Category Archives: Photos

Ethical Issues in Mobile Reporting

It was great to see ethical issues come up Friday in a Twitter chat about doing journalism with mobile devices.

Katy Culver, an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin and visiting faculty member at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, moderates biweekly #EdShift chats for PBS MediaShift on innovation in journalism education. Much of Friday’s chat, involving both journalists and journalism professors, focused on tips and tools for mobile reporting. But Culver, who is also associate director of the Center for Journalism Ethics at Wisconsin, included a question about ethical concerns.

The tweets in response addressed both specific challenges and broader points about navigating the ethics of mobile journalism.

A reporter from Appleton, Wisconsin, raised an issue in covering accidents that comes with the instant capability of mobile devices:

Steve Buttry, who does training for Digital First Media, pointed to challenges related to accuracy. They are connected both with size and features of mobile devices and the sense of urgency that goes with mobile reporting.

He also noted the need to identify oneself clearly as a journalist:

A journalism professor from Germany pointed out an issue related to photographic features that come with mobile phones.

In only a few words, these journalists highlighted a range of ethical challenges in mobile journalism. A radio reporter from Washington, D.C., noted the broader issue of the great power of these small tools and the responsibility that goes with it:

Another D.C. radio reporter did a good job of pointing out that the specifics of mobile journalism ethics are a work in progress:

I don’t think we’ve received any calls on the Ethics AdviceLine about issues in mobile journalism, but we’d love to be a sounding board for journalists thinking through decisions about reporting and editing on their phones.

Pictures Worth A Thousand Touch-Ups

By Casey Bukro

Let’s start with a hoary cliche: A picture is worth a thousand words.

Why?

Think of photos that stick in your mind:  The Hindenburg zeppelin wrapped in flames; dead soldiers at the Battle of Gettysburg; Robert Capa’s D-Day Invasion images; the Iwo Jima flag-raising by Joe Rosenthal; the Beatles; Muhammad Ali; Marilyn Monroe; Elizabeth Taylor; that Afghan girl with haunting eyes in National Geographic; Einstein and Picasso, to name a few.

They are iconic images, in part because they are believed to be accurate portrayals of people and events. Some of those people are famous because they are so photogenic. You want to stare at them.

That makes the relationship between photographers and their audience important, especially now when pictures are vital to covering the news, and when technology makes it so easy to alter images.

It was not considered a big deal a decade or more ago. But now it is, because accuracy in photography is seen as important as accuracy in reporting.

That point was made by the Associated Press when it cut ties with Pulitzer prize-winning freelance photographer Narciso Contreras for altering a picture. He admitted that he edited out a video camera from the bottom left corner of a photo of a fighter holding a rifle.

The Guardian said the “sacking” seemed “very draconian.”

The Associated Press did not think so.  Brian Schwaner, AP bureau chief in New Orleans, said:

 ” AP is quite strict on its requirements for unaltered material, even photos of only marginal value. For example, a few weeks ago the flack for a political candidate sent us a rather standard mugshot for our files, for use during the election. Our bureau photographer took a look at it and was suspicious. After running some tests, he discovered it had been heavily PhotoShopped. The flack was informed and we rejected the photo.

            “So the scrutiny ranges from the basics – like this simple mugshot – all the way up to celeb shots and battlefield photos.”
That’s the way it’s done these days, although, ironically, it’s a time when news organizations cut their photo staffs as a cost-saving measure. That means more reliance on freelancers. Contreras was a freelancer, and maybe that’s part of the message.

A Squirmable Moment

By Casey Bukro

That squirmable moment comes when a journalist racing to get it fast, discovers that he got it wrong.

The stomach lurches, and if it’s bad enough, you might even throw up.

Think the Richard Jewell story. Or two innocent by-standers shown in a front-page photo as possible Boston Marathon bombing suspects. Or the man falsely identified as the Washington Navy Yard shooter because his identification card was found at the scene of 12 murders in Philadelphia.

“Verify before you villify,” says Ben L. Kaufman in CityBeat.Com, recalling the experience of Rollie Chance, mistakenly identified by NBC and CBS as the Navy Yard shooter. Chance said the falsehood took a toll on him.

At least Chance was cleared quickly, unlike the case of Richard Jewell. He was a security guard portrayed as an heroic first responder at the 1966 Olympic Park bombing which took one life and injured more then 100. Then Jewell became the bombing suspect and was identified, but not charged, in what had been described as a “media circus.”

Jewell was cleared by the federal government after nearly three months of coverage that often focused on him, his appearance, personality and his background. Almost a decade later, Eric Rudolph, a violent anti-abortionist, pleaded guilty to the bombing. Jewell died in 2007.

Looking back on that episode, a New York Times reporter, Kevin Sack, who covered the Atlanta bombing, told of his frustration when the Times executive editor at the time, Joseph Lelyveld, ruled against naming Jewell in the newspaper, while the Atlanta Journal and other media named him.

