A Perspective on Photojournalism Ethics

This morning I went to a photo ethics talk led up by Michael Prince of Oylmpic College in Washington. He talked about what to consider when you take a controversial photo that you might want to run. He suggested to first use the Bok Model.

1 Use your gut instinct

2 Consult your mentor

3 Start a discussion with others

This is great advice to follow before making a rash decision that could later have negative consequences. “Our ultimate goal is to serve the community and do the right thing. but don’t let that stop you from doing your job.”

We looked at a number of famous photos, such as Napalm girl and the Vietnam execution girl. The audience was ok with running both photos for the most part. We also discussed Stanley Forman’s 1975 Boston Herald photo “Fire on Marlborough Street” and whether we would have ran it. The photo went on to win a Pulitzer Price and led the paper to investigating faulty fire escapes in the city. “Awards are cool, but your goal should be to get the best photo possible.”

The next photo was of a man jumping out of one of the twin towers on Sept. 11, 2001. It was a well-composed photo and helped tell the story of the horrific events that day. All of a sudden the audience that was gun-ho for running controversial photos fell silent. We started changing our minds, and didn’t want to run the photo. But why was this different? I believe it’s because we were alive for 9/11 and remember it vividly. The other photos were from the past and we had no connection to them. But just about everyone has a connection somehow to 9/11. This kind of situation is where trying to be objective is important. “We’re human beings, we can not be objective. We all have our own opinions. The thing we can do is to be fair.”

This advice really spoke to me. There have been a few times where I didn’t know if shooting or running the photo was a good idea. In general I tend to shoot first and ask questions second. But afterwards when I’m deciding what to run I try to be not objective, but my feelings want to influence my decision. This is a topic I really want to bring back to Elon and start a discussion with the other photographers. If we can talk about it now before a situation arises, we can be better prepared for when something big happens.

-Al Drago


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