Teaching Notes

You must become the flame on the candle. - Thich Nhat Hanh

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Truth, Truthiness, Truthfulness

Please evaluate the actions of the photographer and AP from an ethical perspective. Your response is due no later than Monday, midnight. Late or inadequate responses receive an F.

http://lens.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/01/24/truth-and-consequences-for-a-war-photographer/?hp

More to think about:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/28/business/media/california-denies-scorned-journalist-stephen-glass-right-to-practice-law.html?emc=eta1

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/10/business/media/if-a-story-is-viral-truth-may-be-taking-a-beating.html?pagewanted=1&_r=0&hp

26 comments:

Chrissy Borella said...

Going off of the three articles presented here, coming up with my ethical standpoint was difficult. Narciso Contreras, an obviously valuable photographer to the Associated Press as well as the greater public, did technically do wrong in manipulating a photograph. He dismantled the raw truth of the picture in order to 'sensualize' the soldier and the Syrian war. "Truth and the Consequences for a War Photographer" heavily focused upon Contreras' personal liabilities he took on as a war photographer. Contreras was in the middle of active combat and in incredible danger. Not only does this strike me as a reflection of how devoted of a photographer he is, Contreras' role here led to nothing short of stress. This too was highlighted in the article. In choosing what to do with his photograph, Contreras first thought of what message he wanted his audience to gather from his photo: the true intensity of the war. Within "If a Story is Viral, Truth May Be Taking a Beating," a running theme is this concept of timeliness. Deadlines are inherently always a pressure for the Journalism industry. However, mentioned within this article as well as potentially relevant to Contreras' experience, present times call for the story as soon as possible before the next person reveals the news online or in an other instant form. Following this, Contreras had revealed his mistake to the press because his own ethical decision was in favor of honesty. In complete contrast to Mr. Glass, the subject within "California Denies Scorned Journalist Stephen Glass Right to Practice Law," Contreras willingly sought to reveal his mistakes. He recognized his fault and while potentially could have gotten away with it, chose to admit to his mistakes. While I understand the Associated Press in terminating their relationship Contreras is simply abiding by the Journalism Code of Ethics here, I question whether these technicalities within the code are circumstantially more significant than one incredibly established and devoted photographer's one manipulation. Is Contreras' removing of a video camera in order to reveal to the public an image of war without distraction a better trade off than the Associated Press' exemplification of true Journalistic ethics? In this situation, I believe Contreras deserves to continue serving the public with his professional skills.

Lodia Acosta said...

From an ethical perspective, both Narcisco and AP made the right decisions. Although Narcisco made a horrible mistake, as per the journalism ethical commandments, you should alter a picture in any sort of way. And it makes sense; it takes away from the credibility of the source and the credibility of the war. Although I do agree that the camera would have taken away the feel of the war, his statements support the fact the war is nothing to joke with. He experienced shooting and scary situations such as that moment that he caught the picture. During that stressful moment and desperation, anyone can make a mistake by leaving an object in the way, but if that happens then the picture should not have been used at all. He did stress the fact that from the beginning he didn’t want his team to publish It, he admitted to making the mistake because he is an ethical truthful man who made a mistake for a shot that really shows a moment of battle. AP made the ethical decision for letting him go, but as a human we all make mistakes and he felt very guilty for it. I do not believe he should have lost his job. A suspension might have been a better choice but this photographer has an amazing background when It comes to picture taking. One part that really makes me question the media outlets in general is their morals. The audience is seeking for the truth, we want the real story, we do not want to be brainwashed, or played. We seek he truth and this is very disappointing. It brings up the question about many other photographers committing the same mistake and getting away with it. Unlike Narcisco who turned himself in. This shows that the audience’s point of view was very important to him. The beginning of the article states that the rule is pretty clear and simple; I believe Narcisco served as an example to many photographers about making unethical decisions and the consequences behind them. Another part that stood out to me as well was that he could have got away with it, he went through so much in Syria and he experiences a month of being scared and risking his life for these images. Why not just get the credit and move on? All that hard work led him to losing his job. The point I’m trying to make is that, you always have the choice to make an ethical decision or an unethical one. You are in control of your morals and manners. Relating this back to our discussion for last week, this is a lesson on how to be more ethical. Meaning someone can be taught to make the same decision as Narcisco, to turn himself in or the other choice of never doing at all. It is an open window and as I mentioned in my last response, being ethical is a learning process. The other two articles that were posted were very interesting to read. But the punishments are very intense such as the one of the journalist who will not be able to serve as a lawyer. Sometimes people do make unethical decisions, it is a mistake. But learning from it and suffering the consequences of losing their job I believe should be enough. Sometimes banning someone from their job can lead to worse behavior and can possibly affect the person when it comes to more ethical decision making.

Brittani Graves said...

