This is not your average blog post; it’s actually my submission of my term project assignment for my Politics of the Mass Media course. I chose to submit it this way because we are, after all, talking about the mass media, and therefore it only makes sense to submit my project using the mass media; in this case, my blog. For those of you who aren’t Dr. Pyrcz, this was the assignment:

Shoot a portfolio of 7-10 photos and submit these as a portfolio, with a 1000 word commentary regarding the role, nature, and standards of photojournalism, and defending your portfolio in this light.

The video that I’ve attached is the portfolio of images, each with captions as well as spoken annotation about the choices I made for including/taking each photo. I promise I don’t sound like that in real life. The introductory video is the time lapse video I shot during the event, which you can see in full here. Underneath the video you’ll find my 1000-ish word commentary, complete with hyperlinks to most of the references. Enjoy, particularly if you are Dr.Pyrcz.

The video quality is not perfect, you can click here for the full version over at Google video





Photographers have the unique ability to show people what is happening in a way that no other medium can. A single moment, frozen in time, can express what words and video never could (e.g. this photo[1] of a young Vietnamese girl screaming after being hit by napalm). Armed with this power, it is the role of the photojournalist to inform the public, and in so doing, invoke action from them. As James Nachtwey[2], renowned photojournalist for the VII photo agency[3], expressed at a recent speech[4];

“Photographers go to the extreme edges of human experience to show people what’s going on. Sometimes they put their lives on the line because they believe your opinions and your influence matter. They aim their pictures at your best instincts; generosity, a sense of right and wrong, the ability and the willingness to identify with others, the refusal to accept the unacceptable.”

From this perspective, photojournalists act on the behalf of the audience to deliver them with a true account of what is going on, and what can be done to change it. Photojournalism is not, however, audience centric. It does not give the audience what they want to see, but rather what they need to see. This perspective sees the photojournalist as having an inherent socially responsibility; a photo of something that is prescribes how it should be.

Not every event though requires the photojournalist to prescribe change, but every photograph can inform the viewer about the unique experience of a particular place and time. For example, covering a sporting event[5] does not require a photojournalist to make efforts to inspire action from the audience, but they can still capture the unique emotions experienced during the game.

While this role of photojournalists to inform and inspire action from citizens has remained constant since photography was first used for news purposes, the nature in which photographs are shown to their audience is changing dramatically. Traditionally bound to appearance in newspapers or magazines, photography is now more and more viewed online. Furthermore, online photojournalism has transformed from the single shot of an event coverage typical of newspapers, to multimedia presentations involving photographs, sound, and occasionally video (for examples, see The New York Times[6], The Washington Post[7], and Magnum in Motion[8]). This shift from single frames on grainy newsprint to in depth multimedia coverage has numerous implications for the field of photojournalism.

In 1964, Marshall McLuhan proposed that media could be either hot or cool[9], with this distinction influencing both the form and content of the media. Hot media speaks to its audience, without much room for interpretation or debate. On the other hand, cool media speaks with the audience, allowing individual interpretation an analysis. Traditionally, photojournalism appearing in newsprint has been cool; the image quality is sub par, forcing the viewer to fill in the gaps of what the photo is depicting. Furthermore, because newspapers traditionally only run one photo along with most stories, the rest of the event must be inferred by the audience from that one photo (as well as the accompanying story).

This has changed with the development of online multimedia photojournalism. Because photographs are displayed on crystal clear, backlit monitors instead of newsprint, the audience is no longer required to make any inferences about the physical content of photographs. In addition, because multiple photographs of a single event or story are now used instead of a single photo, the audience is afforded a more complete view of any event; at the cost of the ability for individual interpretation based on a photograph. In this way, photojournalism is shifting from a cool medium to a hot one, a transformation which could radically transform the scope of photojournalism. If McLuhan is right that “the medium is the message”[10], then a shift in photojournalistic medium will alter the message of photojournalism as well.

