Instagram ethics still up for debate

The ethics and guidelines for journalism are always in question. Ethics are a touchy subject because they are so hard to define, and every journalist has different ethical codes. Of course there are the obvious basics that journalists follow (seek truth and report it, minimize harm, act independently and be accountable), but each one has exceptions and “it depends on the situations.” So what about photography? Do the same ethical standards apply to social media photo apps, like Instagram? Here at The Northerner, we think they do.

The Department of Communication, Society of Professional Journalists and Student Media are hosting an Instagram photo contest this week and the challenge is how to be news-oriented but still use the social media aspect of the app. As part of the contest, the same sponsors hosted a day of mobile journalism workshops Feb. 18 that gave students a chance to learn from professionals who encounter Instagram every day.

Among the professionals was Cincinnati Enquirer photo editor Cara Owsley. Owsley uses Instagram daily to post photos of the morning sunrise or a quick snapshot from a breaking news scene. For her, filters are completely acceptable on the weather photos, but from a breaking news scene, no way.

Altering a news photo in any way does just that, alters reality for the viewer. It’s unethical because it does not present the truth and choosing a certain filter could even editorialize on what feeling the scene should evoke for the viewer.

On the other hand, using filters on weather photos, or feature photos, is acceptable because there is more ethical leeway with arts and life photos. It isn’t so much about editorializing as it is about just making it look pretty.

Many students from The Northerner staff attended the event and gained some new insight into the ethics of the Instagram app.

Although The Northerner does not have an Instagram account, the possibility of creating one is probable. The social media aspect of Instagram could be a great opportunity for The Northerner to reach out to students more than ever before.

Where The Northerner stands: No filters on news photos, but feature photos are okay. The app should and can be used as social media to push out unfiltered news photos to multiple platforms at once, using the #nofilter hashtag.

The Instagram photo contest is not just for journalism students, but for the entire NKU community. The theme is Something Old, Something New and there are multiple categories. The theme is a reminder that although the technology of photojournalism is changing rapidly, the values and mission of journalism are still fundamental. Participants can interpret this however they want.

All you have to do is register (email necessary info to by Feb. 25 and submit photos with the #NKUphoto hashtag.

On March 6, winners will be announced in the best of show, best storytelling and best reflection of the theme categories.

The only requirements are to include the hashtag, complete caption information, including the names of all identifiable people, and the photo should be taken on campus or have an NKU theme.

For more information and to register, visit