After reading the article, “Should the AP Really Have Fired this Pulitzer-Prize War Photographer?” I couldn't but help feel pulled. The number one rule as stated in the article for photojournalism Is to NEVER manipulate a picture. Mr. Contreras never in his whole career manipulated a photo up until the one posted here during the Syrian war. I can understand why he did it because in his situation, the only photojournalist who had the courage to step into a war zone, he wanted to portray the war in a truthful way and in the way he experienced it himself through the photo. If I were him I would feel the same frustration from a stupid video camera getting in the way of an amazing shot. What makes Contreras different from others is that he stood his ground but took responsibility for his wrong actions. It says in the article that he apologized but was not defensive. When people act defensive it is a sign of guilt. In my opinion Contreras was not a liar in any way because he never lied to the Associated Press; he revealed his wrong action before anyone having suspected something altered with the photo. On one hand I think because he was so honest with the AP about what he did they shouldn't have fired him and basically ruined his reputation as a photojournalist, but on the other hand if the AP didn't fire him it would in a way have opened a door to others doing something wrong as well and giving off the impression that the AP is very forgiving for mistakes. Everyone is human and we all make mistakes but unlike Contreras a lot of people can't find it within themselves to admit their wrong doings and take responsibility for them. I believe Contreras is a great example of a truthful individual. I think that the AP lost an amazing photojournalist who I don’t believe will ever make the same mistake again.

Kaycia Sailsman said...

After reading the three articles, here is what I have come up with. According to the NYT article of the war photographer who wrongfully Photoshopped a photo he had taken while on assignment in Syria. I do acknowledge that his actions were wrong and as a professional photographer who works for a big news venue such as AP, he should have known how to handle the photos he has taken and what sorts of photos are acceptable to the Associated Press. But, what I am paying more attention to is the fact that Narciso Contreras apologized for his wrong doing; in that doing alone I felt that he should not have gotten fired. In the article "Truth and Consequences for a War Photographer,Contreras willfully admitted his wrong doing but in the other attached article "California Scorned Journalist Stephan Glass Right to Practice Law" that is where the firing and being barred from the bar should commence. Stephan Glass committed to writing many false articles about people that was not true for a good while. Are these both men unethical in their doing? Of course! I think what sets them apart is that Contreras confessed to his act and in my opinion, I don't think his photo that he took in Syria really hurt anyone's reputation (but who knows.)Glass did not confess his act at all, he got caught. After the news publisher found out about what he did, he showed no remorse, having a $175,000 advancement for his novel and a movie called "Shattered Glass" that told of his fabrications. Contreras on the other hand did something unethical, issued a sincere apology, and still got the short end of the stick. I question these ethical repercussions and how exactly head of publications about about dismissing their reporters or photographers on moral grounds. In the article, "If a story is viral, truth may be taking a beating," I believe it plays a lot in these two men's lives and how they act as professional upstanding Journalist. The need for speedy information is causing an unethical shift in which some Journalists may be compromising the content of their article just to be #1 and having many likes and retweets as social media can take. I believe a strong look should be taken within the Journalism world from the very top to the bottom to solve this.

Jessica clary said...

After reading the three articles it has been made more apparent to me that even though we have a code of ethics in the journalism profession, adhering to them is where it gets complicated. In the case of the associate press photographer, yes what he did was wrong and yes he admitted to it but I wonder if he would have said anything if there wasn't a chance of him getting caught. With the increased usage of social media it makes it easier for false stories and fabricated or photoshopped pictures to be spread all over the internet. As far as the ex-journalist turned lawyer, I completely agree with the courts decision that denied his rights to practice law. If you can't be ethical when it comes to writing news stories (even though lawyers aren't considered to be the most truthful individuals to begin with) there would be no way that he could be trusted with legal matters, especially if they weren't working out in his clients favor. overall ethics is our profession is an issue and if we can't stand by our code of ethics, I don't blame people for not trusting the media which is pretty unfortunate.

RogerG said...

When I initially heard in class about Contreras being cut off from working with the AP for his doctoring of a Syrian War photograph, I felt incredulous. Not that the picture had been doctored in the first place, but that his punishment was so severe. I felt even worse for the photographer when I read the article and found out that the New York Times had also cut him off.

The fact is, Contreras was a co-recipient of the Pulitzer prize for Journalism, the highest accolade in all the land. The fact that he won't be able to get work now seems ludacrist. If we balance his merits against his editing foible, especially when we take into consideration that it was HE who admitted the crime, the balance seems to be very heavily in Contreras favor.

We should look at the actual alteration before we make a call, though. Contreras altered an image, it is true, but it didn't change the meaning of the photograph, as Brian Walski did when he altered his Iraq photograph. Walski SHOULD have been fired, and never should be allowed near a camera again. Not only did he create a moment that never happened, but the moment he created was inflammatory and propagandistic---the altered picture shows the US Soldier in the picture in an abusive light. Not only was he creating a moment, he was creating an idea---that American troops are a bunch of shitheads that enjoy yelling at babies while pointing rifles at them. Not only did he lie, but he subtly altered public perception, both in the US and in Iraq. He literally might have gotten US troops killed with his lie.

Contreras' alteration, however, changed only the aesthetics of the picture, as opposed to his meaning, and I'm sure no one was killed because of it.

Up top, I was making the utilitarian argument that Contreras bravery and excellent journalism outweighed his faux pas of altering the photograph. However, Journalists' marriage to the truth should be complete. On the other hand, Contreras is quoted in the article saying that he originally was going to frame the photograph towards the right, cutting off the camera, and only altered the photograph because it was too dangerous to move from his position to re-frame.

No one is going to argue that framing the photograph so that the camera is not visible is a breach of ethics. Professor Good pointed this out in class, and I see his point. What's the difference, really? The fact that framing the camera away is fine, but photoshopping it away is not, seems like Contreras' life was ruined on a technicality.

Countering that argument is the fact that, harmless as it was, Contreras fabricated something, as opposed to not featuring it in the photograph when it was taken. It was a lie, and if he simply had framed the photo differently, it would be editing, which is basically what journalists do.

