Chapter Seven
Other Issues of Concern


Paul Martin Lester

Photojournalism An Ethical Approach

(c) 1999

Ethical concerns are more common conversational topics among news personnel than in past years. A discussion of ethics among journalists moves photographers from a mob of "animals" who are only concerned for their next contest-winning picture to a fraternity of professionals who deeply care about their rights as journalists and the public they serve.

There are several miscellaneous issues that photojournalists regularly face that do not fit into the neat and ordered categories of victims of violence, rights to privacy, and picture manipulations. Nevertheless, when a photographer is confronted with one of them, the ethical problems the issues pose can be equally troubling for photographers and editors.

In responses to surveys, telephone interviews, and within the pages of News Photographer, photojournalists bring up at least 20 issues that occasionally cause them trouble. The topics in no particular order are as follows:

* Police/press relations,
* job-related stress,
* proper dress,
* helping or taking a picture,
* objectivity,
* the use of hidden cameras,
* office politics,
* accepting gifts,
* nude subjects,
* deadline pressures,
* photo packs and pools,
* Obeying minor traffic laws,
* encouraging violence with presence,
* misrepresentation,
* contest pressure,
* comical, obscene, or offensive subjects,
* inaccurate caption information,
* children shown not playing safely,
* covering hazardous assignments, and
* context-excluded images.
At first glance, the 20 miscellaneous issues do not seem to be related. But they can be divided into three areas: organizational, photographer, and reader concerns.


The pressure to produce attention-grabbing, award-winning, and technically pleasing pictures on a daily basis causes a whole host of problems between editors and photographers. When a newspaper organization emphasizes photography contests as a way to give raises and promotions, but does not give photographers time to adequately work on assignments, the mix can lead to ethical troubles.

The combination of contests and deadline pressures can lead photographers to take unethical actions they might not attempt at a more relaxed organization. The use of hidden cameras and other misrepresentation techniques might be justified. A photographer might remain a cool, detached, objective journalist who is happy to let a situation become visually dramatic and not help a subject in physical trouble. Other, less objective photographers may encourage subjects to become more violent during a demonstration so that dramatic pictures can be taken. The photojournalists might rush to the scene of a news event and break minor traffic laws. Such an action might cause trouble between the photographer and the police resulting in film confiscation and arrest. Trying to get a competitive edge over another photographer may actually result, when many photographers cover the same event in a photo pack, in all shooters using the same lens and camera angle. Creativity suffers when every photographer is afraid of missing what some other photographer may have. Trying to get a picture in a hurry, a photographer might inaccurately report names and other facts for the caption. Finally, shooting for contest wins while being pressured by editors to produce those images quickly, results in strained relationships in the office and even stress-related illnesses.

In order to take pictures of young, tired children working with dangerous machinery in factories, Lewis Hine at the turn of the century, regularly misrepresented himself. He would tell the foreman of a factory that he was working for the company and needed to take pictures within the plant. Other times, he would simply hide his bulky view camera under a large overcoat and sneak into the factory. He justified his actions with the Utilitarianism philosophy. Although it may be wrong to falsely represent himself, the greater injustice was the exploitation of children. More recently, journalists have used the same philosophy to justify their questionable actions.

A famous misrepresentation/hidden camera case is the Mirage Tavern story by the Chicago Sun-Times. Photographers hid in a secret compartment above a bathroom and photographed reporters giving bribes to corrupt city inspection officials. Pamela Zekman, the principal reporter for the project, does not support such techniques in a private home, but thinks "it to be an acceptable technique in a public place, like the Mirage" (Goodwin, 1987, p. 188).

Freelance photographer, J. Ross Baughman's Pulitzer Prize winning photographs of Rhodesian soldiers torturing their victims were withdrawn from the Overseas Press Club (OPQ competition because of "so many unresolved questions about their authenticity." Baughman, who has infiltrated Nazi and Ku Klux Klan groups in the United States "had worn a Rhodesian soldier's uniform, carried a gun and joined a Rhodesian cavalry patrol for two weeks in order to get the pictures." John Durniak, picture editor for Time magazine and a member of the OPC stated that "the jury felt the pictures had been posed" ("Pulitzer photos," 1978, p. 5). When a photographer misrepresents him or herself and becomes a participant to violent actions, credibility should be severely questioned.

