“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.)