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Toying With the Public’s emotions: protection or manipulation?

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The NYT making minor edits to its content.

The job of a news editor as it relates to video, photographs or audio, generally tends to have certain priorities. In the latter case, a need to eliminate extraneous remarks that aren’t germane to the topic of a story can help present all information in concise fashion.
That quality has become even more important in the past few decades as attention spans continue to be reduced.

Choosing what to feed the audience
For video and photographs, the same principle can apply, though other factors also blend into the decision-making process. When coverage of wars or other violent actions take place, the likelihood of potentially gruesome pictures can make for a more realistic presentation. However, at the same time, it might spark controversy because of the cringe-worthy nature of the images.

Whenever editing takes place for visual mediums; it causes concern because a certain level of context is removed from what actually took place. This means the personal feelings of the person handling the work can color what ends up being presented to the audience.

Original picture taken in Bangladesh from National Geographic photographer Steve McCurry.
Edited picture. Notice the missing player?

Image manipulation; a violation unknown to many
When it comes to photos, ethical standards are generally in place keeping legitimate media outlets in line. These have been established by National Press Photographers Association and indicate that image manipulation is a violation. No matter how graphic, the raw image should therefore truly represent the atmosphere in which it was taken.

Some news organizations or publications choose to try and walk a tightrope in following such guidelines and offending their audience. Others simply are apathetic in regards to what is considered ethical and end up making a controversial decision.

Cushioned reality to protect fragile audiences
In April 2013, a domestic terrorist attack at the Boston Marathon left death and destruction in its wake. The New York Daily News put a photograph on its front page of the carnage that resulted, but decided to edit a key aspect of the photo.

One female victim, who at the very least seriously injured, was being attended to by a fellow citizen prior to the arrival of medical personnel. The original photo showed an image of her left leg, which had sustained extensive damage, with good portions of her skin being blown off.

Due to the gruesome sight, the Daily News chose to make it appear as if no damage to the victim’s leg had taken place. The decision came despite the fact that visible signs of blood right near the woman were already clearly present in the photograph.

Video manipulation for Wartime propaganda
From a video perspective, the agenda of a particular news channel or network can be the basis for editing what actually took place. This was the case in the early days of the 2003 Iraq War, when Fox News edited a video to show a small group of Iraqi citizens cheering the arrival of United States soldiers two days into the conflict.

The genesis of the war was in order to liberate Iraq from Saddam Hussein’s rule, which was reinforced by the Fox video. The broadcaster describing the video added that the people were chanting anti-Saddam remarks, even though it wasn’t certain that the citizen’s comments had been officially translated.

The NYT making minor edits to its content.

Public mischief and its consequences
The advent of social media and websites has allowed the average person the chance to post their own photos. It’s highly doubtful that most of the people posting photographs that have been doctored are aware of the ethical considerations in place. Even fewer are likely to be concerned with making sure that they’re followed.

Three years after the Boston Marathon tragedy, a Merrimack, New Hampshire woman ended up being arrested for false reporting after she misrepresented a photo of her son. The 20-year-old woman, in the midst of a contentious custody battle, had originally presented the photo on the GoFundMe crowdfunding website five months earlier.

Taylier Tibbetts showed her three-year-old son with bruises on his chest that had been Photoshopped, alleging that her ex-husband had been responsible for the injuries. She requested money in order to pay for legal fees to obtain custody. She was yet only able to obtain $10 within the five following months.
Tibbetts then went to the local police with her photograph to make her claim. After law enforcement officials carefully examined it, they were able to determine that it had been tampered with and therefore placed her under arrest.

Circling around danger
In each of the cases above, a clear motive was behind each of the actions: protection, manipulation and an outright falsehood. While some believe that only the latter case is worthy of such a designation, that attitude can set the stage for a further erosion of ethics and trust in the media.