Persons would change their actions, especially if they were involved in a criminal activity, if they knew a photographer were capturing their movements. Therefore, the use of long and hidden lenses are sometimes justified. Former president of NPPA, Bill Sanders admitted that if "a city official was using city trucks and work crews for personal jobs" it would be acceptable to use hidden cameras in public places (Goodwin, 1987, p. 189). Editors and photographers need to weigh the public's right to know against the paper's need for credible news practices that can be defended.

A Minneapolis Star Tribune reader criticized photographer Stormi Greener for taking a picture of a mother spanking her child that was part of a story on a family near "the edge of serious abuse" of their children. "Greener," the reader wrote, "could have helped her wash a dish, bathe a child, buy groceries for the week. The mother needed some help . . . not the documentation of her treatment of those poor kids on film."

Greener admitted that she could have easily helped the family by giving money to the mother. "But our story," Greener explained, "was not about a journalist coming to the aid of the family. My job was to take an honest look at a family in a struggle. I was guilt-ridden and frustrated with the ethics that I had to live with, [but] the first rule of journalism is to divorce yourself from your subject . . . and do nothing but document and record. . . ." Would Greener have dropped her objectivity principle if the mother was severely beating her child? Greener asserted that had the mother abused the child, she would have intervened (Cunningham, 1989, p. 8).

The principle of objectivity is valued among the journalism profession. But taken to its extreme can result in the loss of a subject's life when help could have easily been rendered. Bill Murphy of the Oregon Journal tried his best to be a compassionate journalist. While trying to convince a man not to leap from a bridge, Murphy also took pictures. Unfortunately, he was unsuccessful in his attempts to convince the man not to jump. The man leaped to his death. Murphy was severely criticized by readers who asked why he took pictures instead of helping. Despite admitting that "I did all I could," he was in agony over his decision.

Cecil Andrews Protests Unemployment

Greener and Murphy know there are limits to a journalist's strict interpretation of the objectivity principle. Two television news journalists did not set such limits. The two recorded on videotape an obviously distraught man who set himself on fire. They hid behind the principle of objectivity to justify capturing a dramatic piece of news film that their station did not even put on the air.

Cecil Andrews was an unemployed roofer in the small town of Jacksonville, Alabama (Gordon, 1983, pp. 11-17). He called the TV station late in the evening and said he would set himself on fire to protest unemployment in America. Ron Simmons and his part-time assistant, Gary Harris, who thought Andrews sounded intoxicated, made several calls to the police warning them about Andrews and where to meet him. Andrews, Simmons, and Harris met in a dark, downtown park. Simmons was concerned that he could not see any police officials. If they were hiding in the bushes, he thought he could signal them by turning on his camera light. But when he did, Andrews squeezed charcoal lighter fluid on his pants leg, made several attempts with matches to light the spot, and eventually started a small flame. For over 30 seconds, the camera crew let the flame grow higher before an attempt was made to put out the fire. By that time, the fire was out of control. Andrews started running across the park, his body a terrifying ball of flame. Luckily, a volunteer fireman with an extinguisher was there to save Andrews' life. Andrews survived with severe injuries. He later filed a $4 million suit against the television news crew.

On national television news shows, special reports, and on front pages of newspapers across the country, the story was reported-not the story of Cecil Andrews protesting unemployment, but the story of two journalists who watched a man trying to kill himself. Typical of the response from the media was a Time magazine story that called the camera crew's actions a "gruesome result of lapses in communication and judgment."

The situation brings to mind Malcolm Browne's coverage of a Buddhist monk who set himself on fire to protest the Diem regime's crackdown on his religion. Newspaper editorial writers at the time "maintained that the newsmen should have intervened." The media is often criticized for contributing to the violence they cover. Journalists noticed that Iranian students outside the American Embassy in Tehran during the hostage crisis in 1979 only yelled their insults against America when the red lights of the television cameras were lit. The police chief of Jacksonville, Alabama summed up the popular opinion when he told the Associated Press that "I'm not trying to condemn the news media but it's a fact when you have lights and cameras that people are going to perform for the cameras" (Gordon, 1983, pp. 12-13).

Cecil Andrews would not have set himself on fire if no news personnel had shown up at the park. He orchestrated the photo opportunity, like any public relations person, to promote his cause. Andrews knew that the television reporters would be interested in a dramatic, eye-catching visual demonstration. One reason protest marchers for any issue carry signs is because they know that media personnel like to see highly visual slogans written on signs.

Two questions remain: If a journalist knows he or she is being manipulated by a subject, should the event be covered? and, Once a decision to cover the event is made, should a journalist step in to help a subject in physical trouble?

