20 August 2006

My letter to Editor & Publisher, RE: Photojournalism and its problems

Below is the letter I sent to Editor & Publisher on the topic at hand.

All spelling errors, errors in syntax and logic and other such are given textually as-sent.

To Whom It May Concern,

Coming from the digital pre-press, graphics publication and distribution industry I really did have to scratch my head at the recent David D. Perlmutter article Photojournalism in Crisis. This very same problem has been brought up numerous times since the early to mid-1990's with sessions at the old Seybold Seminars, PRINT shows and SIGGRAPH events clearly addressing this. My first memories were of a Seybold Seminar in or around 1994 that clearly looked at problems for newspapers and magazines and the coming rise of cheap digital cameras and photomanipulation software. Like the question of 'how will newspapers respond to digital media and declining sales?' the answer was: we don't know but we will figure it out. That mantra was repeated time and again.

So, the time to address it is now, before photojournalism is thoroughly discredited. I address the main problem of veracity of photographs and what a photojournalist or media response to that should be, here. Some have refered to this as a proposed 'code of ethics for photojournalism', missing the point that it is a constructive method to use cheap digital storage to show the veracity of photographs and their context for a single event. Events that have been staged or have evidence of broader manipulation needs an investigatory board to review such work that is independent, respected and uses the capabilities beyond that of editors and photographers to piece together what has happened at events. This is using contextual analysis of photographs and motion imagery, combined with other media sources so that placement of events and individuals in both geospatial reference and temporal reference can be established. Today when events are *staged* as historical recreations they are actually labeled as such on television: witness any of the 'true crime' shows and you will see this clearly and unmistakeably so that viewers know this is *not* the real thing. While times were more lax during World War II, Korea, Vietnam and other conflicts, the movement from staging of recreations to wholly fabricated events for footage now places the entire reporting effort of the media at doubt.

In previous times newspapermen liked to say that they gave us 'the first cut of history', with pride. Now we have the ability to put all that wound up on the 'cutting room floor of that first take' into archival storage and retrieval systems so that the actual historical information can be made available to the public. A 'first cut' becomes mere 'commentary' when it is reported without context, and biased and slanted commentary at that. By having all news organizations and journalists covering historical events with actual images make those available, these primary historical reference documents can be put into wider context and help give a flow of history beyond the 'first cut' which may be counterfactual or just biased.

The time for this was *yesterday*. All of the media will be hard pressed in the next decade as the capacity to make fully photorealistic 3D models and animations move out of the realm of hollywood studios and onto the private desktop. That has been a major concern of the graphic arts community for at least as long and is the recognition of where these tools are headed. Poor photomanipulation is not caught because it was ahistorical, but because it was poor artwork. This then brings up the question of: How many GOOD artists have been passing off their artwork as historical fact, and for how long?

As a journal addressing the areas of Editing and Publication this should be a highly worrying thing as it cuts to the credibility of all factual based reporting media, across the board. It is not that propaganda has been passed off as truthful events. It is that the editorial and publication review personnel have not the skills and ability to ensure the veracity and validity of what they are publishing, be it on paper or on display screens. These problems are *not* with those poisoning the system by putting their work into it. It is the main trust that has been placed in those that have sworn to give us an accurate and unbiased 'first cut of history' now accepting that their bias is more important than the facts.

And *that* will be the death of journalistic ethics, public trust in the media and the end of factual reporting... except by those willing to be transparent in their work and honest about their biases.

My thanks to you for your article,

A Jacksonian

All ideas, thoughts and proposed actions are to be attributed to 'A Jacksonian' or 'A Citizen of the Republic'. Use of personal contact details is expressly prohibited by various Federal and States laws and Treaties with Foreign Nations. To use my personal contact information requires express written consent. My ideas are free to steal and basic attribution is to be given, beyond that place credit or blame as you see fit. Taking good ideas and building upon them is how a Republic is made... no one said it was easy.

That's it, nothing more to say!


Anonymous said...

I think the era of real journalists is long gone. Now we look to the next generation within the blogisphere and hope truth still exists.

A Jacksonian said...

Neo - That is why I want fictional journalists! They are BETTER than the 'real thing'.