Another. Altered. Photo.

Sean Elliot, NPPA Secretary, chief photographer and all-around good guy, pointed this out to me today – the Charlotte (Fla.) Sun “accidentally” moved an altered image to the Associated Press last week.

The unaltered image ran in the paper on Saturday. According to Executive Editor Jim Gouvellis, the photographer noticed the altered image had been sent while she was making a reprint for a customer. To quote the NPPA story:

Gouvellis said the cleaned-up file that was made for the resale print was never intended to go to AP or anywhere else, that it was to be used only for a customer who was purchasing a print.


Here comes the rant …

If we’re going to do journalism and say the photo is accurate, then it needs to stay accurate in ALL of its forms. Doctoring images for reprints is not right. The same ethical standards we apply to the printed images needs to be applied to the web and everywhere else.

Mr. Elliot asked in his email to me if we need to ban the clone tool altogether. And while it has moments of usefulness – such as cleaning up dust spots – maybe it’s time editors start lobbying Adobe for a “journalism safe” version of Photoshop since we can’t seem to police ourselves.

To give credit where credit is due, it was the photographer, Sarah Coward, who notified her editors and the AP.

But, again – why was anyone altering a NEWS PHOTO? All the public will remember from this instance was someone at the Charlotte Sun digitally altered an image. The fact that it never made it into print is irrelevant, the paper – and our industry – is tainted by this event, further eroding our credibility.

UPDATE: Thanks to commentor Christian for pointing out I had the wrong state above. Now fixed.

Mark E. Johnson

3 Responses

  1. Here is just but one reason in which the photographer may have retouched the photo; the owner of the dog in question contacted her in order to purchase a print, and after viewing the original document asked her to remove the cord.

    Thing is, we don’t know the circumstances behind why the photographer doctored the photo. Any guesses why, is just that.

    If she retains the rights to the photo, she should be able to do whatever she pleases with that photo, as long as it is the undoctored image that is released to the press.

    Its not just the Charlotte Sun that was hurt in this debacle, but journalism as a whole.

    Although, one thing I’m not clear on. The code of ethics states that nothing can be done to a photo that deceives the reader. Yes, the photo was altered, but how does the removal of the cord even come close to that standard? The presence or absence of that cord does not change the composition or the “story-telling” of the photo. It doesn’t even come close to being deception. How is this different than removing dust or a hair?

  2. I was not at all suprised to hear of this story (although I’m late to the news). I have witnessed the Charlotte Sun’s photo editor (Paul Schmidt)remove something from a photo because it “was annoying.” I wouldn’t be suprised if he was the one that originally altered this photo for the reprint, or at least gave the ok on it.

    The fact is they’re not commercial photographers, they’re journalist. They have higher standards to document events than anyone else. It would be like writing a story that runs in the paper about somebody, only they didn’t like the reporter said they had grey hair. So they order a copy of the story from the reporter that says “they don’t have any grey hair at all.” Is that right?

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