It seems unlikely that journalism will ever come to a point when it can resist being manipulated by subjects. Press conferences and White House photo opportunities are scheduled all the time to allow reporters access to governmental officials. Local organizers of craft and art fairs make it easy for photographers to cover their charitable events by giving information and schedules to editorial staffs. But during a demonstration, photographers can make sure that their presence does not contribute to the violence. A thoughtful photojournalist should watch the demonstrators closely, perhaps from a far vantage point, As more journalists with their cameras arrive at the scene, does the intensity level of the protesters seem to grow? Does a demonstrator ask to have his or her picture taken? If the protest occurs at night, do the protesters react to a camera's flash or a video camera's light? These are some questions you can ask yourself to help determine if the media's presence and not the issue is creating news. Unfortunately, when protesters and police are battling, no matter the contributing factors, it is a major news story that should be covered. Knowing what is and what is not news (as detailed in chapter 2) becomes extremely important in these situations. The arrest of many protesters is clearly news. The self-immolation of a possibly drunk individual is not news. But the fact that two videographers taped a man trying to kill himself instead of preventing the act, is news.

News Photographer magazine often reports stories of journalists putting away their cameras and helping people in trouble (see "Helping hands," 1983; "Shoot or help?," 1980; "Walkie-talkie," 1983). Ed Bradley of CBS rushed to rescue refugees from Vietnam off the coast of Malaysia. Reporter Christine Wolff of the Bradenton Herald (FL) physically prevented a man from jumping off a bridge until state troopers arrived. Arriving at the scene of a serious car crash before emergency personnel, Cramer Gallimore of the Fayetteville, North Carolina Observer-Times, stopped the bleeding from a head wound of one of the drivers before he made pictures. At another assignment, Gallimore rushed into a burning apartment building to save the life of a hysterical woman. Photographer John Doman and writer Chuck Laszewski of the St. Paul, Minnesota Pioneer Press saved a woman from possible drowning. Doman used his portable radio to call the police for help.

Jeff Greenfield on ABC's "Nightline" program feels that journalists should always help a subject "where you as an individual have a direct possibility of stopping a life-threatening piece of behavior. Put down your pad and pencil, put down the camera; save the life. You can get the story later, if indeed there is a story" (Gordon, 1983, p. 17).

One of the largest index sections in the NPPA directory (1989) is a list of stories in News Photographer on relationships between the press and the police. From 1978, over 45 articles have been published about the issue. Problems with the police typically result from overly anxious police officers, during an emotionally charged situation, who do not understand the reporting rights of journalists. Sometimes, however, a photographer exasperates the situation with an impolite or cavalier attitude (Adaskaveg, 1985, pp. 8-12).

One of the primary principles for journalists is the monitoring function. Reporters observe government officials to make sure individual rights are not violated. But when those officials do not want to be monitored, problems can result. Alec Costerus, a freelance photographer for the Boston Globe, AP, and UPI, was driving to his parents home in Marion, Massachusetts late one night. He saw a police car with its blue lights flashing and decided to stop. Costerus observed two teenagers suspected of driving while intoxicated being beaten up by the police officers. Costerus identified himself and started taking pictures. He was immediately arrested and charged with interfering with a police officer. Costerus was acquitted and he was eventually awarded $24,000 in damages, but that is not the important issue. From his case, guidelines were established by the Marion police department that stated "the mere presence of a photographer or reporter at an accident, crime or disaster scene, and the mere taking of pictures . . . relative to the incident do not, in themselves, constitute unlawful interference with police activity and should not be restricted" (Holland, 1989, p. 4). NPPA and Mark Hertzberg, regional director and photographer for the Racine, Wisconsin Journal-Times, drafted guidelines for police/press relations in 1981. The guidelines are meant to be "incorporated into a [police] department's training manual" (Guidelines, 1989, p. 36).

Despite NPPA's best wishes, photographers usually do not have good relationships with police personnel. Seminars and lectures explaining the roles of each group are helpful to create better understanding.

Photographers should respect the difficult jobs police officials have. That respect starts with obeying traffic and trespass laws. Photographers are divided on the issue. In a national survey, a photographer said that "Breaking any kind of law should be extremely unethical, although we all fudge a little bit on the accelerator. I will not park illegally as television vans do. But what do you do when you need close access and there is no parking?" A director of photography has a direct answer, "I feel very strongly that especially with regards to traffic laws all journalists should be accountable and not feel above the law" (Lester, 1989, p. 106).