I think Contreras erred, but his banishment from the Journalism community seems draconian. He was no Stephen Glass. I don't think Glass was a sociopath, but he certainly had a sociopathic perception of the truth, and had no place working in Journalism. Contreras messed up once after a long and laudable career.

Basically, if I was an editor of a paper and Contreras came to me looking for a job, I would hire him.

Chelsea Candelario said...

Narciso Contreras and AP did the right decision with taking away the photo. Photos shouldn't be altered, just like quotes from sources shouldn't be altered to change what it really means. It was Contreras' job to be truthful and portray the correct information. The issue comes upon trying to be the first to provide information to the readers. Journalists are so quick to be number one and alter information in order to gain readers' trust in them. If stories began to be fabricated, readers began to believe anything they hear. AP has a big audience and so they brought it upon themselves to go through with the photos for sales and popularity. I think that Contreras did a good job at telling his editors the truth right there and then, but they took it upon themselves to go through with it. It's unfortunate that he felt pressured to have a good photo instead of leaving it the way it is and letting the readers decide. It's difficult to make a decision whether it was needed for Contreras to be fired. Although he altered the photo, I think his editors should also should have been called out on their decision to go through with the photo.
With the Stephen Glass' article, it's unethical of him to develop false stories. I think it's the journalist job to provide truthful information. It shouldn't matter how many people are going to read it or how much money you're going to receive. I don't think reporters shouldn't be pressured by editors or newspaper companies to write articles that aren't true. In the end it begins to create a gap between the writer and reader. If a person can't trust your words, what makes you think they can trust anything else the newspaper has to offer. Although people may disagree with Mr.Glass becoming a lawyer, he still has a choice to become one or not, even if his past shows him to be unethical.
In the final article, it has a point that with the new age of social media, it's difficult to find the truth. Anyone can have the chance to write anything they please and make others believe it's true. In just short characters, people can change other's perspective of things. I think that journalists have a chance to use sources and correct information to report the truth.

Escarle Raposo said...

In regards to the evaluation of the actions of the photographer Narciso Contreras, It is difficult for everyone to name his actions as unethical. Photographer Narciso Contreras simply removed a certain object out of the picture he took. Although, it may seem as though it was not much of a big deal and did not cause anyone any damage, when evaluating the situation you may find that the photographer’s actions were in fact unethical. If he did not want to change the idea image, why did he Photoshop the video camera out of the image? What was the photographer trying to hide? What statement did the photographer want to prove? The idea of purposely changing a concept of something that was not in its original format must have been done for selfish needs. However, to state that the Photographer was absolutely wrong for changing the image and submitting it to A.P depends on who believes it is ethical or not. Some people may believe that the photographer did the right thing in omitting the journalist’s video camera because the photographer did the right thing in hiding something from the audience. Nonetheless, I personally feel as though the photographer was wrong for omitting the video camera. What was actually occurring in the war? Is it right for someone to know that people are going to die and to actually record it in order to produce an “interesting” story? Or was the war fake? Although, it is understood why the Associated Press terminated their relationship with Contreras; I believe the photographer had his reasons as to why he did it; he was just following the code of ethics for journalism and that resulted in him in making an unethical decision.

Andrew Lief said...

From reading these articles, it’s obvious that determining if the actions done by journalists are ethical or not are still in question. According to the article the No. 1 rule for photojournalism is to not manipulate photos. I think the AP should have fired him because if they didn’t they would have set a standard with their other photojournalists that manipulating photos aren’t frowned upon by the higher ups.


In the article “California Denies Scorned Journalist Stephen Glass Right to Practice Law,” it deals with Stephen Glass who wrote articles that weren’t true for a while. He was caught doing this before he ever could have admitted his wrongdoings. He was caught and didn’t feel sorry at all for his actions. More than 15 years after Glass had done this, he was then banned from practicing law. I agree with this ruling because if someone doesn’t have ethics when involved in journalism, how is anyone supposed to have any trust in him when he’s dealing with the law?

In the article “"If a story is viral, truth may be taking a beating," shows how people care more about being the first to have a story, rather than providing the right information. When I read this I instantly think of after a Monday Night Football game when Rick Reilly reported something first on twitter, he says to Stuart Scott, “Say I had it first on twitter.” And Steve Young gave him a huge death stare.

Steph Black said...

I have thought long and hard about my ethical perspective on the case of Contreras’s and AP and unfortunately cannot form a stronger argument of support for either side. On the one hand, yes, Contreras was incorrect in removing the camera from his photo depicting the Syrian War. However, his motives in altering the photo were to not mar the effects of the picture in any way by drawing attention away from the focal point of the soldier. Ethically, I believe this is a reasonable justification. He also turned himself in immediately, proving his incredible devotion to ethical code and to his life as a photojournalist. However, I also understand why AP fired him so abruptly. They too have a standard to adhere to. Though Contreras is nearly universally accepted as a phenomenal photojournalist whose loss would greatly impact AP, the editors knew they had to make an example of his mistake. I respect how closely and religiously they follow their own code of ethics by taking action and punishing the man who could have hurt their reputation or validity.

This, I believe, ties into the article about Internet stories vs. facts. Our society has become so fixated on the importance of a good or entertaining anecdotes that facts and proof have taken the backseat. If the editors at AP shared in this similar mindset, would they still have fired Contreras after he came clean? Perhaps not.

