The Ethics Of Visual Journalism

November 6, 2013 General, Visual Journalism 0 Comments

Ethics Of Visual JournalismVisual journalists have the power to impact national and international opinion.

Their photographs are often paired with articles covering a variety of topics – from politics to international relations to sports. These topics are incredibly important to the public and photographs can make them more meaningful. They can even sway a reader to reconsider a pre-conceived notion or belief.

With this kind of power, it is important for visual journalists to establish a set of ethics by which they work. These ethics should guide professional and personal choices. The National Press Photographers Association (NPAA) lists the code of ethics by which they expect all professional visual journalists to follow. They are:

  1. Be accurate and comprehensive in your representation of subjects.
  2. Resist being manipulated by staged photo opportunities.
  3. Be complete and provide context when photographer or recording subjects. Avoid stereotyping individuals and groups. Recognize and work to avoid presenting your personal biases in your work.
  4. Treat all subjects with respect and dignity.
  5. While photographing subjects do not intentionally contribute to, alter or seek to alter or influence events.
  6. Editing should maintain the integrity of the photographic images’ content and context. Do not manipulate images or add or alter sound in any way that can mislead viewers or misrepresent subjects.
  7. Do not pay sources or subjects. Do not reward them materially for information or participation.
  8. Do not accept gifts, favors or compensation from those who might seek to influence coverage.
  9. Do not intentionally sabotage the efforts of other journalists.

Here, we’ve emphasized a two of the points that we think are most important for Visual Journalism students. We hope that you understand the value of these ethics and apply them to your coursework.


The National Public Radio (NPR) has established its own code of ethics by which it expects photographers and visual journalists to work. With many programs being broadcast over the Internet, photographs are being used more often with the work of NPR.

They emphasize accuracy, noting that images and graphics can help tell stories. They can also help viewers in their pursuit for truth and understanding.

Visual journalists must be accurate in the way their photographs are presented. This includes the captions and labels that describe the events going on in the image and which are often featured below the photograph.

NPR says, “Be fair to the people in photos and honest with our viewers. Flattering photos can be as deceiving as unflattering images. Use images to convey information and tell stories, not to make the subjects look better or worse than the facts warrant.”

Like its counterpart, Journalism, Visual Journalism is dependent on non-fiction storytelling. It is important for visual journalists to be accurate and concise.


Your work must also depict reality – as it is, without retouching or editing.

Photo retouching has been a major debate for photographers and journalists. But, adding images or erasing images from a photograph can dramatically change the viewer’s reaction.

You do not have the right to manipulate your viewers while claiming to represent the truth. You must be ethical and honest. Photographs should show events as they happened – they should be a depiction of the truth, without bias. 

We hope that you can begin to apply these ethics to your work as a Visual Journalism student at Brooks Institute. It is important to us, as a post-secondary school, to educate journalists who value honesty and accuracy. For more information on our program, talk to a program advisor or Admissions counselor today.


What do you think?