A Little Bit About Photojournalism

In my Ethics and Media class this week, we had a 30 year veteran of photojournalism come in and discuss ethics of his profession. His talk opened my eyes to how truly amazing images can be in relation to the news. It made me want to look a little bit deeper into not only the ethics that photojournalists adhere to, but also the importance of photography in the media in general.

Photojournalism is a type of journalism that depends on images to tell a story. It is an important aspect of the news media because the photographs, a lot of the time, summarize a story that has been written. For people who don’t necessarily like to read, the pictures can be what conveys the news. Images can allow people to relate real life scenes, and what it must feel like to be in that actual place at that actual time, to the stories that they are reading.

Dillon Westbrook talks about A Brief History of Photojournalism explaining that photojournalism distinguishes itself from other forms of professional photography  by its adherence to the principles of journalism: timeliness, accuracy, fair representation of the context of events and facts reported, and accountability to the public. A photojournalist cannot be held to the demands of the photographic subject, but rather they must be concerned with producing accurate news for the public.

Our speaker claimed he’d never let the subject of one of his photos see the picture after he took it. With digital photography, people want to see the pictures you took of them. This is a big ethical no-no for him because it is giving them the opportunity to say they don’t like the picture and want him to take a new one. It’s up to him and his editors what photos are appropriate and should run, not the person in the image.

The speaker in our class also claimed that he would never set up the image just to have a photo. For example, if he were covering a marathon runner, he’d ask the runner to run their usual route and he’d follow ahead in his car and get the photos as the person was running, rather than just having the runner run up and down the street by their house. He also told of a time when he was covering workers in the middle of summer and he stood around at the construction site for an hour waiting for a photo, which turned out to be a man taking a drink of water, rather than just asking the worker to take a drink of the water for his picture.

Also when talking about Ethics, the issue of altering photos arose. In the article Photojournalism Ethics: “The Problem Seems To Be A Lot Deeper” Donald R. Winslow covered how altering images is a huge ethical problem that many photographers and editors are violating. “We need to examine the ethical issues involved in ‘photo opportunities,’ in picture editing and design, and in graphics,” Dr. Julianne Newton, visual journalism professor at the University of Oregon, said. Journalism is based on accuracy which includes the accuracy of images. “If you can’t use the picture as it is, don’t use it,” John Long, NPPA’s chairman of the Ethics and Standards committee, said.

With all the talk of ethics and the importance of photojournalism, I was interested in seeing some of the best photos that photojournalists have captured. After all, what is a blog about photojournalism without any pictures in it?

World Press Photo of the Year: 1994 James Nachtwey, USA, Magnum Photos for Time. Rwanda, June 1994. Hutu man mutilated by the Hutu ‘Interahamwe’ militia, who suspected him of sympathizing with the Tutsi rebels. About the image Nachtwey says his specialty is dealing with ground level realities with a human dimension. He feels that people need photography to help them understand what’s going on in the world, and believes that pictures can have a great influence on shaping public opinion and mobilizing protest.

Malawian boy running after 4×4
“I took the photo while on my one-month stint in Malawi Africa where I mainly worked in orphan day-care centres, also visiting Mulanji Hospital. The photo was taken from the Mulanji Hospital four-wheel-drive ambulance, travelling on the extremely rough roads from village to village, visiting the sick who were unable to reach the hospital.” Photo taken by Cameron Herweynen.

Bhopal Disaster
This photograph from December 4, 1984 shows victims who lost their sight in the Bhopal poison gas tragedy as they sit outside the Union Carbide factory in Bhopal, India.
(No citation of photographer given)

Hhaing The Yu
Hhaing The Yu, 29, holds his face in his hand as rain falls on the decimated remains of his home in the Swhe Pyi Tha township, near Myanmar’s capital of Yangon (Rangoon), on Sunday, May 11th, 2008. Cyclone Nargis struck southern Myanmar a week ago leaving millions homeless and has claimed up to 100,000 lives.
(No citation of photographer given)

Aftermath of Earthquake in Balakot, Pakistan. 2005
This image was taken about one month after the earthquake in Pakistan. People were still coming down from the mountains trying to find shelter and were suffering from trauma. Winter was on the way and the need for shelter was urgent. This father with his child had been collecting food. I spent ten days in Balakot documenting the situation after the quake. People were still digging for their family members.
(No citation of photographer given)

Sichuan Earthquake
A man is crying while he flips through a family album he found in the rubbles of his old house.
(No citation of photographer given)

How do you all feel about these photos? Do you believe they portray a story? Do you think any of them could be considered controversial? What do you think makes a really excellent photojournalism picture?


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