Elizabeth Castellar said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shelby and Ginny Bear take on Great Britain said...

Although the “ethical commandments” dictate that an original photograph constitutes the truth, in this particular instance I do not think that the photographer’s alterations were untruthful. The photographer, Narciso Contreras, made the creative decision to remove another journalist’s video camera from his shot. This aesthetic decision focuses the audiences’ attention on the problems in Syria rather than the out of place object in the bottom corner. While I don’t believe this creative alteration was unethical, the Associated Press took it as seriously as if the information itself had been changed. I think that although both actions are unethical in their own way, Contreras’ photo editing merits a less severe punishment than that of Stephen Glass who intentionally fabricated entire news stories. For these actions Glass is not only exiled from the Journalism community, but is not allowed to enter any profession that requires an adherence to a code of ethics. In my opinion, Glass’ disregard of ethics merits this kind of repercussions, while Contreras’ minor photo edit deserves much less of a punishment than the Associated Press gave him. Overall, Contreras did act unethically by doctoring the photo, but the image still depicted the truth about the situation in Syria.

Kasey mcGrory said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kasey mcGrory said...

Is it ethical to feed false information to the public, whether it is via photographs or news articles? Absolutely not. All three of these articles have not only proved that this happens often, but in more ways than one. As a member of society that follows these stories, and eventually wants a career in writing them, it is very hard to see manipulation in any type of way. As a journalist, it is your duty to inform and inform in the most honest ways possible. The point of news or photography is to shed awareness, and light on a certain subject happening in the world. Not only does it scare me as a member of the public that stories are being manipulated, but it also scares me just as a human being. How am I supposed to trust the media, when all they are doing is trying to make themselves look good, and make money? Being in this field, you are held to a certain standard. I don’t think it was too harsh to fire Mr. Contreras, because he wasn’t doing his job. Bottom line. As for the ethics aspect of it, false advertisement to the world is something that shouldn’t be taken lightly, regardless of what was manipulated. In Stephen Glass’s case, I am very glad that his consequences were so severe because fabricating that many stories is horrific. If Stephen Glass made up a ton of stories, just to get attention for his writing, would it really be logical to have him be a lawyer? That is like saying let’s take a man who is making up the news, into a court room to defend a man who just mass murdered 8 people, and trust him. He shot himself in the foot, and does not deserve to work in a professional field. If he wanted to write outlandish stories, he should have been a novelist. All of this is completely un ethical. If it’s not true, and it’s not for the greater good, it is un ethical. It’s pretty unbelievable to me that people don’t understand the impact that stupidity can have on their careers, or don’t think that they will get caught. It’s the media’s job to protect and inform. I wonder if these men really thought they would get away with their actions, especially being published in high named press.

Jacqui Harvey said...

After comparing the three different articles concerning the ethics of journalism I have a few different opinions. The first is that I do not think that Narcisco Contreras should have lost his job over altering a single image, especially considering the circumstances. He was in the middle of combat and in a lot of danger. This really shows how devoted he is to his work as a photographer. Contreras wanted his audience to get as much out of the photo as they possibly could, the message being the portrayal of the horrors of the war in Syria. After contemplating whether or not to alter the image, he decided to do it. Although this does go against journalism ethics, I do not think he should have been discredited as an incredible photojournalist who has done so much to convey the war in a truthful way. He has opened a lot of eyes to what is really happening in Syria and I do not think that one mistake should overlook this big picture.
Contreras also stresses the fact that he spoke with his editors about the picture and thoughts about whether or not it should be published but they insisted that it be published anyways. He also states his apology and feelings of regret because the altered image was displayed to the public. This shows that he really is an ethical man with a conscience and cares about how the public views his work. AP did make the correct decision ethically to fire Narcisco but I think that this particular circumstance should have been taken into more consideration. The article that discusses the fabrication and actual invention of articles by Steven Glass is an example of a journalist who should have been fired and looked down upon ethically and professionally. This situation to me is black and white where as Narcisco being fired is more of a blurred line. Perhaps a suspension would have been a better choice. Narcisco is an example of someone who I feel has learned from his mistake and in turn has been taught to “be more ethical.”

Joe Nikic said...

I want to start off by saying that I fully understand the AP’s decision to fire Narciso Contreras, however, I am completely empathetic to Contreras’ decision to alter his photo. The AP has a strict code of ethics that was broken so no matter what they are justified in firing Contreras. Removing the camera from the picture, in my opinion, is not that big of a deal because it was the photojournalist’s best judgment. Contreras was a very well respected photographer and he was given this work in Syria because of his ability to capture the power of specific moments. He explains that he changed the image so that people could get the most accurate image of what life was like in that area (and his stress in the situation aided his decision-making). Contreras did not try to hide the fact that he altered the image, he told people before his image went out to the public. As a photographer, especially one for a source such as the Associated Press, you are under a big microscope where any small mistake can negatively impact your career. Contreras unfortunately made that mistake, but I admire and respect his conviction for why he did it and his choice to not hide it.
The Stephen Glass situation gets me pretty upset. Yes, the guy broke ethical rules that no journalist should ever be breaking. But that should not impact his attempt at becoming a lawyer. Scum is a strong word but to me some lawyers are scum. Lawyers are put out to defend murderers, rapists, drug dealers, and more, but they don’t get their right to defend somebody taken away. If lawyers were meant to be the most ethical people in the world then they would not be allowed to defend men and women who commit serious crimes. I believe that Glass should be allowed nowhere near another news publication, but if he wanted to work in a courtroom I think he should be allowed to should he pass the bar.

