The Decision for Publishing or Not Publishing the Cover Photo

The Decision for Publishing or Not Publishing the Cover Photo

The Decision for Publishing or Not Publishing the Cover Photo

Introduction/Situational Definition

Louisiana’s altered image is just but an example of the many cases of media manipulations that have published images/stories intentionally to deviate from the original story. As a journalist, one is bound to codes of ethics, truth, correct information and authentication of source relied on. As such, Test of Time and misinformation is never an excuse for unprofessionalism in media. Larry Downing’s featured President Obama at the Louisiana beach where the reporter was accused of editing the photo with an intention of creating a new perspective out of the reality of issues. Reported by The Economist, the deputy editor Emma Duncan admitted having instructed removal of images of Mr. Randolph and her counterpart from the original photo, which has been criticized as malpractice in modern media. There are different grounds to argue for and against the publishing of the photo.  Thus, this study analyses the situation of the photo to decide if it should have been published or otherwise.

Analysis of the Situation


The formation of media reporting is based on secrecy and privacy of the source and the information collected. Moreover, the situational mismatch between secrecy and privacy has worsened media professionalism and conduct of reporters. While secrecy intentionally keeps valuable information away from the public, privacy undermines access to information for reporting. Both situations must be legally undertaken to accord a reporter right to information and perform his/her duty to report to the public. However, the Louisiana case deviates from the understanding of media informational threshold. Obama’s photo with his colleagues was public information taking into account the position of his office and the reason for a visit to the beach. As such, the situation does not require any preservation or protection of the president’s image against his two colleagues in the original photo. The journalist never faced the contradiction of secrecy for exclusive reporting of the president alone against the privacy of the two other people in the image. Thus, the media’s defense on accounts of information delivered was illegal and unethical; therefore, the photo should not have been published after the editing.


Journalists are also required to seek and report only truth as a prime principle. The truth standard supersedes accuracy as a foundation of the legitimacy of the information passed. Journalists are required to be accurate and fair in their reporting without concealing or diverting information to satisfy self-interest. As such, they are required to assume responsibility for the accuracy collected before releasing it to the public. The position requires them to only rely on the original sources of information as true facts with specific care to avoid overrating or undermining the credibility of the information collected and reported. The journalist who reported Obama’s Louisiana visit undermined the principle of truth during the reporting. The action he undertook under the approval of his deputy chief editor to delete other images out of the photo amounts to gross violation of journalism principles. The removal of images of Mrs. Randolph and her counterpart from the original photo tampered with the originality of the information, hence compromising the truth of information. By giving the public an edited image, the journalist intentionally concealed the reality of what was on the ground. Therefore, on the basis of observing the truth principle, the photo should not have been published since it was not a representation of the truth.


There is also considerable evidence to argue that the journalist intentionally undermined the principal purpose of journalism in minimizing damage and acting independently. The position counters the commonly peddled defense against the journalist’s conduct on the basis of acting on his/her editor’s command. Larry has often argued that he printed the edited image under the instruction of his boss and thereby should be pardoned without much criticism. However, Larry had a professional involvement in the saga, which he cannot run away from. As a journalist, he was expected to act independently without following instructions from his boss. The journalist also presumed an obligation of serving the public without conflict of interest, political patronage, social influence, hierarchical order and any other issues that would compromise credibility, impartiality, and integrity of his work. By following unprofessional instruction from his boss, the journalist committed the same offense as his boss. Moreover, the journalist failed to minimize harm from his action by impropriating public’s need for information and potential damage emanating from the editing of the photo. The published photo also failed to show a sense of compassion to those whose images were removed from the original photo. His conduct shows his refusal to distinguish between the institutional justification for editing the information and ethical justification for his conduct. Therefore, the journalist failed to act independently and minimize harm from his action.

Codes of Ethics and Theory

Reliable journalism must be free of malice, deceit, and misconceptions that allow it to stand to the test of ethical codes. More so, mass media communication channels like print media must align to professionally agreed values with clear boundaries of acceptable and unacceptable conducts. The Duty-based theory explains codes of ethics as actions based on universal norms for a good or bad outcome. Media must, therefore, be determined by what should be done as opposed to what a person should be. The reference should be an emphasis on professional commitment and rule of engagement that apply universally (Patterson, Wilkins, & Painter, 2018). Also, the codes of ethics should hold journalists responsible for their action by making them understand why an act is either good or bad. As such, there is much to understand in Larry Downing’s action to publish an edited image using a mass media platform. The editing of the image was seemingly done without due permission of involved parties. The journalist also undermined his ethical public role in media. In addition, he risks legal accusation due to misconduct and ethical behavior, particularly from the affected parties. Therefore, by observations of codes of ethics, the journalist should have not published the photo.


The reviewed scenario misses the basic informational, ethical, truth, professional and theoretical assumptions of journalism. The journalist’s conduct assumed the communitarianism view where a few people benefit at the expense of others. The theory contradicts popular journalism’s golden mean theory that asserts happiness to everyone. By focusing on the political patronage over morals, rights of Mrs. Randolph and practical responsibility to the society, the journalist perpetually violated the basic ethical conducts of journalism. The choice made by the journalist should have complied with universal laws and moral standards. In addition, he ought to have approached the issue like any other daily reporting without alluding specialty to one party. The considerations should have guided the journalist’s point of view before publishing the cover photo. There is absolutely no ground to support the journalist’s conduct and publication of the photo. Thus, under all circumstance, the cover photo should not have been published because it contradicts professionalism, truth, and codes of ethics.


Patterson, P., Wilkins, L., & Painter, C. (2018). Media ethics: Issues and cases. Rowman & Littlefield.


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