Blogs > 37th Frame

Photography, notes, commentary and much more from former Reporter Online Editor Chris Stanley.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Fake out

By now most people have heard about the 'computer-enhanced' fireworks shown on TV during the Olympics opening ceremony.
Is this a big deal?
Today comes a revelation that the young girl singing at the ceremony was lip-synching. A last-minute switch was ordered when somebody decided the real singer wasn't cute enough for TV.
It seems that many viewers, even some in journalism circles, don't find this very significant. After all, they point out, it is not news coverage but rather a televised pageant presented for the entertainment of an audience.
There has been much talk in photojournalism forums about manipulated photos and how they affect the public trust in the media. Obvious examples inlude items either cloned in or out of photos, or excessive electronic dodging/burning in photos to create an artistic 'vignette' effect. This is a popular look among photographers right now, and they will claim that nothing in the photo has been manipulated, only the exposure and lighting effects are enhanced.
When established media outlets manipulate stories or photos, that becomes big news in itself. Magazines have been manipulating photos for years on their covers and elsewhere. Newspapers usually prohibit such manipulation, but sometimes a cloned photo slips past the editors.
This breaks down trust, which is really the cornerstone of what news coverage should be all about. If people can't trust the photos, can they trust the stories?
The Olympics opening ceremony was entertainment. But the coverage of the event was not; most people thought what they were seeing was a true representation of what was happening at the venue. Yes, the announcers vaguely described the computer enhancement, so technically no ethics were breeched. I mostly tuned out Bob Costas as I watched, preferring to hear the music rather than his run-on commentary.
So why is this important? Because slowly, we are accepting more and more 'simulated truth' in our media and it is spreading beyond entertainment into news (reality TV, anybody?). Trust is the keystone of any news organization. Without trust, whatever you read or see from an established media outlet is only as good as the latest internet rumor. And don't think the public won't go there for their (mis)information.


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