On Journalism And Professional Ethics

This week, a fair amount of debate has arisen over The Economist‘s recent “Obama vs BP” cover. A photo of the U.S. President standing on a gulf shore was edited to make it appear that he was standing alone.

The photo was taken by a Reuters photographer, and Reuters argues that it has a “a strict policy against modifying, removing, adding to or altering any of its photographs without first obtaining the permission of Reuters and, where necessary, the third parties referred to”. Meanwhile, a deputy editor of The Economist told The New York Times that she “wanted readers to focus on Mr. Obama, not because I wanted to make him look isolated. That wasn’t the point of the story.”

Journalism, like Law and Medicine, is another field which can be said to abide by a professional code, although it may be closer to Business in that it doesn’t explicitly require a certifying authority to anoint one as a member of the field. As media becomes more participatory, the notions of being a “published writer” are quickly shifting. As established gatekeepers recede in importance and new media such as blogs begin to challenge established media outlets in terms of societal impact, does  this change the status of journalism as a profession? Is it another example of how the lines around what is a “profession” are being redrawn?

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