Andres Montoya said...

Narciso Contreras was a Pulitzer prize-winning freelance photographer who put his life at risk to document, in beautiful pictures, the intense warfare which has taken over Syria. Even by his own admittance, what he did was wrong, which is ultimately why he felt the need to confess which then led to his dismissal. The obvious question that comes to most people’s mind is, was what he did really that awful that he had to have been fired and cut off completely? My answer has to be, yes, the consequences that followed were very justified and warranted. I understand that absolutely zero value was lost when the camera was manipulated out of the photo and it only allowed for a more realistic, gritty atmosphere in the altered picture, but the point isn’t about what was lost or who was hurt. The article opens up with the statement of the rule, outlining that no photo should be tampered with at all, under any circumstance. To willingly go against is obviously a breach of ethical code and really did need serious repercussions.

On the other hand, this lapse of judgment does not make Contreras a bad man, but instead his actions following the event has redeemed him from any sort of backlash he might have suffered. To come out and explain his mindset about his actions really leaves him vulnerable to even more criticism which he seems to be open to tackling on. Contreras understood his mistake but instead of taking matters into further, troubled territory he backtracked and cut off any more possible damage by explaining his crime. This act alone, the admittance of a crime, is an ethical one.

Gianna Canevari said...

I felt torn reading about Narciso Contreras’ ethically wayward decision to submit a digitally altered photograph of the Syrian soldier. On one hand, it seems wrong to terminate the employment of a photographer who brought his mistake to light before it could be published. Compared to the unethical decisions that are made in full awareness on a daily basis by other publications for the sake of views, clicks or readers, Contreras committed but a venial sin. However, ethics should not rely on the standards set by the majority, but by a more stationary and objective ideal. With that said, there was really no excuse for a photographer who bore the AP name to have ignored the incredibly clear tenets in the AP Stylebook on the editing and altering of photographs (pg. 320). The Stylebook does not take into consideration situations in which altering a photograph would be essentially the same thing as changing the frame or perspective of a photo, which is not unethical. However, it is not meant to give leeway for the grey area issues. It is the journalist’s bible and it clearly states the rules by which employees must abide.

Upon lingering on the photograph longer, I think the honesty of the photograph with the camera on the ground next to the soldier would be preferable to many. The reader knows that the photographer puts him or herself in danger to take photographs like these, but this kind of danger is not always apparent. The photograph with the camera breaks the fourth wall in a way, and turns a picture of an opposition fighter into a very real and dangerous situation.

Other publications may admire Contreras’ honesty and find a photographer with a sense of ethics valuable in their arena; he was just unable to directly apply the clearly-stated values of the Associated Press to his own work. We can be sure his list of regrets includes losing his job at the AP, but as the article states, there would have been “more serious consequences,” had he stayed silent.

Anonymous said...

I faced a battle of cognitive dissonance after reading Mr. Contreras' misadventures. I tried very hard to envision myself in the particular positions of both photographer and media outlet and so I both sympathized strongly with Mr Contreras, clearly a reliable and honest man, and with the AP officials who chose to fire him.

In the end, the facts in the case can't be argued. Contreras altered his photograph by digitally removing a piece of camera equipment visible in the lower-left-hand corner of the shot. There's simply no refuting that, or the claim that altering a photograph flies in the face of the Journalism Code of Ethics.

But this ethical conundrum is the result not of whether the photographer - who, let it be said, has produced stunning photography from the war-torn region while placing himself in great risk of personal injury - violated the letter of the code. It's a question of whether or not he violated the SPIRIT of the code.

The purpose of banning the alteration of photographs is to preserve truth. While humans can only approach truth due to the limitations of the human mind and human communication, as spelled out so eloquently in "If a Story is Viral, Truth May Be Taking a Beating," photography has been historically viewed as a perfect truth, the capture of a moment in exact truth. To substantively alter that shot, to alter that moment, would alter the viewer's ability to understand truth, undermining the very purpose of journalism: seek truth and report it.

There are two elements of that command: seek truth; and report it. Seeking truth is simple, especially for a photographer. A photographer must simply seek to capture truth by freezing the image of a moment in time, exactly as it is. In doing so, he has sought truth. But reporting it? That can be a little trickier. So many a news photographer has given his work assistance by altering the photograph, by altering the truth depicted in that photo.

But did Contreras truly alter the photograph? Technically, yes. But substantively? No. The small piece of photo equipment is of no substantive value. The two photographs tell what is in essence, the same truth. Any publication using the original photo would likely crop out the offending equipment, thus altering the photograph in its own right. So why punish the photographer for saving them the hassle?

After all, one could hardly compare his alterations to the outright fabrications of a certain Stephen Glass, who fudged and BS-ed his way through dozens of articles for the New Republic. Mr. Glass attempted neither to seek truth nor to report it. And for so doing, he was rightly punished.

But Mr. Contreras? We are clearly dealing with a different scenario and a different set of ethical issues. Yet we are painting him with the same brush, as though he neither wished to seek or report the truth, as if he simply intended to fabricate his own truth.

It's clear that Mr. Contreras is guilty, at the very least of an error in judgment. But is he guilty of manipulating or misrepresenting the truth? I don't think so.

