I love books. If I were to have only one regret this life, it would be that there wasn't enough time to read all the books that I want to. My reading list is a long one, and so often, new books have to fight hard to cut the line. I also collect books, and nestled amongst my signed editions of Ansel Adams' The Negative, The Print, Natural Light Photography, and Artificial Light Photography (note: I am still seeking Book 1), several Sam Abel books, signed limited editions of all the great surf photography books, and books like Csikszentmihalyi's Flow, is a book by the legendary Howard Chapnick - Truth Needs No Ally: Inside Photojournalism. I was honored to have him sign mine, and yes, be represented by his agency, Black Star. Yet, there's no bias here - his independent status as a legend probably preceded my birth.
So, it is with reverance that another Chapnick - John Chapnick - comes forth with a new book - Photojournalism, technology and ethics - What's Right and Wrong Today? Oh, and get this - it's a free eBook! Hit this link for the PDF.
In the book, Chapnick states the obvious. Obvious, that is, to those of us who have been doing this awhile. Things like "altering photographs is unethical." Then there's "Staging photographs is unethical." Now, I know these things, yet I see these things happen all the time, and we read time and again about altering photographs and then their appearing in newspapers. Yet Chapnick delves into these issues, citing the policies of wire services and newspapers around the country, and then proffering the thought process:
The rhetorical justifications for these axioms center on public service. Rather than simply selling newspapers or attracting TV ratings, journalists have a higher calling—to provide their audiences with the knowledge required to be informed contributors to a democracy. And this can only happen when the public believes in the newspaper’s authority.
Ahh. Now some lightbulbs are going off in readers' heads. So, where does the money trail meander? Chapnick goes on:
Beyond this consideration, credibility is essential to mainstream news organizations from a business standpoint. If audiences don’t believe they can trust what they’re reading—and seeing—it’s the equivalent of a broken product. And consumers don’t buy broken products for very long.Indeed!
Chapnick then goes on to address the excuses we're hearing from our motion picture brethren, that staging is justified "for purposes of editing", or "for purposes of time", or "for purposes of storytelling", even when the audience is not told of these "re-creations". One field notorious for staging photography is in the field of nature/wild animal photography, with all manner of baiting, pens, and so forth creating a reality that never existed, but which yielded a cover photograph on the front page of the most prestigious magazines of our time.
In the end Chapnick also offers solutions for the digital era, and it's a solid read, primer (or reminder), for anyone who professes to produce editorial images. So, hats off to John Chapnick for a well written and thoughtful perspective on the issue of technology and ethics in photojournalism today. While ethics need no ally, its' furtherance surely needs this roadmap to ensure that tomorrows' photojournalists earn and keep the reputation of truth-telling - no more, and no less.
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