Unethical photojournalism

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A look at unethical work by photojournalists.

Text of Unethical photojournalism

Unethical Photojournalism


When is it too much?

Composite photos

During Gulf War II in 2003, the Los Angeles Times ran the photo on top on its front page.

Photographer Brian Walski was dismissed two days later.

Moving objects

The pyramids were moved closer together to accommodate this vertical National Geographic cover.

- February 1982

Photoshopping someone in

In an effort to show what a diverse campus UW-Madison is, UW officials doctored a photo that appears on the cover of the Wisconsin 2001-'02 admissions application to include a black student in it.

Not only was the photo added, but the photo was reversed to make it work with the other photo.

Adding other material

Adding material

Veteran news photographer and Pulitzer Prize finalist Allan Detrich resigned from his post at the Toledo Blade in April, 2007 after it was discovered that at least 79 of his photos had been Photoshopped beyond the standards of the paper.

Subtracting material

Pulitzer Prize-winning photo by John Filo shows Mary Ann Vecchio screaming as she kneels over the body of student Jeffrey Miller at Kent State University -- after being fired upon by National Guardsmen.

- May 1970

Valley Daily News, 1970 (bottom) Life Magazine, May 1995 (top)

Adding and subtracting

August 26, 1989 - TV Guide pastes Oprah's head onto Ann Margaret's body.


Saddam Hussein and George W. Bush did not debate, but appeared to in this cover shot.

- February 2003

Color correction

Color correction

After submitting his stunning photos of Haiti to a Danish photo contest, Klavs Bo Christensen was asked to submit the original RAW files as well. The difference was remarkable and the contest judges disqualified the photos, calling them extreme and unacceptable.

Christensen admitted that he had heavily processed the photos, but maintained that the result was within his limits.

- April 2009

Color correction

An Associate Press photo that appeared on the USA Today website in October, 2005 showed then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice with unusually menacing eyes, a result of too much retouching. Some questioned whether the effect had been created deliberately as it was difficult to easily replicate. The offending photo was quickly removed and replaced with a version much closer to the original and an apology from the papers photo editor.

So how much is too much?

Does your photo represent as closely as possible what it actually looked like when you took the photo?

Imagine printing your original photo next to your edited one. Would your viewers feel deceived?

Even a real photo may not be ethical

The Vietnam war presented many tough ethical situations. Nick Uts Napalm Girl photograph, for which he won the Pulitzer Prize in 1972, is not only a shocking indictment of Americas war effort, it contains full frontal nudity of a minor. The ultimate decision to print the photo on the front page of The New York Times must not have been easy. Editors at The Times chose to sacrifice the girls privacy, and perhaps to offend their readers, in order to present an unflinching picture of the conflict and ultimately to serve the greater good.


Media Bistro - 10,000 WordsMITs Daniel BersakSree Sreenivasan

This PowerPoint presentation can be reproduced as long as credit is given to Karen McIntyre.