In light of these changes to photojournalistic practice and distribution, the need for strong journalistic standards is more important than ever. At a time when digital cameras have eliminated film cameras from most of the professional world, and digital technologies are rapidly replacing traditional practices, ethical standards are imperative in order to maintain the privileged position journalism holds in democratic society. This is of particular importance because photographs taken with digital cameras, or processed digitally, are “[susceptible] to easy, unlimited, and virtually undetectable manipulation.”[11]

Using Adobe Photoshop, or any number of other photo editing software, photographers can easily erase parts of images, input data from other photos, adjust the tonal range or colour of an image, as well as a multitude of other adjustments. While this ability has opened up a range of creative potentials for the artistic photographer, it poses a serious risk to the credibility of the news photojournalist whose photos are only effective if they tell the truth. It is with this danger in mind that photo agencies, organizations, and individual newspapers have devoted considerable effort to updating and enforcing their ethical codes. Reuters, for example, published a list of acceptable uses of Photoshop earlier this year,[12] which clearly states that there are to be “no additions or deletions to the subject matter of the original image.”[13] The decision on the part of Reuters to publish this type of document is likely influenced by the fact that a Reuters photograph taken over the summer was exposed as being heavily manipulated, resulting in the firing of several Reuters staff.[14] Other groups, however, are also publishing updated ethical codes, including the National Press Photographers Association[15], and the Toronto Star[16].

Ultimately, however, it falls to each individual photojournalist to develop and uphold their own sense of ethically acceptable behaviour. The guidelines offer a starting point for each individual to decide what they are and are not willing to do to in order to fulfill their role as a photojournalist. Personally, I refrain from all digital editing outside basic levels adjustments and black and white conversion when working on news photographs. Furthermore, when taking photographs I strive to remain unobtrusive, observing and documenting the action but not interfering with it. This includes never requesting for people to change their actions so I can ‘get the shot’ or using photos were people have intentionally posed for the camera. The photos from Relay for Life illustrate these standards.

In keeping with the new practice of online multimedia presentations seen throughout the news media, I decided to submit my portfolio of images from Relay for Life in this manner. This style of photojournalistic presentation lends itself well to this project; I needed to submit multiple images together, and the multimedia format allowed me to incorporate both video and audio content in addition to the photographs.

While my primary role as a photojournalist at this event was an informative one, there is a prescriptive element to these photos as well. By showing the efforts of regular university students to raise money for cancer research, these photos call on others to do the same. These photos, to paraphrase Nachtwey, are aimed at your generosity[17], they call on you, the viewer to help in the same way these students have.



[1] Ut, Nick. Associated Press. (accessed April 6, 2007).

[2] Nachtwey, James. “Witness: Photography by James Nachtwey.” (accessed April 6, 2007).

[3] VII Photo Agency. (accessed April 06, 2007)

[4] Cohen, June. “2007 TED Prize winner James Nachtwey.” TED Blog: Ideas that matter in technology, entertainment, and design. April 04, 2007. (accessed April 06, 2007).

[5] Dineen, Gary. “New Orleans/Okahoma City Hornets v Milwaukee Bucks.” Getty Images. April 03, 2007. (accessed April 06, 2007).

[6] Fremson, Ruth. “Amazing Girls.” The New York Times. 04 01, 2007. (accessed April 07, 2007).

[7] Steinmetz, George. “Exploring Antartica.” The Washington Post. 2007. (accessed April 07, 2007).

[8] Pellegrin, Paolo. “Guantanamo.” Magnum in Motion. (accessed April 07, 2007).

[9] McLuhan, Marshall. Understanding Media. Florence, KY, USA: Routledge, 1964.

[10] McLuhan, Marshall. Understanding Media. Florence, KY, USA: Routledge, 1964, p.7

[11] Wheeler, Tom. Phototruth or Photofiction? : Ethics and Media Imagery in the Digital Age. Mahwah, NJ, USA: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Inc., 2002, p.28

[12] Schlesinger, David. “The Use of Photoshop.” Reuters. January 18, 2007. (accessed April 07, 2007).

[13] Schlesinger, David. “The Use of Photoshop.” Reuters. January 18, 2007. (accessed April 07, 2007).

[14] “Reuters drops Beirut photographer.” BBC News. August 8, 2006. (accessed April 07, 2007).

[15] “NPPA Code of Ethics.” National Press Photographers Association. (accessed April 07, 2007).

[16] “Toronto Star Photo Department Code of Ethics.” Toronto Star. January 12, 2006. (accessed April 07, 2007).

[17] Cohen, June. “2007 TED Prize winner James Nachtwey.” TED Blog: Ideas that matter in technology, entertainment, and design. April 04, 2007. (accessed April 06, 2007).