At a news scene, photojournalists should be especially careful not to unduly upset victims or their families. Many problems with the police are a result of a photographer trying to get too close to a distressed subject. A police officer will often try to protect such an individual. Whenever possible, use long, telephoto lenses. Speak simply, directly, and politely to any police officer who asks you questions. If an officer gives you trouble, try to speak to his or her superior or save the issue for a later meeting with police officials after emotions have cooled. Remember that you may be right, but it is hard to take pictures while handcuffed.

Pack and Pool Photojournalism

Deadline and competitive pressures are blamed for contributing to pack journalism. Writers and photographers must produce meaningful stories and photographs within a narrowly defined time frame. As a result, journalists often ban together into a media mob so that no event, no matter how trivial, will be missed. The media was criticized for its coverage of the 1988 presidential campaign because journalists concentrated on photo opportunities orchestrated by campaign handlers instead of under-the-surface issues. Journalists need to break from the pack and find stories and pictures that are not a part of a handler's plan. The main story is not always what the candidate looks like when speaking to a crowd. Photographers need to observe quickly developing human interest moments that only occur outside the special press section next to the candidate's podium. Remember the maxim: Only hacks travel in packs.

When access to an assignment is unusually limited, photographers often find themselves members of a pool with reporters and videographers. In a photo pool, a photographer is allowed access to an important news event with the understanding that the pictures produced will be shared openly with other news organizations. The U.S. government was severely criticized by members of the journalism community when it barred reporters and photojournalists access during the invasion of Grenada. Consequently, photo pools were established during the invasion of Panama. The day following hurricane Hugo's rampage across South Carolina in 1989, Tom Fowler (1990) of the South Carolina Educational Television network provided news footage taken by a videographer in a government helicopter at courtesy credit to any news organization who wanted it. Because access to the South Carolina beaches by journalists was severely limited, the photo pool gave the public vital visual information that would otherwise been unknown.

Photojournalists, especially freelance photographers' need to be sure that members of a pool are selected fairly. Although a pool of photographers were selected, a rescue picture of a man trapped in his car for 4 days after the 1989 earthquake in San Francisco was taken by one of the rescue workers. The picture was used in several newspapers, despite objections from members of the pool (personal communication, March 1990).

The Need for Accurate Captions

The verbal information that photographers gather during an assignment is as crucial to the reporting process as taking pictures. Facts, whether verbal or visual, need to be absolutely accurate. When a photographer misspells a person's name or juggles the order of participants in a group portrait by mistake, the result can be embarrassing, but not serious. But if a major fact is wrong, the result can be devastating. Photographs of the family of teacher-in-space, Christa McAuliffe were mislabeled in the captions. Three photographers thought they were taking pictures of the family reacting to the shuttle's explosion. The pictures all show what could easily be interpreted as a family reacting to an extremely stressful moment-the death of their loved one. There is open-mouth screaming, crying, and hugging among the family members. The subjects in the pictures, however, are simply animatedly reacting to the shuttle's lift-off.

Jim Cole, an AP stringer, summed up the feelings of the photographers involved in the caption controversy. "Obviously this mistake has caused me considerable and personal anguish. While it will always be my loss, I hope photographers and editors will be able to profit from my experience" ("Photographers' caption," 1986). Either as a result of deadline pressure that prevented a thorough investigation of the facts or heat-of-the-moment concentration that ignored important details, photographers must be sure that they remain calm and accurate reporters.

Pressure from Contests

Contests are often blamed for contributing to an atmosphere of hectic competition among staff photographers. Competition can be healthy. It encourages all involved to produce their best work. But when competition is combined with an emphasis on contests, unethical actions can sometimes result.

In a national survey of 157 newspaper editors, "most newspapers . . . had policies, usually informal, that encourages prize seeking." It was also found that most editors encourage their reporters to enter contests (Coulson, 1988). As with competition, contests can be positive. Photographers in another national survey generally agreed that contests can improve a shooter's output. "We're probably the only profession with such an emphasis on awards. However, it does allow us to measure ourselves and our work against others in the rest of the country," wrote one photographer. Another photojournalist wrote that contests "improve the quality of photos by providing good examples to younger shooters." A third photographer made the point that "In many ways competition helps improve quality over the years, but photographing grief is usually done simply to get a clip winner" (Lester, 1989, p. 110). Another valuable function of contests is that the winners are published in News Photographer and other magazines, along with the stories behind them. The problem with contests is that their results are often inconsistent. Judging is often subjective with few but the winners satisfied. Judges select contest winners for a variety of reasons. Most picture prizes, it is hoped, are given on the basis of good journalism. But judges sometimes let personal likes and dislikes, personality conflicts among judges, and simple fatigue sway results. Although the size of the picture and the reproduction quality of tearsheets are overlooked in competitions, judges do not always follow that mandate. Judges in the Pictures of the Year contest are typically asked to select winners out of over 36,000 photographs and tearsheets. It is an exhausting task. Good pictures sometimes fall through the cracks.