Later, the reporter praised Lelyveld for his “rabbinical wisdom” in resisting heavy competitive pressure to name Jewell as a suspect.

No rabbinical wisdom appeared to be involved when the New York Post ran a front page photo of two men, calling them “Bag Men” and saying they were being sought by authorities in the April Boston Marathon bombing. The men later sued the tabloid for defamation.

Three people died and an estimated 264 were injured in the April bombing, in which brothers Dzhokar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev later were identified as the suspects. Tamerlan was killed by police and Dzhokar was wounded before his capture.

The Society of Professional Journalists code of ethics says “test the accuracy of information from all sources and exercise care to avoid inadvertent error.” Good advice.

Ombudsmen a Global Growth Industry

By Casey Bukro

The Washington Post’s decision early this year to dump its ombudsman got a lot of attention, but a global growth in the ranks of ombudsmen as a step toward development has gone largely unnoticed.

“This growth reflects a belief in young or fragile democracies that strong media play a critical role in development,” reports “themediaonline,” most notably in Latin America.

“Themediaonline” report was based on “Giving the Public a Say: How News Ombudsmen Ensure Accountability, Build Trust and Add Value to Media Organizations” It was published by fesmedia Africa, a media project of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung in Namibia, Africa. FES is a nongovernment, nonprofit foundation that promotes democratization and good governance.

An Argentine academic said the work of ombudsmen “demands our attention.”

In Africa, according to the report, ombudsmen organizations play an important role in fending off government interference. Instead of working for news media, ombudsmen in other parts of the world might operate as voluntary associations.

Africa has become a hotbed of ombudsman activity.

Complaints to a press ombudsman in the Johannesburg area jumped 224 percent since 2009, according to a report at the South Africa Editors’ Forum at Umhlanga, Africa.

Johan Retief, deputy press ombudsman of Print Media South Africa, said his organization received 151 complaints from aggrieved newspaper readers and newsmakers in 2009, and the tally is expected to reach 490 in 2013. PMSA is described as a nonprofit voluntary association with a membership of 700 newspapers and magazines in four languages.

Greater numbers of complaints to the ombudsman organization have been laid to growing public awareness of the organization’s public advocate role and its effectiveness in dealing with complaints about inaccurate or unfair newspaper reporting, according to IOLnews.

The newspaper industry’s previous system of self-regulation came under attack as “toothless,” and the governing African National Congress threatened to create a statutory tribunal to hear complaints. That was avoided by a stronger stance by the ombudsmen.

For example, Press Ombudsman Retief ordered the Daily Sun newspaper to publish a front page apology for front page color photos of the bodies of people killed in mob attacks.

Complainants said the pictures were insensitive, dehumanizing, inconsiderate, caused discomfort to society and lacked compassion, according to a report in the Mail & Guardian.

The photos published in October and November also raised concerns that they exposed society, including children, to extreme violence and desensitized people to violent crimes.

Rolling Stone Fluffed and Buffed

By Casey Bukro

Rolling Stone magazine turned Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev into a cover boy in a recent edition.

The public reaction was explosive. CNN reported that “outrage is percolating across social media” because of what some saw as the magazine’s glorification of an alleged terrorism suspect.

Rolling Stone editors did not see it that way, stating that “our hearts go out to the victims” of the bombing, but that its cover story “falls within the traditions of journalism” and the magazine’s commitment to “serious and thoughtful coverage of the most important political and cultural issues of our day.”

It’s not as if the magazine portrays Tsarnaev as a blameless victim. It’s story about him is titled: “The making of a monster.”

The magazine usually devotes space to rock stars and celebrities.

Handsome and young with long curly dark hair, Tsarnaev posted the picture of himself online. It has been published widely by media outlets.

Justifying its focus on Tsarnaev, Rolling Stones editors pointed out that he is in the same age group as many of the magazine’s readers, making it important to delve into how “a tragedy like this happens.”

That touched off what could be described as a war of Tsarnaev photos. Boston Magazine showed a bloodied Tsarnaev in photos taken by a Massachusetts State Police officer at the moment of the bombing suspects capture.

“This is the real Boston bomber,” the policeman told the magazine. “Not someone fluffed and buffed for the cover of Rolling Stone magazine.”

The policeman was suspended for releasing the photos, which could be important evidence in Tsarnaev’s trial. Boston Magazine also could be challenged on the ethics of publishing the photos that are part of a continuing criminal investigation.

The Society of Professional Journalists code of ethics asks journalists to “support the open exchange of views, even views they find repugnant.” And they are urged to act independently, even when that appears contrary to strong public sentiment. Others believe the Rolling Stone violated the code’s caution against pandering to lurid curiosity.

Tsarnaev is innocent until proven guilty, and there are always more than two sides to the story. Comments in social media even reveal some sympathy for Tsarnaev.