Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Master of Science (MS)


Journalism and Communication

Department name when degree awarded


Committee Chair(s)

Nelson B. Wadsworth


Nelson B. Wadsworth


James O. Derry


J. Steven Soulier


With today's increased use of computers and computer technology in newspaper photo departments, digitally transmitted and managed images are quickly becoming standard practice. In one sense, this is a tremendous boon for the industry. On the other hand, the electronic age is potentially harmful to the documentary nature of photojournalism. Unlike advertising or fine art photography, documentary photojournalism is a record, a visual witness if you will, of actual events and happenings. People consider such photos as being a view of the facts.

With the new technology comes the ability to change those facts, to create a lie. Therein rests the problem. A manipulated photograph is no longer a view of reality, but rather a fabrication from someone's imagination. This is not journalism. This is fantasy.

This fantasy is nothing new. People have been manipulating photos since the invention of photography. What is new, however, is the ability to digitally alter photographic images easily and cleanly. Digitally altered photos are generally undetectable as having been manipulated, even to the trained eye.

Owing to an image-altered photo's potential for deception, any newspaper publishing such photos would stand in jeopardy of losing credibility with its readership.

Digital photo manipulation directly effects the credibility of both journalistic photographs as well as the written word. A level of trust needs to be present between the publication and its readers. Whenever readers feel a publication is not 100 percent honest in its visual presentation of the facts, they are left to wonder how factual the verbiage is as well.

The future credibility of documentary photojournalism is based on what members of the profession do (or do not do) with these new tools the computer age offer. To determine the existence and implementation status of standards on this subject, a survey was conducted of visual communication editors at various newspapers across the country.

From this research we conclude that editors feel the new technology is a potential problem and standards need to be set. Although nearly three-quarters of the newspapers have unwritten policies on photo manipulation, almost the same number feel they need written standards. The industry seems to be headed in the right direction to safeguard its credibility, but we need an ever watchful eye to make sure we do not stray from our goals of honesty and credible reportage.



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