When a photography staff emphasizes contests as raise and promotion requirements, the politics within the department can become critical. Friction between photographers and editors often results when photographs are cropped, used small, and on an inside page despite a photographer's recommendations. Photographers know that a larger size will influence some contest judges. Photographers will complain when other staff members get better assignments. Instead of sharing information and helping one another, photographers become secretive and jealous. Editors should never require photographers to enter contests. Likewise, raises and promotions should be decided on the contribution the photographer has made to the community by a consistent body of solid photojournalism. Editors, those who are familiar with a photographer's work, should make crucial career decisions and not judges who view only a small sample.

An ideal competition would be a monthly clip contest in which first, second, and third places are chosen for the assignment categories by judges outside the photographers' region. A monthly publication would immediately publish the judges' results and comments. Technical and background information from the photographers would also be included. No points would be awarded as no end-of-the-year winner would be selected. Such a contest would award a photographer's effort, let others know what content is most respected by members of the profession, and relieve much of the stress associated with traditional contests.

Stressful Assignments Take Their Toll

Too many deadlines, contests, and gruesome assignments can be dangerous to a photographer's mental and physical health. Photojournalism is a highly stressful profession. Besides the everyday life stresses that all must face, photojournalists must also deal with picture demands from editors and writers, technical decisions that determine proper exposure and coverage, assignment schedules that are sometimes vague or conflict with other events, and subjects that are uncooperative, grieving, or dead. Within a few years on the job, a photojournalist learns all the ways people die-drowning, car and plane crashes, murders, and many mind numbing accidents. And as with others who witness such dreadful events-police, fire and ambulance workers, nurses, and doctors-post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or "battle fatigue" effects photojournalists as well. When a victim is a small child or a person the photographer knows or can relate to, the impact can be devastating.

A newspaper writer described the personality of emergency rescue workers. The description could easily fit most photographers:

Emergency-service workers tend to be perfectionists; they have an eye for detail and enjoy taking risks. Typically highly dedicated, they want to set things right and hate to take no for an answer. They often develop a false sense of security-they have always tolerated the pressure, and assume they always will.
Those suffering from PTSD "may become depressed, refuse help, hallucinate, quit jobs and families, even kill themselves" (Spitzer & Franklin, 1988, p. E-4). A stressed photographer may also turn to alcohol and drugs as short-term relief.

Dr. Jeffery Mitchell, a University of Maryland psychologist, travels around the country setting up programs in local communities to help "paramedics, firefighters, and police officers cope with tragedies they see" (Salamone, 1988, p. B-1). Newspaper organizations need to recognize that PTSD is a condition that can be treated if diagnosed early enough. Photography editors must know how to recognize a staff photographer who exhibits symptoms of stress-related illnesses. Journalists should be included in group discussions for rescue workers that would not only help those who participate, but would foster appreciation of the problems both journalists and rescue personnel face. Editors need to give their photographers adequate time to complete assignments. Picture story deadlines, for example, need to be realistic. An in-depth lifestyle story cannot be accomplished in a few hours. If a photographer has a problem brought on by stress or any other factor, editors need to seek compassionate help for that valued employee.

Photographers need to be included early in discussions with editors and writers about stories. Photographers are often told to produce meaningful pictures in a few hours while a writer has been working on a series of articles for several months. Photographers need to realize that their whole world does not revolve around equipment and subject concerns. Strong personal relationships and interests unrelated to news photography make photographers more interesting, caring, and relaxed people. If a photographer feels the stress that the many pressures can apply, he or she should never hesitate to talk it over with a friend, colleague, or editor and seek professional help.


Covering Dangerous Assignments

Photographers are sometimes asked to cover assignments that can be hazardous to their health. Without proper training and safety equipment, photographers can be injured covering accident scenes where "unstable and reactive materials, corrosives, liquid, gas and solid flammable materials, toxic materials, explosives and radioactive materials" are present. Photographers can also be injured covering a demonstration that turns into a violent riot. Michael Green of the Detroit News gave advice to photojournalists covering dangerous assignments. "It's important to stop and think before going in to [a hazardous area]," Green warns. "It's also one time you might want to listen to the cops or authorities when they tell you not to stand some place or enter certain areas" ("Warning," 1986, pp. 7-11).

