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Measuring Ethics in Photojournalism with Surveys

Measuring Ethics in Photojournalism with Surveys

For our latest customer spotlight, we’re pleased to have Assistant Professor & Director of Student Media, Dr. Bradley Wilson, Ph.D., of Midwestern State University, share his survey story with us on the state of ethics in photojournalism today.

Welcome, Dr. Wilson!

After the Boston bombing, a number of news media outlets published rather graphic images of the aftermath. Some publications published the images outright. Some blurred the faces of people in the images or cropped off the most graphic portions. Some just digitally altered the images in order to reduce their graphic nature. Others posted warnings about the graphic content.

In this era of instantaneous publishing, a photojournalist can publish straight from the scene with just a click of the shutter. An image can show up nearly live on a website or blog when there are no editors serving as gatekeepers and the rush to be the first to publish is ever-present. As a photojournalist, I became curious about how the standards of ethical publication of photojournalist images had changed over time. For example, across all experience levels, it seems that alteration of a spot news image–as opposed to a feature photo–is unacceptable. Yet many news outlets on the day of and the day after the bombing digitally altered their images.

Based off of work I did in the 1980s, I recently set up a survey to test how professional photojournalists, collegiate photojournalists and scholastic photojournalists feel about the publication and potential alteration of such documentary images. While we certainly can learn more about any differences in these three groups and how ideals have changed over time since the omnipresent use of the Internet in publishing news, we can also learn where the boundaries lie.

I’ve been using SurveyMonkey for a long time. It’s always been my go-to resource for conducting elaborate, international surveys as this. But it’s also my go-to resource for elections or just polling our staff about what they learned from a training exercise or how we need to proceed after discussing something at a meeting. The user interface is easy-to-understand both for those creating the survey and those using it. The built-in logic for people responding to the survey and the analytical tools often make it possible to avoid having to deal with statistical tools such as SPSS or SAS, making it easier and quicker to interpret and to publish results.

When this survey closes, myself and several professionals in photojournalism law and ethics will review the results and try to interpret them based off previous research. Then we will present our findings at this year’s national College Media Association and Associated Collegiate Press Conference. Depending on the results, we’ll also submit them to various publications in order to challenge photojournalists’ future decisions on presenting graphic images to their readers and viewers. Even after the survey is complete, we’ll continue to explore why leaders at those media outlets made the decisions they did.

For even more information about Dr. Wilson’s survey findings, check out the iMediaEthics article.

Questions? Comments? Please leave them for us below.

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