The ethical eye : photojournalists' views of ethics and digital photography in UK national newspapers

Kliewer, Paula D. (2018) The ethical eye : photojournalists' views of ethics and digital photography in UK national newspapers. Doctoral thesis, London Metropolitan University.


This thesis highlights the importance of ethical awareness amongst photojournalists, their complex professional practices and digital photography in relation to photographs submitted for publication in UK national newspapers. At the current time in the UK photojournalistic context, the ethical significance of photojournalists’ practice is often silenced. This thesis aims to bring their voices to the surface.

By adopting a social constructivist approach, this study draws on data collected from semi-structured interviews from twenty-five professional photojournalists. The interviews provided data which reflect the thoughts, opinions and views of professional photojournalists currently practising and that have submitted photographs to UK national newspapers. Below are the key themes of this study:

- In constructing the importance of ethical practices in relation to newspaper photographs, I developed a representation that conceptualises the ethical relationship photojournalists have regarding challenges they face, being an eyewitness to history and their photographic identity. This representation positions practices relating to ethical activities conducted and understood by photojournalists; encapsulating the ‘ethical eye’.

- Ethical awareness amongst professional photojournalists is evident in the acts of both taking and working on photographs. I developed the idea that photojournalists utilise an ‘ethical eye’ while taking and working on photographs.

- In further examining the ‘ethical eye’, I constructed the 'deontological ethical eye' which conceptualises the ethical duties faced by professional photojournalists. This research suggests that these duties aid in guiding them when taking action in ethical situations.

- Photojournalists take ‘care’ while taking photographs, exhibiting excitement and dedication to their profession. I contend that even though photojournalists take ‘care’ with their photographs, this may be in vain because newspapers may make their own changes to the photographs.

- I argue that photojournalists are socialised despite the lack of a structured working environment. In addition, I argue that they act as ethical role models for their professional peers; aiding in deterring unethical behaviour and helping to maintain the ‘traditions’ of photojournalism.

- Photojournalists’ personal views relating to the complex changes within their industry reveal challenges faced by photojournalists. I assert that although digital photography has been a great benefit to photojournalism; it has also brought about pressures, difficulties and concerns for photojournalists.

- Throughout this study, I draw upon the perspectives of photojournalists, and I establish that there is a lack of communication between photojournalists and newspaper staff.

- It is also established that photojournalists do not receive ethical codes or guidelines from newspapers regarding photo manipulation. However, there is an unwritten ‘code’ within the photojournalism community; the socialisation of photojournalists is a key factor in dictating their ethical practices.

The implication of this study goes beyond a consideration of professional comradery between photojournalists and newspaper staff. To establish ethical boundaries, I argue that photojournalism is becoming increasingly boundless in that anyone can submit photographs, from anywhere, making the management of the profession difficult. Yet, through the optimistic views of photojournalists, newspaper photographs will remain at the forefront of visual communication.

The findings of this research were considered in light of existing theory as discussed in Chapter Two. The research findings for this research were highlighted in Chapter Four. In Chapter Five, I discuss digital photo manipulation, ethical views of photojournalists regarding their practice and digital photographs.

Chapter Six discusses the judgment values and views of photojournalists on the current challenges and future state of photojournalism; as well as the way in which photojournalists are socialised into their profession. Limitations of this research study were reviewed, and recommendations for future research were outlined in Chapter Seven.

Photographic discussions are important; especially those concerning ethics within photojournalism because it can help improve and may spark participation in photographic discussions. Discussions could create awareness, guiding professional photojournalists and those involved in photojournalism on how they conduct themselves while performing their professional ethical duties. Photography is a topic of interest to many people, not only because it is fascinating, but because most people at one point or another have picked up a camera and taken photographs.

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