At an NPPA convention, Greg Lewis, a professor of journalism gave tips for covering an assignment that involves hazardous materials:

* when you first arrive at the scene, check with a police or fire commander for information about the hazardous materials;

* use a long lens;

* stay uphill and up wind; do not walk through or touch any liquid; green, yellow, or orange smoke indicates a chemical source; do not inhale smoke;

* toxic vapors can be odorless and tasteless; because of the danger of explosion from internal sparking, motor drives, flashes, and radio gear should not be carried to a flammable liquids fire;

* assume hazardous materials are involved at any industrial site; and

* if contaminated, seek immediate decontamination. ("Warning," 1986, p. 11)

Time magazine photographer, Bill Pierce (1983), has covered combat zones in troubled areas throughout the world. Pierce has had many photojournalist friends killed and wounded photographing wars. His advice can be applied to newspaper photographers covering violent events in their own communities.

* wear a flak jacket all the time;

* minimize equipment for quick movement;

* travel in pairs;

* know the language of the people you photograph;

* take pictures that show the cost on lives after the firing has stopped; and

* have clear, journalistic reasons why the violence should be documented. (p. 126)

Editors have a responsibility for the safety of their personnel. Safety concerns start with proper ventilation and handling of photographic materials (Tell, 1988). Jim Jennings of the Lexington, Kentucky Herald-Leader said that covering the news should not "take precedence over the safety of their personnel." An editor must never put photographers "into a situation that is even remotely life-threatening" ("Warning," 1986, p. 10).

Personal Appearance as an Issue

For most assignments, dress and personal grooming is a matter of taste and professionalism and not a matter of ethics. But a photographer's ethics may be questioned if his or her appearance is inappropriate for an assignment. In a national survey, photographers were asked to voice their opinions about attending an assignment while improperly dressed. One photographer wrote, "You may come to work dressed for a sporting event and then be called to go on a different assignment. As long as your clothes are clean and not tacky you should be able to cover almost any assignment." Another respondent wrote, "If I wanted to wear a tie I'd work in a bank!" A third photographer said, "Oftentimes the scheduling of assignments precludes changing clothes. However, dressing appropriately for the assignment at hand is as important as other ethical concerns" (Lester, 1989, pp. 103-104).

The appearance issue was hotly debated in the late 1970s when the television show, "Lou Grant" was aired. Daryl Anderson played the sloppily dressed and unshaven, "Animal." Many news photographers objected to his appearance, but producers said that his character was based on real, West Coast photojournalists. Rich Clarkson, the former director of photography at National Geographic, said that photojournalists "dress and behave so poorly that they increasingly face restrictions in covering major news events." Photographers, Clarkson asserted, are roped off in out-of-the-way locations during sporting events, out-of-sight of television cameras and fans, because of their appearance (Sanders, 1986).

A photographer's appearance is never so critical as when a funeral is covered. Those on the scene judge a photographer's concern for the family by what the photographer wears. Obviously, cut-off blue jeans and a T-shirt is inappropriate attire, but photographers have been known to cover such events wearing not much more. Photographers should have a coat and a tie or a nice blouse and a skirt in their car in case they are needed for an unexpected assignment. Mark Hertzberg wrote that "Dress is an important part of the way the public perceives us and in their acceptance of us in times of stress. I think many of us can dress better day-to-day without having to wear a three-piece suit" ("Photographers give," 1986, p. 24). During a sensitive assignment, if a photographer is dressed neatly with a tie or skirt, the awkward job of taking pictures is made a little easier.

Accepting free gifts from subjects can cause a reporter to lose his or her credibility. How can a photographer be an objective recorder of facts if money or gifts are changed hands? Richard Oppel, editor of the Charlotte Observer' (NC) recalled that when he was a young Associated Press reporter covering the Florida legislature, the press corps "accepted electric razors as gifts from Gov. Haydon Bums." Oppel said that "Even the sole woman correspondent got a lady Remington" (Vaughan, 1989, p. A-16).

Subjects sometimes hand out small gifts or amounts of money in the hope of buying loyalty or favoritism. Seldom is a gift given as a simple act of friendship. Journalists need to recognize the practice for what it is and not succumb to the temptation. A press junket, a trip organized by a corporation to show correspondents a new operation, can amount to a gift of thousands of dollars. The Observer, like many newspapers across the country, do not allow their reporters to accept anything for free from any source. Just as newspapers should pay for a movie critic's ticket and a food critic's meal, if a story is worth covering, the paper should pick up the entire tab for any writers or photographers.

