Digital Photography and Photojournalism

A Case Study: OJ Simpson and Time Magazine

OJ Simpson Time Magazine

During the week of June 27th, 1994, OJ Simpson was arrested for allegedly murdering his wife and his wife's boyfriend. That week, Time Magazine ran the following cover of OJ Simpson. That same week, Newsweek ran the exact photograph on their cover. As people walked by newsstands, they noticed something peculiar about the two magazines sitting side-by-side on the racks. By comparing the two photographs, it became clear that Time had changed the nature of the photograph by darkening the edges, emphasizing the shadows on Simpson's face, and resizing the police numbers at the bottom of the image; Newsweek had done nothing to the mug shot. Beyond changing the image, Time also changed the meaning of the photograph. They made Simpson appear sinister and "guilty before proven innocent" whereas Newsweek maintained the objectivity of their cover photo. Upon noticing the error, Time immediately replaced the issue with a new cover photo, but the damage was already done. Matt Mahurin, the illustrator at Time Magazine who manipulated the police photo of O. J., at his word, he said that he "wanted to make it more artful, more compelling" (Bonnie Meltzer). By changing the nature of the photograph to create a more compelling image, Mahurin illustrates the problems that arise when digital photography and Photoshop collide with the objectivity and truth necessary in the news.

Doctoring photographs have been around since the earliest days in its history, with such artists like Julia Margaret Cameron, who would interrupt the development process to fade out the edges and create soft focus in order to suggest some subconscious narrative; or Pictorialists in the early part of the nineteenth century, like Emerson, Stieglitz and Steichen, whose aim was to create photography that mimicked the high art of painting. In today’s world, digital technology and photo manipulation through the program “Photoshop” has become the newest hit in the art world. The freedom and ability to change an image into an entire new one has inspired incredibly detailed and magnificent works of art. However, there are differences between photo manipulation for art and photo manipulation in the news. Photojournalism is everywhere, in every newspaper, website, news program; news images are supposed to provide the viewer with the assurance that the news they are getting and the images they are seeing are truthful representation of the facts. However, when factual images are “photoshopped” and subsequently used in the mass media, problems arise concerning the ethics of journalism.

The NPPA, on their website, has laid out a code of ethics that they demand their photographers to follow: This code includes:

   1. Be accurate and comprehensive in the representation of subjects.

   2. Resist being manipulated by staged photo opportunities.

   3. Be complete and provide context when photographing or recording subjects. Avoid stereotyping individuals and groups. Recognize and work to avoid presenting one's own biases in the work.

   4. Treat all subjects with respect and dignity. Give special consideration to vulnerable subjects and compassion to victims of crime or tragedy. Intrude on private moments of grief only when the public has an overriding and justifiable need to see.

   5. While photographing subjects do not intentionally contribute to, alter, or seek to alter or influence events.

   6. Editing should maintain the integrity of the photographic images' content and context. Do not manipulate images or add or alter sound in any way that can mislead viewers or misrepresent subjects.

   7. Do not pay sources or subjects or reward them materially for information or participation.

   8. Do not accept gifts, favors, or compensation from those who might seek to influence coverage.

   9. Do not intentionally sabotage the efforts of other journalists.

What becomes apparent after reading these nine ethical guidelines is that wrongful misrepresentation of and influence on the accuracy of photographs constitutes a critical ethical failure on the part of the photographer. A photographer should protect the truth and represent it as accurately as possible; any editorial altercations are breaches in the ethical code.

What I want to examine through this website are these issues that arise when digital technology interacts with journalistic photography. I wanted to provide as many different options for learning as I could (audio, visual, video) because I feel that as our world becomes more digital, trans-media learning (learning across several media) will become more prevalent and more effective in teaching. I felt that the more ways I could disseminate the information on this website to the readers, the more engaged they will be in the material. Reading paragraphs upon paragraphs of text can be boring, but if you can listen, watch, and read all on one website, then interest can be sustained longer.  Furthermore, I decided to express these facts through a website because it allows me to express the facts in an objective manner, and the malleability of websites, html, and CSS allow for creators to tailor their websites to their needs. I want this website to be a jumping off point, an objective stepping stone from which further exploration into the effects of digital photography can begin; The website medium allows me to do this. So, read on, watch the videos, listen to interviews, and enjoy learning about the influence that digital technology is having within the realm of photojournalism.

If you would like to contact me, feel free to e-mail me here.

©2007 Scott Leighton Technologies. All videos are from YouTube. All images are property of the photographer and are displayed here under Fair Use.