Wednesday, October 11, 2006

What you see is not always what you get

In an email from honestreporting.com today, I received an eye-catching image. It is not a surprise that the New York Times skewed a caption because the reality of life and journalism is that people do make mistakes.

According to Honest Reporting, the caption from a photo by Tyler Hicks from the New York Times was supposed to say, “TYRE, LEBANON. WEDNESDAY, JULY 26, 2006: Israeli aircraft struck and destroyed two buildings in downtown Tyre, Lebanon Wednesday evening. As people searched through the burning remains, aircraft again could be heard overhead, panicking the people that a second strike was coming. This man fell and was injured in the panic to flee the scene. He is helped by another man, and carried to an ambulance.”

Instead the caption ran, “After an Israeli airstrike destroyed a building in Tyre, Lebanon, yesterday, one man helped another who had fallen and was hurt. Cars packed with refugees snaked away from the town.”

This was misleading because it led readers to think that the people in the photo were injured in the airstrike, when in reality they were injured in the aftermath.

I keep thinking back to YouTube and all of the video feeds it publishes and pictures that people look at every day. It kind of scares me at how many images are thrown out there and how many people will not question them.

Honest Reporting said, “Photographers are also reporters, and writing a correct caption is as important as taking an honest picture.” To the same effect, the publishers of a website are not just business people, but they are editors, and should be responsible for the content of their websites.

How can images be regulated and ethically judged? Is there a criterion for us to follow? Even if there are no answers to these questions, we should all keep them in mind when putting things out there, whether they are going on the worldwide web or a print publication. The smallest details can make the biggest differences.

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