The journalist’s job, it is often said, is to document what happens and then write the first draft of history. That is what we strive to do for our readers, with accuracy, responsibility and relevance foremost in our minds.
The Loyolan operates under the same ethics as national publications — ethics that guide us to inform the public of incredible happenings and denounce any form of censorship, such as digitally editing news photographs.
At first glance, the issue of censorship and blurring faces in photographs taken in a public space seems to have an easy answer: you are in public, thus you cannot expect to be private. Frank LoMonte, director of the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information at the University of Florida, stated it best in a Poynter article.
“The short answer under U.S. law is that there is no such thing as being private in public. … If you are marching down the street or sunbathing in the park, you waive any expectation that what you’re doing is a private activity. That is doubly so when the activity is newsworthy.”
However, the topic becomes more complicated when covering and documenting protests.
The topic of photographing protesters and whether or not to digitally modify the photos to obscure faces has been widely discussed in the journalism community, as photojournalists explore ways to ethically cover protests. Recently, NPR was met with criticisms from their readers asking the publication to blur protesters’ faces in photography in order to protect them from violence.
“NPR should not institute a policy of obscuring the faces of people photographed while participating in public demonstrations who do not give express permission to have their picture published,” wrote Kelly McBride, NPR public editor and chair of the Craig Newmark Center for Ethics and Leadership at The Poynter Institute, in an article that addressed the concerns.
McBride also acknowledged the potential harm that could come to protesters, but believes social media posts pose more of a risk than journalistic photographs. However, she emphasized the importance of asking photo subjects for consent whenever possible. Although it is not illegal to publish a photograph taken in a public setting without consent, according to McBride many photojournalists at NPR will refrain from doing so.
“NPR is committed to journalism, and that includes chronicling news as it happens and in public. And now, much of the day's events qualify as historic moments.”
From national publications to student-run newspapers, all different types of outlets are navigating how to cover and document protests, knowing that it is the intention of journalism to present the facts. To do this at the Loyolan, reporters ask themselves:
What is the story?
What makes it news?
Where can I find information that helps readers better understand what is happening?
How do I gather a variety of responses to what is happening?
In the Loyolan’s protest coverage, which included a news article, a news video and an assortment of opinions and photos of protesters and attendees, we feel our reporter did exactly that. Each source quoted and photographed had the opportunity to decline to state their name or to not be photographed.
In the case of those who were interviewed for the coverage of the protest, each participated willingly, no one was coerced to participate, all knew they were speaking to a reporter from LMU’s student newspaper and no source requested anonymity.
Prior to arriving on the scene the Loyolan reporter was authorized to grant anonymity to any source that requested it, at their discretion.
In a PetaPixel article titled “No, Photojournalists Aren’t Advocating the Blurring of Faces at Protests,” Tara Pixley, a visual journalism professor at LMU, was quoted stating that the true issue is not whether to blur faces, but instead about receiving consent from those being photographed.
Pixley believes that it is important to look into the “ethical, critical and thoughtful approach to photographing vulnerable populations given the context of overt and expansive state surveillance that is often followed up with targeted harassment and discriminatory practices at the local, state and federal level.”
While the Loyolan is student-run, we strive to make professional-quality journalism. As students, the events we report on hit close to home, and it can be easy to blur the line between our sentiments as students, and our responsibilities as journalists. We own our role as a space for campus discourse, and recognize the fact that we are not immune from missteps. However, maintaining journalistic ethics is, and will always be, our priority. We are first, and foremost, a news source.