Abbott Brant said...

In all of these examples, the issue to me seems to be how has the fabrication of truth within the situation deterred the end, or what could be the end, product. As we discussed in class, ethics (specially journalistic) includes seeking the truth and reporting it. And I think many would be hard pressed to insist that to be ethical in general you don’t need to have honesty and truthfulness. And while we must acknowledge that truth is an abstract, and that we may never reach the ultimate form of a truth, truth can equally lie in the reaching for truth in hopes of obtaining it for the benefit of oneself and others.


In Contreras’ situation, like some of my peers have said above, I understand why he was fired. Altering a picture that is meant to illustrate the full reality of a situation is dishonest, and any sort of fabrication isn’t news or proper reporting. Yet in my eyes the “truth” of the photo was not lost. The picture after photo shop encompassed what was happening, and the camera in the corner was an outside figure, like Contreras himself, that wasn’t a “true” part of the surroundings. In instances like this, I think if the photo is accompanied by a disclaimer that states the extent of the photo’s alterations, then I do not think it is a huge deal; transparency illustrates that sort of reaching for ultimate truth, and Contreras just wanted to show what it was really like in Syria. However, he was not transparent in the beginning and didn’t let anyone know the photo had been altered. As an editor, that would be where my issue with the situation lay.


The article about Stephen Glass was humorous. I’ve seen “Shattered Glass” about 400 times in my journalism classes in high school, and my distain for the scummy nature Mr. Glass has perfected is great. I don’t know how I feel about him being not legally allowed to be a lawyer. I guess I feel that as a journalist, your main job is to once again seek truth and report it, and be accountable. These are also two very important characteristics of a lawyer. I don’t think it’s ridiculous they don’t believe he can perform the duties as such then, considering he already demonstrated lack of ethical substance. I probably would do the same. And if nothing else, everyone knows Stephen Glass and what he has done. Who would even hire him? (Probably someone of an equally scummy nature.)


The link about the struggle to remain truthful while putting out quick and interesting internet phenoms is just disheartening, because to me it clearly shows that when media outlets work spew some mildly entertaining piece before another outlet, they are putting themselves before the reader’s search for the truth. And considering the media is meant for the people, to obtain the truth, it’s sad that people aren’t a little more peeved. But then you consider why they aren’t, and it’s because people rather be entertained and “in” with what everyone else is talking about than actually be informed of something beneficial to them, or even truthful. And it’s not necessarily fair to blame the people who originate the faulty material. As a journalist and a news site, you should be clarifying and fact checking, not putting up random sites and “facts” and printing a half-hearted retraction (that no one will read) when it turns out not to be true.

Natalie said...

I truly didn’t think that removing the camera for the photograph was a big deal. Although he broke the strict code of ethics that AP has, it says in the article that “this type of ethical lapse happens with alarming frequency despite the clarity of the rules…” However, that doesn’t justify not following them. Narcisco did break these rules, with full awareness that he made a mistake. What I don’t understand is why the two editors that he spoke to about his altered picture didn’t give him a second chance. Narcisco stated in the article that he “requested that they remove the picture and don’t use it.” He told them about the discrepancy he made. He wasn’t going to let the picture be used. He also, at the time the picture was taken, was in a lot of danger. He stated in the article that he wanted to move the camera, but it was too dangerous to do so. I think firing him was a very severe consequence for someone who has never made that mistake prior, and was upfront about it from the beginning.

I really respect Narcisco for turning himself in. It shows his moral character, and also respect for the field of photojournalism. It’s upsetting to see such a talented, passionate and hardworking photojournalist have his career damaged by this mistake. I also respect him for being honest, responsible and polite when questioned for this article.

Alexa Gold said...

No matter how many times I contemplate this debate, I see Narciso Contreras' edits to the AP photographs as completely acceptable. Without removing the additional camera, the shot looks staged, as if it's from a 'press conference' of sorts. Contreras was completely honest about removing the camera and I see this as an acceptable time to use Photoshop, even if the "TRUTH" isn't purely presented. What is truth? How can we identify truth in the media? I think Contreras' confession leads us in the best possible direction. His greatest issue could be other offenses. Although he argues he hasn't does this before, he may have without catching anyone’s attention. In addition, SO many images we see are touched and retouched. We're living in a Photoshopped world. This image did not retouch Syria as Candy Land! It depicted the desert and the harsh reality of an armed, Syrian man’s solitude. While Contreras may be in the right, Stephen Glass is clearly in the wrong. It is disgusting to think a journalist could fabricate numerous stories. A journalist’s objective, as we spoke about in class, is to “Seek truth and report it.” There’s a clear difference between being an editor and being a bullshitter. Contreras was purifying his images while Glass created serious blurred lines. Glass could be a good lawyer but I wouldn’t trust a word he says. Notice how truth and trust are such similar words? I never actually noticed. People who tell the truth are trustworthy. Contreras told the truth and is trustworthy. I sincerely believe he edited the image for the sake of a presenting a more brutally honest image of Syria to the audience. As previously stated, although his greatest issue COULD be other offenses, I think Contreras in the right.

Megan Krause said...

I think that the Contreras removing the camera in the photo was blown very out of proportion. I do think that it was the wrong decision on his part as a photojournalist, and that he should have known better. However, he is in a high risk situation by taking on work in Syria which can be a stressor that I'm sure many people cannot even begin to imagine. Contreras himself admitted that he could not handle the stress at the time that he made the decision to alter the image.

