Do you know your First Amendment Rights?

United States First Amendment:

“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.”

In contrast to other countries the United States First Amendment offers an expansive range of safety for press freedom. As a collegiate photojournalist, I was surprised to find out the numerous rights of photojournalists to document and publish news. To me this is what defines a democratic society and what encourages progress, by promoting contrasting thought and opinion. Without the platform of student or college newspapers many minority voices on a campus would not be heard. Student publications are a bridge from student perspective and opinion to administrations ears. Often changes in policy are made due to student activism. As a collegiate photojournalist, I see the value of press freedom not only on a local level but on a grander scale as well. Universities are where ideas develop, cultures meet, and where students set the foundation for their future endeavors. Without the First Amendment, college campuses across the United States would not promote progress or inclusion that contributes greatly to the idea that is democracy.

It is the job of the photojournalists to bring information to the public but those in the profession wrestle with moral questions daily. Photojournalists have differing opinions on which path of the moral compass to follow. Some photojournalists take the utilitarian approach which in summary is, “the greatest good for the greatest number of people.” The utilitarian photojournalist would publish a tragic photograph with the thought of informing the public, who can then make a better decision or cause a better effect.

A photojournalist who takes an absolutist approach would value an individual or families right to privacy over the benefit to society. Photojournalists who practice this approach would find it intrusive to photograph a subject’s grief, for reporting benefit.

A third and final opinion is the golden rule approach. This is the feeling of, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This approach conflicts with both the utilitarian and absolutist views. This is more of a personal approach as all photojournalists have different cultural backgrounds and moral scopes. What one photojournalist would publish another may not due to personal beliefs.

In the law and ethics chapters of Kenneth Kobré’s Photojournalism- The Professionals’ Approach, I learned there are standard practices and rules photojournalists must follow. It is important to be comprehensive and accurate when representing subjects. It is also imperative to be transparent and give the public as much information as possible. Treating subjects as humans providing them with respect is also a key aspect of being a good photojournalist. Regarding accuracy and maintaining credibility photojournalists should not alter photographs for hard news stories. There are some exceptions to this rule and that is where the categories of portraits and photo illustrations fall. The public has common knowledge that portraits and photo illustrations are staged and or altered and do not view them the same way they do a photograph depicting a hard news story.

There are many photojournalists who bent the rules to stand out among their peers, some of them losing their careers in the process. Norm Zeisloft of The St. Petersburg Times and Allan Dietrich of The Toledo Blade are two examples.

I have learned that photojournalists walk a tightrope when it comes to morals and ethics in the media. Photojournalists must learn to keep their balance and not fall to the side of failing to promote democracy by withholding or downplaying stories, but they must also regard the humanity of their subjects.

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Photojournalism: From the Outside

I have never considered myself a photographer. I have never even considered myself skilled at taking photos. I enjoy the process and I feel I know what looks attractive but I also know there are so many truly talented people out there. Writing is a different story. I can write for hours about nonsense and it will sound presentable; coming up with words has never been problematic. My dilemma is this, for all of the poignant words I have read those words have never moved me like a photo of someone experiencing love or loss or the spectrum of emotions that fall between. For this reason, I want to learn all I can about taking photos and not just pretty, typical, Instagram worthy photos but authentic, true, photos of people and the various lives they create. Good photojournalism to me can do this. As I dive into the world of photojournalism I also learn more about the platforms that photojournalists use, a blog being one them. As blogging has grown rapidly since 2008 it is changing the world of journalism and those in the field need to embrace it. A component of blogging I have always found beneficial is the ability to interact with readers or writers of blogs, creating a conversation, fostering different opinions and learning from people who know more than I do. Thank you for allowing me to share my thoughts. I look forward to hearing yours.

Meaghin Rose Hornsby