The Art and Dangers of Photoshop

This week, I was skimming through iMediaEthics and came upon the topic of fake photos. More specifically, there was a story on “Australian Shark Photo a Fake, News Duped by Photoshopped Selfie.” As silly as this story sounds, this definitely isn’t the first instance of viral photos confusing the media. Fake pictures are more common than ever, and sometimes can look incredibly realistic. Not always, but sometimes. Example, the BBC posted this article on fake pictures of the Rohingya crisis.

These stories make me think more about the general use of editing in journalism. You can view the various code of ethics for photojournalism here. There is most certainly a difference between light retouching and complete manipulation of a photo. For example, from AdWeek is this article on “10 News photos that took retouching too far.” This is an opinion piece from The Guardian on how “Photoshop is killing photojournalism.”

In March, Poynter’s Kenneth Irby wrote “Photojournalism ethics needs a reexamination.” And maybe that’s true. I don’t think photoshop is killing photojournalism. As someone who has worked in graphic design, I can tell you it’s extremely useful. However, with the advanced made in photography, photo editing and social media – there are strides to be made to ensure the quality of news photos being displayed are accurate. News photos should be visual representations of how things were, not as how we imagined them to be. Unless that’s the story I guess? Photos aid stories, they are excellent visuals and are always eye catching. But they should always be accurate. If a photo is being spread virally, and a news organization wants to post about it – until it is verified as factual, they should post a disclaimer on where the photo was acquired.

There is more to be discussed on the ethical dilemmas faced by photojournalists, but that is for another time.


3 thoughts on “The Art and Dangers of Photoshop

  1. The photo taken and edited by Brian Walski of the soldier in Iraq that’s in the textbook (I can’t remember which chapter it was) just blows my mind. I tracked the photo down on Google Images and believe this is the one mentioned in the text:×878/acd69a65153a1b1857765c70edc3db42/soldiers1_350x246.jpg
    One would think that not using Photoshop or other similar kind of photo editing tool in the basic practice of journalism is a no-brainer, but that’s obviously not the case. Then, as someone stepping back from it a bit, I start to wonder why anyone would do something like that to distort the truth. It must be for reasons to cover their own backs or because they succumbed to exhaustion and/or the overwhelming levels of competition and stress of getting interesting photos out on time, as Walski did. I agree with you that if a separate media organization is choosing to run a photo taken by somebody else, then they should indicate that to their readers or viewers and to let them know where the photo came from. Otherwise, they can be deemed just as responsible as the photo fabricator. I believe most media organizations do in fact do this (by including some type of “courtesy” line that’s located in small print across a corner of or underneath the photo), but it still should be made very clear nonetheless.


  2. This reminds me of a comic picture: It’s constantly seen on Chinese social media whenever people say never trust the media or question the authenticity of a news story. I agree with you and Matt on how news organization should use someone else’s pictures. I would say tools like Photoshop are necessary, because you don’t want your picture looks like a mess–there’s some art in photojournalism. Otherwise why are we learning journalism? Everyone can write. But now it seems you can’t prove whether a picture tells the truth without doing research. I think this is all built on journalists’ ethics standards; journalists have the responsibility not to create fake photos and news organizations are responsible for fact checking before publishing or using photos.


  3. Good issues, Kareya. Interestingly, the Kenny Irby post on Poynter that you link to is just the sort of approach that would work for the final paper — examining a dimension of journalism that would be improved by a reexamination or reemphasis on an ethical principle.


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