Photojournalism: Code Of Conduct

Photojournalists follow professional and ethical standards as they negotiate the complex situations they find themselves faced with.

Photojournalists follow professional and ethical standards as they negotiate the complex situations they find themselves faced with. As an occupational group, photojournalists are responsible for maintaining a viewer’s trust in the veracity of the image as well as the integrity of the process. The National Press Photographers Association (NPPA), a professional organization “dedicated to the advancement of photojournalism, its creation, editing and distribution, in all news media,” works to educate its members as well as the public about these concerns. According to the organization’s code of ethics, “Photojournalists operate as trustees of the public. Our primary role is to report visually on the significant events and on the varied viewpoints in our common world. Our primary goal is the faithful and comprehensive depiction of the subject at hand.”

Further, photojournalists are accountable to the editors of the publication they work to produce images on deadline. Missing a deadline, for editors, is like missing the story.

For Karen Becker (2003), “Journalism is a form of institutionally regulated communication which has the event as the most important product.” If we consider journalism from this perspective, as a product that is institutionally regulated, we can begin to recognize the existence of a structured hierarchy for conceiving, collecting, constructing, placing, positioning, and presenting information. This information/representational system is also conditioned by the values, attitudes, ideologies, and identities that make up society.

Conventions or guidelines for how people report the news determine the field for both writers as well as photographers. These conventions are based on a set of standards seeking to make sure that the content conveyed to the audiences is accurate, balanced, fair, and truthful. Without professional and ethical standards guiding reporting, textual and visual, the credibility of the account becomes suspect in the mind of the audience.

According to Tomlinson (1991), “The journalist’s moral duty is to tell about the world as clearly, accurately, and completely as possible. That duty is not always easy to perform, of course, because journalists own perceptions of the world are not always clear, accurate, and complete. Even so it is always easy to avoid deliberate distortion; it requires that we be only minimally decent Samaritans, not good Samaritans” (p.6). The interpretations we give to events, people and things both textually and visually should strive to explain and illuminate humanity in unique and meaningful ways.

National Press Photographers Association Code of Conduct

Photojournalists and those who manage visual news productions are accountable for upholding the following standards in their daily work:

  1. Be accurate and comprehensive in the representation of subjects.
  2. Resist being manipulated by staged photo opportunities.
  3. Be complete and provide context when photographing or recording subjects. Avoid stereotyping individuals and groups. Recognize and work to avoid presenting one’s own biases in the work.
  4. Treat all subjects with respect and dignity. Give special consideration to vulnerable subjects and compassion to victims of crime or tragedy. Intrude on private moments of grief only when the public has an overriding and justifiable need to see.
  5. While photographing subjects do not intentionally contribute to, alter, or seek to alter or influence events.
  6. Editing should maintain the integrity of the photographic images’ content and context. Do not manipulate images or add or alter sound in any way that can mislead viewers or misrepresent subjects.
  7. Do not pay sources or subjects or reward them materially for information or participation.
  8. Do not accept gifts, favors, or compensation from those who might seek to influence coverage.
  9. Do not intentionally sabotage the efforts of other journalists. Photojournalists should strive to ensure that the public’s business is conducted in public. Defend the rights of access for all journalists.
  10. Think proactively, as a student of psychology, sociology, politics and art to develop a unique vision and presentation. Work with a voracious appetite for current events and contemporary visual media.
  11. Strive for total and unrestricted access to subjects, recommend alternatives to shallow or rushed opportunities, seek a diversity of viewpoints, and work to show unpopular or unnoticed points of view.
  12. Avoid political, civic and business involvements or other employment that compromise or give the appearance of compromising one’s own journalistic independence.
  13. Strive to be unobtrusive and humble in dealing with subjects.
  14. Respect the integrity of the photographic moment.
  15. Strive by example and influence to maintain the spirit and high standards expressed in this code. When confronted with situations in which the proper action is not clear, seek the counsel of those who exhibit the highest standards of the profession. Photojournalists should continuously study their craft and the ethics that guide it.
  16. To the extent possible it is the news media’s job to present the world as it is and to allow viewers of photojournalism to determine for themselves their outlook of it.

The practice of  photojournalism relies on  ar ecore civic and democratic principles that contribute to our constitutional right to a free press.


Core Values in Photojournalism

  1. Balance/Fairness/Wholeness
  2. Accuracy/Authenticity
  3. Responsibility/Accountability/Leadership
  4. Accessibility
  5. Credibility
  6. Sound and Reasoned Judgment


  1. Why is it important for photojournalists  to adhere to a strict code of conduct?

2. What does credibility mean in photojournalism? Provide an example of credibility?