“Citizen Journalists” and Understanding Ethics

The Ogden (Utah) Standard-Examiner picked up a photo from a regular “citizen journalist” contributor of a train passing over another on a set of elevated tracks. A dramatic image, one that requires planning and patience to make.

Or, well, ten minutes in Photoshop … the photo, from a “trusted contributor,” was a fake. Two images, shot ten minutes apart, were combined into one and sent to the paper.

The “trusted contributor,” James Parks, had this to say about the image(s):

He shot separate photos of both trains and didn’t think twice about overlaying the photos to create the composite image.

He said he had read a column of mine (Andy Howell, author of the story) where I explained that photojournalists try to tell a story with their images. To him, combining the photos was just a way of telling the story.

“I was prepared to get that story on a perfect morning for it to unfold, and the possibility of multiple photos was figured into the vantage point, sky condition and lighting,” he told me in an email.

“When I was done with the 10-minute shoot, I could not wait to get the images on the computer and was very excited about the finished composite.”

James considered the photo an example of time-lapse photography, not an altered image.

“To me, it was just a 10-minute gap,” he said in a phone conversation. “I did not think I was doing anything against the rules.”

It’s the “trusted contributor” that keeps bothering me. If a “trusted contributor” can get one past the editors, what about the rest of the “user generated content” that keeps getting run?

(Thanks to Dave Doonan on Facebook for the link.)

Mark E. Johnson

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