances outside of that particular publication and thus the chain has begun. When the public finds out about being duped by the press, the press tend to lose all credibility and access to their community and stories. It’s the last place a journalist wants to be. Our main tenet is honesty, and when we don’t have that, we’re just as bad as politicians bending the truth until it snaps.