The Anonymous Photographer

By Casey Bukro

A young freelance photographer who has tight connections with local law enforcement and fire departments submits a photo of a fire in a private business to an Arkansas newspaper but refuses a photo byline.

An editor of the newspaper asked the Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists whether his refusal was unethical? Should the photographer have taken the photo, and if the photographer had unfair advantage in taking it, should the newspaper use it?

The AdviceLine advisor pointed out that the case raises issues of transparency, accountability and conflicts of interest, but that the bigger issue was the newspaper’s lack of guidelines for dealing with bylines and credits. The newspaper in question was one of a group of newspapers lacking a code of ethics or standards.

For starters, the advisor suggested that the editor consult the Society of Professional Journalists code of ethics “because the code has many guidelines about what she was asking.”

The editor pointed out that “these papers are small and some newspaper personnel work for volunteer fire departments, then take photos while they are on the job — photos that eventually appear in the paper.”

The editor said that she and the rest of the staff planned a meeting to create guidelines and discuss the SPJ code. That resulted in a decision to use “special to” credits for photos submitted exclusively to the newspaper by outside sources.

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About cbukro

Casey Bukro was inducted into the Chicago Journalism Hall of Fame in 2008 for outstanding contributions to Chicago journalism, after a 45 year career with the Chicago Tribune. Bukro retired from the Tribune in 2007 as overnight editor. He had pioneered in environmental reporting and in 1970 became the first full-time environment specialist at a major metropolitan newspaper in the United States and covered major developments on that beat for 30 years. He won the newspaper’s highest editorial award in 1967 for a series on Great Lakes pollution. The Society of Professional Journalists awarded Bukro its highest honor, the Wells Key, in 1983 for writing that organization’s first code of ethics. He is a past president of SPJ’s national ethics committee and a past president of the Chicago Headline Club. Bukro graduated with bachelor and master degrees from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. In 1998, he received the Northwestern University Alumni Association’s alumni service award for 17 years of volunteer service to the university. He has lectured in environmental journalism and journalism ethics at Northwestern, the University of Chicago, DePaul University, Loyola University Chicago, Columbia College, Columbia University and others. Before joining the Tribune staff, Bukro worked at the former City News Bureau of Chicago and the Janesville Gazette, Janesville, Wis.

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