How The First Amendment helps journalists

The First Amendment states: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

As a college student majoring in journalism, and taking a photojournalism class, the First Amendment protects my right to write about and take photos of current events. This allows me to fulfill my purpose as a journalist: to inform and educate the public. Without this right, or if this right were restricted, I could be punished or even arrested for my work, even if I write or show the truth. 

Although the First Amendment protects a photojournalist's right to photograph and report the news, it is up to photojournalists to decide what appropriate, ethical practices to use when working. While it is important to use photos to portray newsworthy events, there are some things that should not be photographed. There needs to be a distinction between showing photos for the greater good — will running this photo prevent future tragedies? — and when it is unethical to show something — is it just being used for shock value? One example of this that is used in the textbook “Photojournalism: The Professionals’ Approach” by Kenneth Kobré is a photo of a boy that had just drowned. The photo depicted the boy in a body bag, while his family grieves (Kobré 354). Is the photo a good tool to prevent further drownings, or an invasion of the family’s private tragedy? The textbook states that “if you followed the Golden Rule, you would not run the photo because of how publishing the picture would have made you feel” (354).

 With that being said, it is up to the photojournalist to determine whether a setting is appropriate to photograph or not. Photojournalists should never invade a person’s privacy, and they should consider moments of tragedy or crime before taking photos (357).

 One important practice that photojournalists should follow, according to the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) is not to accept gifts of any kind. This can include money, food, souvenirs, and more. This can be seen as a form of bribery, and the gift giver may be attempting to get the photojournalist to portray them in a more positive light. This idea has already been instilled in me, because I have worked in local government for over a year now, and we do not accept any gifts of any kind.

 A photojournalist cannot, under any circumstances, manipulate photographs. Changing a photo is distorting the truth, no matter how small the edit may seem. These changes can cost photojournalists their jobs, and disqualify them from competitions. For example, the 2015 World Press photo competition had to revoke a prize and disqualify a number of participants due to excessive editing, according to the New York Times. Photographers attempted to recreate shots that they missed, or removed distracting objects. The competition has since added verification on what counts as manipulation to their website.

 Ultimately, each photojournalist’s personal ethics will differ with regard to what they feel is appropriate to photograph. The NPPA has a set Code of Ethics that photojournalists should strive to follow. Beyond the base set of ethics, individuals must make on the fly decisions based on their own experiences and personal ethics about what is appropriate to photograph, and what isn’t.

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