Images from the Boston Marathon fueled an ongoing debate among professionals about the publication of graphic images and whether or not it is acceptable to alter spot news images digitally. While photojournalists have been having similar discussions since the dawn of the profession and the publication of graphic images from the Civil War and World War II, professionals and non-photojournalists responding to a 36-question survey after the Boston Marathon agreed that publication of graphic, spot-news images was acceptable as a reflection of what happened at a major news event. Photojournalists and non-photojournalists also agreed that manipulation was generally acceptable in photo illustrations but not at all acceptable in hard news images establishing some boundary on when digital manipulation can be used in a photojournalistic setting. Nearly 100 percent agreed that “The highest and strictest standards should be applied to hard-news photographs.” In regard to the manipulation of specific spot news images, however, professionals and non-photographers disagreed with non-photographers, with non-photographers accepting the blurring of the face of a victim of the bombing and the digital removal of broken bones in a New York Daily News image. To provide guidance in such circumstances, only 40 percent of professionals had any written policy regarding digital ethical conduct. While establishing a written code of ethics may prove helpful, in this age of instantaneous publication online and in social media, photojournalists and editors need to discuss expectations before spot news happens since publication may occur straight from the camera with no chance for intervention.
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