What’s In a Name?

My friend Wasim Ahmad, on the faculty at Stony Brook University, wrote a piece for iMediaEthics about the need for names in photo captions – and this will now be required reading for all of my students. His policy for students is the same as mine – no names, it’s not journalism, it’s not usable.

The argument I hear back from students is that there are lots of images on reputable web sites and in major publications that don’t have IDs, why do they have to have them? My short answer is because I said so, but that never goes over well. There are times, in fast breaking situations, when getting identifying information is hard – it’s almost never impossible, but it can be hard. And by “fast breaking” I mean conflict situations, from protests turned violent to war zones.

In nearly a decade of teaching, none of my students have turned in images from a war zone. Some protests, but nothing I recall would I consider violent.

So, why are they so important? Well, there’s the SEO reason Santiago Lyon, Vice President and Director of Photography for the Associated Press, talks about. But there’s also the local, community responsibility part. Here on campus, and in most communities, people know people. People deserve to be recognized for what they do, regardless of whether it’s a positive or possibly negative thing. Putting a name to faces (and actions) adds authenticity, it adds credibility.

It moves a photograph to photojournalism.

Mark E. Johnson

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