Visual Ethics: An Integrative
Approach to Ethical Practice
in Visual Journalism
Julianne H. Newton and Rick Williams
Plato had it backward. It’s the shadows on the wall that are real.
Hventy-first-century journalism juxtaposes words with still photographs, J. graphics, cartoons, video, sound, and animation in seamless presentations intended to be understood as real. As images work with words and music in short- and long-form journalistic presentations alongside advertising and entertainment media, fact and fantasy merge, dancing together in human memory as if all are real. These increasingly sophisticated messages, conveyed by media of every function and form, deserve careful attention by journalism ethicists.
Regardless of whether their purposes are deemed journalism, persuasion, entertainment, or art by media professionals and scholars, images enter the memory galleries of viewers’ minds as part of the storehouse of information underlying and facilitating problem solving, decision-making, and behavior. Their forms and contexts convey meanings the brain perceives and remembers as real, or actual. Through this process, images—whatever their origin— become “truths” stored in memory, capable of influencing our intuitive core of knowledge before and beyond the attention of consciousness. These image messages can be perceived as intended, misconstrued, or even “reconstrued” as they transform in memory.
In this context, “truth” or “truths” refer to data individuals use as if they are accurate. People draw on these dynamic memory “biases” to help them make decisions and act. Though some “brain truths” may be shared to various degrees by other individuals, these thoughts more often are uniquely personal