Photography, balance and bias

But this is mostly a case of perceptions over reality, where people with bees in their bonnets hunt for “evidence” for as long as it takes them to find it and then call that representative. Still, there’s no doubt that the odd journo does let their worldview colour their work from time to time.

But photography too has plenty of potential to corrupt fair and balanced reporting.

Good editorial pictures tend to use certain tools to make their point, like emotion, empathy, fear, humour, surprise, suspense and all the rest. At the same time we expect good journalism to be factual, dispassionate and neutral. See the obvious disconnect here? Making matters worse, readers are inclined to be far less skeptical about what they see than they are about what they read. So a deceptive picture is also more inclined to fool.

There’s a time and a place for sympathetic photography, though. For example, it’s likely the average person would feel something for a victim of crime when they read the facts about the incident. That’s fine and we should expect the impact of an accompanying portrait to be no different.

But if a story was instead about a businessman in a dispute with his finance company and they’re all heading off to court to resolve it, then too sympathetic a photograph of either party would be prejudicial, inappropriate and just not balanced (although we’d probably not bother with the picture anyway because it sounds like a boring story).

So how do we prevent our desire to always create strong and engaging pictures from ending up promoting the interests of somebody who it turns out is a disingenuous story teller, a vexation litigant or an outright liar?

Well our defence is in the editing. First by the photographer and later an actual editor, it’s the process where we ruthlessly cull and shortlist pictures by considering aesthetics, journalistic merit, ethics and a whole lot more.

Unfortunately we can end up excluding great looking work which isn’t easy to do for any reason, but this is where our protection lies – and balance ultimately rests with the editing.


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