02: Visual Ethics
Surveys have reported steady declines in the public’s trust of the media for several decades. Although, public-opinion polls generally do not reflect how most journalist do their jobs, media credibility does indeed matter. When journalists lose trust of their audiences, viewership and readership quickly decline. And with increased globalization, constant advances of technology, and more media outlets and journalistic roles than ever before, maintaining the highest standard of ethics and accuracy must be a priority for all visual storytellers.
Graphics reporters face many of the same ethical challenges as photographers, editors and writers; however, the context in which some of these challenges present themselves is sometimes slightly different. Although much has been written about the ethical responsibilities of journalists, few have addressed more specialized considerations related to visual communication and graphic design.
This chapter covers a graphic reporter’s code of conduct including how copyright applies to design and visual, working with numbers and applying diversity to information graphics. We will look at potential ethical dilemmas, on-site reporting and hear from Jeff Goertzen, Art director at Orange County Register Freedom Communications LLC.
Visual plagiarism and copyright: An artist who copies a piece that he or she didn’t paint, illustrate or design is plagiarism. Those who engage in plagiarism may be held legally responsible for violating copyright laws. Copyright protects writers, photographers, illustrators and graphic artists by granting them exclusive control over the reproduction or commercial use of their work. In the case of original work, it is possible for one piece to be similar to another so long as the ideas they represent are in public domain. Infringement is more likely to be declared when one work is determine to be substantially similar to another in a way that would suggest it was directly copied.
Working with numbers: It can be easy to mislead readers with your presentation of statistical information. Struggling companies often go to great lengths to make their financial failures seem less magnified. Statistics may also be offered without clarifying the timespan over which the data was collected or the number of people polled. Similarly, reports may compare apples to oranges to make issues seem more or less important. A graphics reporter must be diligent in finding accurate numbers and make sure their sources are credible.
Onsite reporting: Graphics reporter may be required to actually go out on assignment and gather information or personally meet with sources. A graphics reporter should always represent themselves as a media professional, make sure the source understand when a formal interview is taking place and remember it is not necessary to allow the source to review the work prior to its publication.
Visual accuracy and illustrative diversity: Graphics reporters must be concerned with the accuracy of both the textual and visual information. A graphic on hear disease cannot be an abstract artistic rendering or an over-simplified illustration because it won’t have enough illustrative detail to accurately tell the story. It is also the responsibility of the reporter to consult all types of people and sources to ensure that diverse opinions, viewpoints and perspectives are adequately represented.