The most important lesson I have learned about photojournalism is the ethics. Photojournalists’ job is to capture the real events happening in society to present in the news. As a result, society holds the same expectations for photojournalists as they do written journalists. They expect the photos to be true moments, not staged stories or manufactured events.
Ethical codes create a guideline for the photojournalist to follow in order to better capture stories in their rawest form ensuring the public an unbiased, clear view into the news stories being told.
The National Press Photographers Association created an ethical code for photojournalists to uphold while on the job. The standards of daily work are as written:
1. Be accurate and comprehensive in the representation of subjects.
2. Resist being manipulated by staged photo opportunities.
3. Be complete and provide context when photographing or recording subjects. Avoid stereotyping individuals and groups. Recognize and work to avoid presenting one’s own biases in the work.
4. Treat all subjects with respect and dignity. Give special consideration to vulnerable subjects and compassion to victims of crime or tragedy. Intrude on private moments of grief only when the public has an overriding and justifiable need to see.
5. While photographing subjects do not intentionally contribute to, alter, or seek to alter or influence events.
6. Editing should maintain the integrity of the photographic images’ content and context. Do not manipulate images or add or alter sound in any way that can mislead viewers or misrepresent subjects.
7. Do not pay sources or subjects or reward them materially for information or participation.
8. Do not accept gifts, favors, or compensation from those who might seek to influence coverage.
9. Do not intentionally sabotage the efforts of other journalists.
While learning and practicing photojournalism this year, I have already run into situations where this code has come in handy. One situation stands out the most. It was at the Conference on World Affairs held at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.
Photographing a conference is not the easiest assignment. You have a lot of people sitting in a room all watching a person or a select group of people discuss the topics of the conference.
In the case of the Conference on World Affairs, it was easy to see how tempting it could be to find a couple of people to pose in interesting viewpoints at the conference, but that would be staging the event and creating a fake view to the public. Not to mention, if it is discovered that you staged a shot or manipulated it in some way, it could very likely end your career, abolishing credibility.
The best way to uphold credibility, is to follow the ethical guidelines. The ethical code not only keeps the professional in line, but it also protects them. If you find yourself in a situation where your work’s credibility is being questioned, knowing that you followed these ethical codes will act as a safety net for your work’s credibility. If there is no ethical flaw to find, there is no question to be asked.
Thanks to my understanding of ethics concerning photojournalism, I was able to avoid the temptation of staging a photograph in a tough shoot situation. The shots I took turned out alright too. It was just a matter of sticking to the assignment and not giving up after following the ethical code.