One photographer said that "The gifts we are allowed to receive must not exceed $5 in value." A director of photography at a newspaper admitted that "if after the work has been published, a subject wants to offer something out of friendship, I will make a trade, offering prints." Photo sales is a common practice with newspaper photographers, but they should be handled by a business manager and not the individual photographers. Another director of photography said simply, "Company policy is we accept nothing" (Lester, 1989, p. 105).

Television journalist, Linda Ellerbee was severely criticized by journalism professionals for accepting a large amount of money to participate in a series of television commercials for a coffee producer. Making paid, public endorsements for any product damages a journalist's credibility. As Loren Ghiglione, president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors said, "the public demands higher and higher standards from public officials, and journalists are feeling that too" (Vaughan, 1989, p. A-16).


Nude or Embarrassing Images

Just as with gruesomely violent images that editors place on their front pages, embarrassing or obscene behavior by subjects caught with a camera, can produce a flood of mail from readers who object to the pictures. Editors need to be sensitive to the taste of readers, but not be guided exclusively by those changing standards.

Many editorial decisions are based on a publication's readership. London's Fleet street newspapers have a reputation for printing pictures of scantily clad, beach-strolling women. The New York Daily News often prints the same subject in its tabloid. Editors print these images because their readers expect to see them. Many readers would complain if the pictures were omitted. The same kind of pictures found within the vertical fold-out of Playboy magazine would never be considered by an editor of a "family-oriented" newspaper.

A college newspaper sometimes covers subjects that are not covered because of the acceptance level of readers. When running nude through college campuses, streaking, was popular in the late 1970s, college photographers regularly covered the over-exposed subjects. The Daily Collegian, the student newspaper for Pennsylvania State University, printed a bare-chested winner of a wet T-shirt contest. Kathleen Pavelko, columnist for the Collegian, wrote that the picture was printed not because of its nudity, "but as a student phenomenon and a possible trend on American college campuses. The contest was a slice of student life" (Goodwin, 1987, p. 218).

Hal Buell of the Associated Press admits that nudity is a delicate subject with readers. "We will not carry full frontal views of nude men or women except in a most extreme case," wrote Buell. "We will transmit pictures of bare bosoms when such pictures are pertinent to the story." A bare-chested protester during the 1972 political convention in Miami, a topless woman on a beach in Denmark, and an opera soprano disrobing at the end of her aria are examples of AP wire transmissions. Yet most editors filed the pictures in a desk drawer rather than print the images in their community newspapers (Mallette, 1976, p. 75).

Don Black could not get his pictures published by his newspaper because editors were worried about shocking their readers. Black made pictures that showed a father delivering his own son. His pictures later ran in People magazine (Mallette, 1976, pp. 218-219).

Some newspapers stay away from pictures that show famous people looking silly or embarrassed. Many papers would not print pictures of President Ford who was caught tripping on several occasions by photographers. When presidential candidate, Edmund Muskie cried during a campaign, some editors did not print the picture. When President Reagan wiggled his fingers during a White House news photographers banquet, Rich Lipski of United Press International captured the gesture that many editors did not print ("Gotcha!," 1983).

One-finger gestures give editors more problems than Reagan's wriggling hands. Vice President Nelson Rockefeller was pictured by Don Black "giving the finger to Binghamton, N. Y. hecklers" in 1976. Harry Thernal (1987) of the Wilmington, Delaware Morning News-Journal, recalled that editors were concerned that if Rockefeller's picture was published, children might "think it's all right to copy the gestures" (p. 11).

Thernal was involved with another obscene gesture controversy at his newspaper. Ernest Parsons, a convicted double murderer, raised both of his middle fingers of his chained hands for Ronald Cortes' camera. The picture ran on the front page of the Morning News-Journal. Themal wrote that "The phone was already ringing as I stepped into the office. It didn't stop ringing for hours as caller after caller complained about the picture's being published on the front page." A man said that the picture was "absolutely tasteless. I found it embarrassing when my 7-year-old son brought in the paper and turned it to this picture. I've lost all respect for the newspaper." Another man said, "You shouldn't be glorifying an individual convicted of murder."