I think that Conteras showed true understanding of ethics by admitting the fact that the photo was altered before it was used for public viewing, and requesting that it be removed from the photographs he was submitting. He realized that what he had done was wrong and wanted to take blame and fix the situation. I think that AP cutting all ties was a bit extreme, and to remove all previous images from their public archive that Conteras has submitted was even more extreme. Contreras is documenting important footage that has even won the Pulitzer Prize. These are important images for the public to see, and to deny that because of his mistake was not a good decision in my opinion.

In addition to all of this, I think that the camera itself in the corner being removed wasn't a very big deal. I think that most people may not have even noticed the camera in the first place, and it being removed did not take anything away from the picture. Even though this decision is obviously unethical by journalism standards, I think it was a small infraction. That and the fact that he admitted his mistake (that possibly may have never even been realized) before the picture could be printed makes me think that Contreras is in fact and ethical photojournalist who has contributed to a lot of understanding to the war in Syria.

Jen_Newman said...

From an ethical perspective, the photographer Narciso Contreras should not have altered the photo of the Syrian fighter. However, his handling of the situation after the altering took place was ideal. Instead of keeping quiet about his edit and allowing his editor to submit the photo to contests, spoke up and admitted that he removed a video camera from the image he took.
Looking at the situation he was in overseas I can understand why he altered the image. If I was spending every day worrying about if I was going to survive, I would be prone to making poor decisions as well. He was a well-intentioned photographer in a war zone situation. He wanted to portray the most powerful image possible, and the camera took away from that image.
At the same time, he knew that as a photojournalist he should not have manipulated the photo, and knew that there would be consequences as soon as he told his editors it was. So to say he acted ethically is not true because of this, but he was ethical by admitting his mistake before the photo was used to any other projects.
The fact that he was honest right away about the fact that he did alter the photo shows me that he did not deserve to be exiled from AP the way he was. If this photo had gone viral or this was an ongoing issue then it would have been a more ethical reasoning to fire him. However, in comparison to Stephen Glass, who fabricated so many articles, one camera out of one photo does not seem like the proper actions that should have been taken by AP from an ethical perspective. These actions, by both AP and the photographer, ruined his professional life.

Anthony DeRosa said...

Despite Contreras' photo alteration going against AP's code of ethics, I do not believe the "truth" of the image was lost in anyway. Journalism is not meant to mirror physical reality (presenting everything) and there are details that will be omitted so as not to muddle the narrative of the piece. In this case, narrative refers to the core information present. The camera in the photo detracts from the meaning/intention of the picture and the context is not changed with the camera present. I understand why Contreras was fired, it does seem harsh especially since Contreras outed himself for his violation of AP's ethical code. However, harsh as it might be, to allow a transgression of journalistic ethics would only invite more leniency of ethics in the future. For this reason I believe AP took the appropriate action.

Lucas Silvestre said...

At first glance, the actions of the Associated Press in dealing with Narcisco Contreras' photos seemed cut and dry. In altering his photo for whatever purpose whether for aesthetic enhancement or to strengthen its emotional impact, he had broken a rule of journalistic ethics. The Associated Press for that matter, was only doing what was right by severing their ties with Contreras. As I read further on however, I began to notice the moral grey area in which this case rests.

Contreras, having broken a basic rule of photojournalist ethics is by default subject to the consequences that follow. What detracts from this is simply the nature of the case, in which he not only admitted to having doctored the photo but requested it be removed. He was not only up front about the nature of the photo but had practical reasons to back up his decision to remove the camera from the frame. Constrained by deadlines, unpredictable (and in his case highly dangerous) work environments and a highly competitive industry must make quick risky decisions. Dealing with mountains of information that constantly pours in, they have little time to verify their work before publication and are prone to misinforming readers. Narcisco's case is unique because despite his honesty his integrity was challenged and his job was taken from him.

The AP on the other hand is held down by its own rules and regulations that forced them to make the decision to remove a talented photographer like Contreras despite having made only one alteration. Despite the fact that the photo was never published, they were faced with a moral dilemma. Ethics are regarded as the canon of Journalism and any institution caught infringing on those laws can easily lose their credibility. Although many could argue that their actions were extreme in wanting to remove all of Narcisco's prior content, they have to maintain their stern ethical principles.

Although the moral ground upon which this case stands is shaky at best it boils down the the fact that the rules of Journalism ethics are clear cut. It also goes without saying, that doesn't necessarily mean journalists like Contreras should not continue to work if they can prove their innocence just as he did. One honest mistake should not be enough to dismantle the other tireless efforts of the Journalist in question, but should act as a reminder of the importance of maintaining their core beliefs.

Is Media Ethics Education DOA?

It sounds like a joke Jay Leno would tell during his opening monologue on The Tonight Show. Hear about the graduate students at the prestigious journalism school? They got caught cheating on an ethics exam. Ha ha ha. Except that’s actually what happened at Columbia University in late 2006.

Students had been given 48 hours to sign onto a Columbia Web site to take the final exam in a required course called “Critical Issues in Journalism.” They then had 90 minutes to answer two essay questions.

The students were warned to not discuss the questions with each other, but apparently they did. As the headline over a story reporting the scandal put it, “Ivy J-Schoolers Fail Ethics, Ace Irony.”

