After reading thoroughly the David Campbell’s World Press produced report on image manipulation, one is left with one question : How opinions affect image manipulation..or is an opinion the truth. And rather than answers, guidelines, rules, code of deontology, anything that one could hope to hang on, we are left alone within the silence of our loneliness. What we could have expected from the World Press organisation is thought leadership, what we got instead is a soft response that runs around the debate and ends up where it started. Nowhere.
It is understood that in an age of excessive political correctness, no one wants to ruffle anyone’s feathers and everyone wants to remain friends with everyone. But at a critical point of photojournalism, where almost every image is doubted, where armies of self-taught forensic experts go through great length to analyse any potential flaw in key news photography, proudly shaming the guilty culprits on the stages of social media, it would have been useful to have someone of the World Press caliber draw a definite line and declare loudly ” This is never to be crossed”.
Instead, we have a flow of opinions, generalisation, interpretation but nothing that a logical mind in search of clear-cut answers can chew on. Not even a bone.
The report is greatly informed, from pixel formation to digital darkroom sorcery, sprinkled along the way with accurate historical facts. It regroups the opinions of experts – that is, those of who have executive positions in major news outlets at the time of this study – in a clearly and approachable format. And that might be its biggest error.
The methodology of the report is flawed. By asking the same set of pre define questions to a group of news executives, the report quickly enters quick sand. Why ? Well, first in foremost, in our day and age, it is not because someone has an executive position in a news organisation that this makes him/her an expert on photojournalism and its boundaries. It just proves that they have very acute corporate politics savviness and have been really good at managing their careers. For example, would the AFP individual who took the Morel picture from Twitter and had it distributed by both AFP and Getty be considered an expert ? According to this methodology, probably yes, especially since he has since been promoted. In other words, the title underneath ones name on a business card does not make for an accurate source of information.
Sure, one might say, they are the policy makers, thus in charge of the guidelines. True. But then, the report is just a snapshot of current practices and thus not very useful. What is painfully missing here are recommendations for acceptable, industry-wide guidelines. And while the World Press is not an industry policing organisation, it certainly has enough community respect to be a leader in this troublesome period. Otherwise, who else ?
With an industry-wide clearly define set of common rules, we should see the end of the current drastic variations of what is acceptable. Sometimes, what kids behaving badly need is a clear set of rules. And everyone applying them, from newswires to publishers, taught by photojournalism schools, explained during workshops, posted in every press room, printed at the back of press cards, inside helmets, in drone instruction booklet, in…well, you get the jest of it.
So, instead of giving snapshots of what the industry is doing and how policy varies from one desk to another, why doesn’t the World Press follow-up with a 5 point document that clearly define what is acceptable/not acceptable in photojournalism today and tomorrow and politely asks for everyone making a living ( or not) from this profession to approve it and implement it. So like that, next time there is a corporate downsizing, the next person hired can continue on the clear path of a more accurate, more truthful, more respected and more importantly more believable photojournalism . Because it is not money – or lack of – that will kill photojournalism, it will be its lack of truthiness.