Indelible Rights

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” - U.S. First Amendment

In contrast to other countries the United States First Amendment offers an expansive range of security for press freedom. As a collegiate photojournalist, I was surprised to find out the numerous rights of photojournalists to document and publish news. To me this is what defines a democratic society and what encourages progress, by promoting contrasting thought and opinion. Without the platform of student or college newspapers many minority voices on a campus would not be heard. Student publications like the one here at Wayne State, The South End, are a bridge from student perspective and opinion to administrations’ ears. Often changes in policy are made due to student activism. As a student of photojournalism, I see the value of press freedom not only on a local level but on the grander scale as well. Universities are where ideas develop, cultures meet, and where students set the foundation for their future endeavors. Without the First Amendment, college campuses across the United States would not promote progress or inclusion that contributes greatly to the idea that is democracy.

It is the job of the photojournalists to bring information to the public but those in the profession wrestle with moral questions daily. One way to combat these moral dilemmas is to consult the Code of Ethics but photojournalists still have differing opinions on which path of the moral compass to follow.

Some photojournalists take the utilitarian approach which in summary is, “the greatest good for the greatest number of people,” According to Photojournalism: The Professionals’ Approach by Kenneth Kobre. The utilitarian photojournalist would publish a tragic photograph with the thought of informing the public, to possibly mitigate a similar even in the future. who else can make a better decision or cause a better effect?

A photojournalist who carries an absolutist approach would value the individual or families’ right to privacy over the benefit of the photograph to society. Photojournalists who practice this approach would find it intrusive to photograph a subject’s grief, for reporting benefit.

A third and final opinion is the golden rule approach. This is the feeling of, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This approach conflicts with both the utilitarian and absolutist views. This is takes a personal view as all photojournalists have different cultural backgrounds and moral scopes. What one photojournalist would publish another may not due to individual beliefs.

In the law and ethics chapters of Kobré’s textI learned there are standard practices and rules photojournalists must follow. It is important to be comprehensive and accurate when representing subjects. It is also imperative to be transparent and give the public as much information as possible. Treating subjects as humans providing them with respect is also a key aspect of being a good photojournalist. Regarding accuracy and maintaining credibility photojournalists should not manipulate photographs for hard news stories. There are some exceptions to this rule and that is where the categories of portraits and photo illustrations reside. The public has common knowledge that portraits and photo illustrations are staged and or altered and do not view them the same way they do a photograph depicting a hard news story.

There are many photojournalists who committed fraud to stand out among their peers, some of them losing their careers in the process. Norm Zeisloft of The St. Petersburg Times and Allan Dietrich of The Toledo Blade are two infamous examples.

Photojournalists and journalists in general walk a tightrope when it comes to morals and ethics in the media. To be a medium of information we must learn to keep our balance and not topple to one side. If we do, we fail to promote democracy. Withholding or downplaying stories does not create a well informed public, but we must also regard the humanity of our subjects. Learning and accomplishing rationality and empathy is a foundation for anyone in the field of disbursing information. And if we choose this field, we have chosen to believe in a higher standard of ethics and morals, that we ourselves must subscribe to.