Preface and Acknowledgments


Paul Martin Lester

Photojournalism An Ethical Approach

(c) 1999


There has been little mention of photojournalism ethics in textbooks designed for undergraduate journalism students. In fact, throughout the many years of journalism text publishing, only one book has been devoted entirely to the subject of photojournalism ethics.

A typical view of photographers was expressed in a 1932 textbook, Ethics and Practices in Journalism by Albert Henning. He wrote, "Newspaper photographers can scarcely be considered journalists. . . They do not come into contact with the problems that daily face the man or woman who goes forth to gather facts. . . It is difficult to see wherein the education required of a news or editorial writer would be necessary preparation for the class of work photographers are required to do" (pp. 61-62).

Some years later, a few pages in the text, The Press and Its Problems, by Curtis MacDougall (1964), gave advice for budding photographers that would be considered unethical today. If a subject constantly hides his face, MacDougall suggested that "a cry of 'fire' often will cause persons . . . to uncover long enough for a speed flash" (p. 342). Mothers with children or single women can be persuaded to pose if a photographer tells "them they are to be entered in beauty or intelligence contests" (p. 342).

Wilson Hicks (1973), in his textbook, Words and Pictures, argued strongly that photographs and photographers should have the same respect as words and writers. Yet Hicks had no specific section on ethics and admitted that some situations need to be re-enacted for the camera or "require a certain amount of setting up, rearranging and direction" (pp. 128-132).

Several more recent mass media and photojournalism textbooks, fortunately, contain brief discussions of photojournalism ethics. In Eugene Goodwin's (1983), Groping for Ethics, hidden cameras, posed or re-enacted shots, shockingly gruesome pictures, sexually offensive images, invasions of privacy, and whether to take a picture or help a subject in trouble are discussed. The Messenger's Motives (Hulteng, 1984) has one chapter devoted to the newsworthiness of pictures, dead victims of disasters or violence and their grieving survivors, the right to privacy, photographic harassment of famous people, camera and darkroom manipulations, and set up and re-enacted situations.

Photojournalism textbooks, for the most part, have had shorter discussions on photojournalism ethics than mass media textbooks. Cliff Edom (1980) in his second edition of Photojournalism has ethics writer Dr. John Merrill discuss philosophical perspectives of picture-taking ethics. Edom gave a brief history of photojournalism ethics and warned editors not to manipulate images because credibility will suffer. Edom also wrote that photographers should serve the profession "with good taste," must photograph "only the truth," and that photographers do not "accept free tickets, free transportation, free samples . . . " so that objectivity can be maintained while covering a subject or event. Pictures on a Page, Harold Evans' (1978) classic textbook for photojournalism editing instruction, devotes two pages to "four areas of sensitivity: violence; intrusions into privacy; sex and public decency; and faking" (pp. 285-286). Another addition to photojournalism is the technically useful and visually pleasing, Photojournalism: The Professionals' Approach by Ken Kobre (1980). Similar to Edom's work, Kobre mixed history with camera and assignment techniques to produce a textbook that is used by many instructors who teach beginning photojournalism. Kobre wrote that photographers should not set up pictures. Photographs, he added, should not add to the suffering of survivors of a tragedy. In a new edition, Kobre devoted an entire chapter to the subject of photojournalism ethics.

Frank Hoy in 1986 devoted a chapter on ethics in his textbook, Photojournalism, The Visual Approach. Hoy's work provides one of the best general discussions on photojournalism ethics. It was disappointing, however, when he asserted that photographers should not worry with ethical issues when shooting. Problems can occur when photojournalists blindly adopt a shoot first and ask questions afterwards policy.