As an answer to the readers' wrath, editor Donald Brandt said that "the gesture is not as obscene as the crime of which Parsons was found guilty . . . the photo made an eloquent statement about the obscenity of the crime." Managing editor, Norm Lockman said that the picture "showed Parsons utter contempt for society. It offends us, too, but our photographer's depiction of this anti-social behavior says volumes about this man" (p. 10).

Context-Excluded Images

Michael Smith, photo director for the Detroit Free Press, was accused of glorifying a drug dealer by readers because of a photograph that was printed. Richard Carter, reputed to be one of Detroit's major cocaine dealers, was shot to death in a hospital bed. He was buried in a $16,000 casket "customized to look like a Mercedes-Benz-complete with wheels, grill and headlights." George Waldman made a picture of Carter that showed his body lying in the open casket. Although some readers objected to seeing a corpse, most complained that the picture glorified the drug dealer. Smith said that the picture "says a lot about the drug culture in Detroit in 1988." Reader representative, Joe Grimm (1989) admitted that the picture did no make it clear enough that the casket "symbolized unabashed arrogance and ignorance of drug dealers who have contributed greatly to Detroit's toll of young shoot ing victims" (p. 3 1). The context of a picture, explained in a story or column, will diffuse much of the protest about a controversial picture.

AIDS research and care are highly emotionally charged issues. When covering the AIDS story, photographers usually concentrate their efforts on those unfortunate individuals who are close to death. Alon Reininger has traveled the world for many years to document the AIDS crisis. His portrait of Ken Meeks, who died shortly after the picture was taken, shows a man sitting in a wheelchair, lesions covering hi arms, and staring at the camera with a hauntingly vacant look (" 150 years," 1989)

During Nicholas Nixon's Museum of Modem Art show where he presented hi work, "People with AIDS," a protest group handed out fliers. The flier stated that photographers who portray the emancipated bodies of AIDS victims show "people to be pitied or feared, as people alone and lonely." The gallery exhibit "perpetuate general misconceptions about AIDS without addressing the realities of those of us living every day with the crisis."

According to the New York activist group, ACT UP, the reality of a life with AIDS is more optimistic, but less visually dramatic. Because of "experimental drug treatments, [and] better information about nutrition and holistic care," AIDS patients are living longer (Grover, 1989).

Editors should never publish shocking pictures for their shock value alone. No responsible editor would contemplate such an action. The days when a publisher can make a large amount of money with a sensational picture on the front page are long over. Publishers reveal that a newspaper's profits are made from selling advertising, not papers. If anything, such a dependence would cause editors to be more conservative in their picture choices so as not to offend advertisers. Don Black and other photographers worry that editors are, in fact, too timid when it comes to pictures and stories that might shock or offend some readers. "Failing to run an important news picture for fear of reader response," Black says, "is indulging in a form of censorship" (Goodwin, 1987, p. 219). The public never learns the whole truth, however, when graphically visual images are devoid of a fuller context.

Images of Children in Dangerous Situations

Occasionally, an editor will hear complaints from readers who object to the showing of children not playing safely. Human interest pictures of children jumping from a second floor window onto several stacked mattresses, playing with fire or guns, or floating on hand-made rafts on a river, might give editors problems. The Florida Supreme Court recently ruled that a soft drink company "is not liable for damages suffered by a teenager who broke his neck and was paralyzed when he copied a stunt he saw in a Mountain Dew television commercial" (Van Gieson, 1989, p. D-9). The ruling could probably be applied to a parent's lawsuit if a child was injured copying an unsafe act printed in the newspaper. Responsible editors, however, will avoid such tragic confrontations.


Bill Phillips (personal communication, March 27, 1990), director of photography and Bill Dunn, managing editor of The Orlando Sentinel, have come up with 16 areas of sensitivity "that should raise a flag on all desks-though not an automatic signal to kill." The 16 subject categories that might give picture editors trouble include:

* body shots,
* gore, grief,
* the physically and mentally afflicted,
* vulgar gestures,
* cheesecake and beefcake,
* otherwise sexually offensive pictures (includes see-through and sexy fashion photography),
* racial or ethnic stereotypes (includes those that inflame),
* pictures that embarrass or ridicule,
* invasion of privacy,
* trespass,
* posing news pictures,
* mechanically manipulated images,
* kids doing dangerous things,
* juveniles being arrested, and
* dead animals.
Inevitably, there will be other, unique issues that will test the ethics of photographers and editors. With a solid and sure philosophical foundation, an understanding of the many conflicting opinions, and an emphasis on journalistic credibility, decisions can be defended with confidence.