Last week the students were introduced to the First Amendment and photojournalism law and ethics.
I explained to them that law is what you have to follow (don’t slander, libel or steal copyright work), and ethics is basically doing the right thing when no one is looking (don’t manipulating digital photographs or set up a shot if you missed it the first time).
Our discussion on ethics also included how to write unbiased captions, avoid conflicts of interest, and not be prone to bribery (refusing food and gifts).
Training the next generation of visual journalists and citizen bloggers to be ethically fit is what ultimately will help keep journalism credible. Without credibility, we would simply be spreading lies and being deceitful. The communities we cover need to TRUST us as their news source.
One way to preserve the integrity of future visual journalists is by introducing them to sound ethical codes and policies. Photojournalists follow the NPPA Code of Ethics.
Another way is to show them good ethical and unethical examples. Good examples are harder to demonstrate for the simple fact that if you’re doing the right thing, well, it’s not news. In other words, being ethically fit is expected, and is rewarded with credibility and trust.
Bad ethical behavior, on the other hand, is easy to demonstrate. There are way too many photojournalists who have been fired because of unethical behavior. They certainly know better, but their drive to be perfect and/or the best causes them to commit career suicide.
Just this week I added yet another bad example to a growing list of disgraced photojournalists. Sacramento Bee photographer Bryan Patrick was caught combining two photos into one. In the scheme of things, it was such a small, insignificant detail. But a reader noticed the fakery, and that’s all it took for a working, award-winning photographer to suddenly become unemployed.
Is it really worth it? Now everything Patrick has shot will be in question. His journalistic integrity is ruined. The paper’s credibility is sullied. The journalism profession is harmed.
No! It’s not worth it! The only benefit anyone gets out of their bad decisions is that we instructors have more good examples of what not to do.