There has been one undergraduate textbook that concentrated on photojournalism ethics. Published in 197 1, Curtis MacDougall's, Pictures Fit to Print? . . . Or Are They? was not widely distributed. The book is filled with many controversial and disturbing images in several sections. Chapters include "Good Taste and Bad," "Indecency, Obscenity," "Invasions of Privacy," "Crime," and "The National Image." However, the discussion included with the images is superficial and without a philosophical base. The semi-annual Journal of Mass Media Ethics began publication in 1986. The Spring/Summer 1987 edition was a special issue devoted to photojournalism ethics (see Appendix B for a detailed discussion). The newest addition to a photojournalism ethics library is NPPA Special Report: The Ethics of Photojournalism (Lester, 1990). Newspaper and television professionals and academics commented on a variety of ethical issues.

The idea of photojournalism as a profession is only a few decades old. Undergraduate textbooks in the field of journalism are beginning to reflect the change in attitudes among photographers, reporters, editors, and journalism educators toward the photojournalism profession. In its small way, hopefully, this work will continue that positive push forward. .


This work would not be possible without the direct help of Dr. Jim Welke, Director of the School of Communication at the University of Central Florida. He had the wisdom to give me a computer so that I might work more efficiently and stop bothering the secretaries.

My editor at LEA, Jack Burton was always there for me when I had a question or a problem. His enthusiasm for this project helped me through many long nights of frustration. Max McCombs in Texas also offered insightful support.

Jim Gordon, editor of News Photographer magazine, quickly and cheerfully loaned many pictures I could use for this text despite his overwhelmingly busy schedule. Jim gets my vote as photojournalism teacher of the year.

I spoke with many photographers and editors who contributed stories and pictures for this work. Particularly, Rich Beckman contributed a fine synopsis of the research on photojournalism ethics. To all those who helped, thank you for your effort. The success of this text is largely due to all of your concern and love for the photojournalism profession.

But my biggest thanks, so much that it seems absurd to write these inadequate words, goes to my photo researcher, Carla Hotvedt of Silver Image in Gainesville, Florida. She volunteered to take on the frustrating job of securing pictures and permission forms from photographers and picture agents for this textbook simply because she believes undergraduate students can be helped. Please see Carla for all your stock photo needs.

Ethics is a life-long process shaped by what you experience, what you read and who you know. I have been blessed with many teachers in my life. All of my friends/ teachers have helped shape my personal ethical code.

Steve Altman, my first photography teacher at a junior college in Dallas taught me how exciting photography can be.

At the University of Texas, Larry Schaaf taught me the importance of technical concerns and J. B. Colson taught me to care enough about my photographic subjects to include their words with the images.

At the University of Minnesota, George Hage and Hal Wilson taught me to love and respect my students. Everette Dennis taught me to work hard for a project I believe in. Dick Foushee taught me that photojournalism is never really separate from whom I am.

At Indiana University, my dissertation committee, John Ahlhauser, Jim Brown, Will Counts, and George Maccia taught me the value of accuracy and a love for teaching photojournalism. Jim Brown, a trusted friend and mentor, is especially helpful in my continuing ethical growth.

At The Times-Picayune in New Orleans staff photographers G. E., Mike, Bryan, Andy, Lionel, Ronnie, Jerry, Pat, Pete, Burt, Bobby, Don, Ralph, and Tony, writers Millie, Loyce, John, and Chris, and especially, photo editor Jim Pitts, all taught me so many lessons that if each one were listed, another volume of this textbook would be required.

Clarence John Laughlin taught me to see the magical light around us all. Nancy Pierce taught me to care deeply for whatever it is I do. Janice, Aaron, and Ian taught me that distance is a state of mind. Jack Gibbs taught me that a Krylie should never eat beans when the Orkin man is around. Paul "Zuke" Bibbo taught me a brother's love. Donna "Turk" Terek taught me to never lose sight of a goal. Katie Lloyd taught me to be honest with myself. Chris Maron taught me to "Just say yes." Marvin Cortner taught me to laugh at myself.

My father, Tom and my brother, Carl taught me to value every day because life is short. Elaine and Wally MacPhee taught me that "family" is not confined to a blood relative. My mother, Jody taught me that love is infinite and never judgmental.

And finally, Deni and Allison teach me that life is filled with love and joy that is beyond measure.