Photojournalism Ethics is an ivory tower.

I’m often reminded as my status as a lecturer. It’s usually in that ‘it may work for you in your ivory tower, but this is the real world sonny’ way, but I don’t mind.

One of the reasons I like being in education is it allows me to have a foot in both camps and, importantly, the time to reflect on that. But I am careful though. Wherever possible I try to not let the minutia of everyday academia filter through. That should stay in the ivory tower.

Sometines I wish industry would return the favour.

PJ Mark Hancock has been pondering ethics in photojournalism and makes some very interesting points. At the heart of the ethical debate for photographers is the issue of photo-manipulation. Its clear that, in photojournalism, these are big ethical no-no’s.

I get the impression that Mark is frustrated that this is even an issue for snappers given the apparent acceptance of ethical practices by journalists.

If a reporter requests we do something unethical, for example, we could ask if they “make up” quotes in their stories. While they should recoil from the notion, the actions are exactly alike. A lie is a lie.

Part of me wonders where reported speech comes in to that analogy – but I digress. Mark puts the blame for ethical problems at the feet those who break the rules. But he see’s a potentially bigger problem in convergence.

Putting photographers at the sharp end of a convergent policy is common – in fact many photographers will demand that they should be there – puts them at a point where photojournalism and TV journalism meet.  That raises some ethical issues.

For Mark there is a very clear lack of journalism ethic in TV news. Why? Well one reason is that practitioners don’t come from newspapers:

While early broadcast news pioneers came from the newspaper business, most recent broadcast celebrities have not.

With an ear to my experience in TV that feels a bit unfair in a broad brush way but I have to concede that the reality (in the US at least) would seem to support Marks view.

But interestingly for me some of the blame for this comes the way of education.

This divergence is often compounded at universities. While some universities do understand the connection, others continue to place RTV majors in the theater arts departments rather than journalism.

If you surround them with actors then they are more likely to make stuff up.

In my university the TV production course is in a different department from journalism. They are taught in the same building as Dancers and actors. We actually teach our journalists to shoot and edit so it’s a bit of an odd model. But in a sense, that isnt the point.

The real issue is that because of a lack of consistency in the industry, ethics becomes an academic debate. What is acceptable or not is an internal issue.  It’s the industries own personal ivory tower. In the same way a professor will reserve the right to pontificate on the ethics of academic research or what consitutes a good student,  the j-industry see fit to reserve the right to use the moral, theoretical issues as defining features of the industry.

I don’t disagree with a word Mark has said. His proffesionalism and genuine hope for a better ethical standard in the industry is the kind of thing that the indusrty needs to drive the standards. But those standards need to be in place for the rest of us to respond to rather than react to.

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