No one admitted cheating despite pressure from the school’s administrators and pleas from classmates, who feared the scandal would damage the market value of their degrees. Meanwhile, the teacher of the course, New York Times columnist Samuel G. Freedman, refused to comment. But if the disgruntled posts on RateMyProfessors.com are any indication, his students hadn’t exactly been soaking up knowledge. “Maybe he could e-mail his ‘speeches’ to the students instead of making everyone suffer through the most wasted class in j-school. . . ,” one read.

There’s an old cowboy saying that goes, “When your horse dies, get off.” Journalism ethics education is a dead horse. Or else those aren’t vultures circling in the sky.

A Question for Socrates


The question of how ethics is learned, or even if it can be, is as old as Western philosophy. In Plato’s dialog Meno the title character asks, “Can you tell me, Socrates, whether virtue is acquired by teaching or by practice; or if neither by teaching nor practice, then whether it comes to man by nature, or in what other way?” Of course, Socrates, being Socrates, resists giving a definite answer. But we can’t. The sad fact is, students had better get an effective ethics education now or they may never.


Last summer I conducted an ethics workshop for some reporters and editors at the Poughkeepsie Journal, a small daily in upstate
New York owned by Gannett Co., Inc. The woman in charge of organizing the workshop had supplied us with several case studies to examine. I remember one dealt with a classic conflict of interest, a copy editor who moonlighted at a local radio station.

But what I remember most is the air of defeat that clung to the staff as we sat on hard plastic chairs in the break room discussing the cases. I could hear in their voices the bitterness and cynicism of employees forced to follow corporate policies they despised. Recently, for example, the paper had started running display ads on the front page and section fronts, a much more grievous ethical lapse, their mumbled asides suggested, than anything the case studies might have to offer.

I don’t want my students to ever wear the gray, defeated expression I saw that day on the faces at the Journal. But given the downward direction in which the media are moving, and fast, how in the world can I prevent it from happening?

Teaching Media Ethics by Telling Stories

A friend of mine who teaches at a big Midwestern university recounts in class the events of her first week as a reporter for the Minneapolis Tribune. She was sent to Duluth to cover Democratic presidential candidate Hubert Humphrey on the campaign trail. When they were introduced, Humphrey vigorously shook her hand. “Oh yes, Susan,” he said, “I read your stuff all the time.” He couldn’t have read her stuff, though; she hadn’t written anything yet. “Just a few words,” she explains to her students, “but words that taught this fledging reporter a great lesson about pols and the little lies they tell.”

I usually find occasion during the semester to quote I. F. Stone’s dictum, “Every government is run by liars and thieves, and nothing they say should be believed,” to make the same point. But Susan’s story makes the point better. That’s because it has existential force. Her story vividly captures in a way a secondhand quote can’t the realities of a reporter’s life.

Some might think telling “war stories” is a waste of precious class time. I’ve a colleague who didn’t want to fall into the “trap” of regaling students with stories ad nauseam (“which, let’s face it, is easier than teaching or grading,” he said). So one semester he kept track. When he toted it all up at the end, he was surprised that he’d used less than an hour - out of 45 – talking about his newspaper experiences. And yet, he admitted, it was his stories that students seemed to remember most.

“Stories teach us how to live,” Daniel Taylor said in his essay, “The Ethical Implications of Storytelling.” What he meant was that stories preserve our experience for contemplation and evaluation. Although not all stories carry a heavy message, there’s an entire category of stories, so-called “exemplary tales,” that are told to convey a moral.

Our war stories are potentially just such tales. They can provide evidence, in ethicist John Barton’s words, of “how real human beings live through various crises and trials and remain human.” My colleague who kept tabs on his storytelling has described his stories as cautionary. Most, he said, deal with “screwups I learned from.”

But sometimes the storyteller and the audience can’t agree on what exactly the moral of a story is.

When Susan was a cub reporter on the Tribune, she interviewed the Beatles, who were on their second tour of the States. She got into their hotel room by dressing up as a waitress in an ugly, mustard-colored uniform and accompanying an actual room service waiter upstairs. Ringo took one look at her little plastic name tag – it read “Donna Brown” – and snorted, “What kind of name is that?” The waiter nudged her in the side. “Tell them what you real name is,” he urged. She did, as well as her reason for being there. Rather than throw her out, the Beatles politely answered her questions. They even let her phone for a photographer. The next day her story ran on the front page, with a photo of John sitting at a table and looking up at her and laughing as she poured coffee in his cup. She still has a glossy print of that photo somewhere.

Many of Susan’s students think she’s nuts for not having the photo hanging up in her office. They also think she’s nuts for saying she’d never participate in the same kind of stunt today. To her celebrity-struck students, disguising herself as a hotel waitress to get an interview with the Beatles seems soooo cool. They lose all sight of the fact that it wasn’t a story of vital public interest that demanded undercover methods.

Susan intends one lesson when she talks about her hard day’s night, but her students, living in a paparazzi-saturated culture, draw another. “It may be a lost cause,” she remarked to me.

Or maybe not. Negotiations over what the point of a story is can be part of the point of the story. In the process of negotiating, we test different interpretations, try out different themes. This is helpful. This is educational. Lawrence Kohlberg, the Harvard psychologist famous for his research on the stages of moral development, contended that “the teaching of virtue is the asking of questions. . . not the giving of answers.” Stories don’t necessarily have to yield clear moral rules to be of value. It’s enough sometimes if they just give us something to think about.