Discuss the issues of publishing pictures that have been altered using a computer.

Picture and subject manipulations have been a part of photography since it was first invented. But because of computer technology, digital manipulations are relatively easy to accomplish, hard to detect and perhaps more alarming, alter the original image so that checking the authenticity of the picture is impossible. Some critics have predicted that in a few years, images -- whether still or moving -- will not be allowed in trials as physical evidence because of the threat to their veracity created by digital alterations.

So what\'s the problem? Why was there so much criticism from fellow journalists? The answer is that admitting to a lie doesn\'t make the lie acceptable.

Cameras and the images they produce are naively thought by many to never lie. But because humans operate the machine, technical, composition and content manipulations are unavoidable. Computer technology did not start the decline in the credibility of pictures, but it has hastened it. Photographic darkrooms are quickly being replaced by computer workstation lightrooms. But as long as photojournalists do not subtract or add parts of a picture\'s internal elements, almost any other manipulation once accomplished in a photographic darkroom is considered ethical for news-editorial purposes.

Two factors may guard against a further erosion of credibility in visual messages: Reputation of the media organization that publishes or broadcasts images and the words that accompany the manipulated picture.

Credibility is not an inherent quality of a particular picture, but a concept based on tradition, story choices, design considerations and reader perception of the company or individual that produces the image. Reputation is what separates the difference in picture credibility between The Times, the Sun

Words are also vital in assuring the credibility of a news organization and a picture. If a photojournalist or art director is tempted to combine parts from two separate pictures to create a third picture, the reader needs to know that such an action has taken place. The cutline for the image should include the details of the manipulation while the image itself should be labeled an illustration -- not a news-editorial picture. Such an addition would at least solve one aspect of the ethical problem -- letting the reader know of the illustrative technique.

However, a larger question remains: In this age of digital manipulation and desktop publishing, why do computer operators feel the need to turn news-editorial photographs into illustrations? Journalism professionals need to face the issue of photojournalism images being replaced by illustrations and not concern themselves so much with the tool that makes that ethical problem topical.

Ethics in Photojournalism

Photojournalism is defined in the readings of Mass Communications, by Michael

Emery and Ted Curtis Smythe, as the profession in which journalists make news-editorial

images for print or screen media. Ethics always has been, and has increasingly become

an important issue in photojournalism.


The Society of Professional Journalists provides a code of ethics by which all

people in this profession should abide. Journalists should serve the public with

thoroughness and honesty. They should seek the truth and report it. They should make

sure headlines, photos, video, and sound bites do not misrepresent or mislead in anyway

(www.spj.org 2002). This is the most important rule in journalism-not to mislead the

public. If journalists do this, whether intentionally or accidentally, they lose credibility.

Without credibility, a newspaper or magazine has nothing.

This paper is going to examine the past ways in which newspapers and magazines

have deceived the public by publishing photos that have been digitally altered. Then both

sides of the debate, of whether it is acceptable to change a photo for publication in a

newspaper or magazine, will be presented.

The Debate

Due to the recent spread of computer technology, nearly anyone can alter and

manipulate photos so that they look completely different from the original. Obviously

there are always going to be some small technical changes that need to be made to photos

to make them more readable, such as color correction, contrast control, and removing

dust particles. According to the National Press Photographers Association, changes to

the content of a photograph can be accidental or essential. They describe essential

changes as changing the meaning of the photograph, and accidental changes as those that

change useless details, but do not change the real meaning. Ethics are only