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Do Photo-Sharing Apps Like Instagram Ruin Photojournalistic Integrity?
By: Christine Geraci
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In my reporter days, I learned a valuable lesson about photography from a colleague as we stood atop a frigid hill in the middle of winter, snapping photos and taking video for a story about a ski lift. "Always make sure the horizon is either one-third or two-thirds of the way up," I remember him saying. 
 
I don't know where this tip comes from. But from that day forward, the composition of my photos improved.  
 
And now, when I think back on all the random photos I've taken, both professionally and personally, I wonder how much more attention these photos might have gotten had Instagram been around before 2010.
 
Yesterday, Poynter.org published a thought-provoking article that asks whether social photo-sharing sites like Instagram are "dumbing down photography." The article frames a rather interesting debate about the very photojournalistic validity of images shoved through pre-set filters provided by Instragram, Hipstamatic, or other photo-enhancing apps, then displayed before an audience for feedback. 
 
Some argue it's "cheating" when news organizations use such apps because the filter effects turn raw photojournalism into doctored photography. Others say a bad photo is a bad photo, no matter what you do to it.
 
As a former newspaper reporter, I can see both sides of the coin. But I have to give this round of the debate to photo app-lovers everywhere.
 
If you want to get technical, the vast majority of news photos printed in newspaper publications are  "filtered" thanks to the technicality of having to be printed in black and white. 
 
Further, Instagram filters may change the coloring of a photo, but it doesn't change the subject of a photo. Giving a picture of my son a '70s vintage treatment doesn't change the fact that it's a picture of my son, taken at a moment in time. But if I put that picture in Photoshop, erased the background, and gave my son a silly moustache, then yes, it would no longer be photojournalism, but photography.
 
And what about cropping? The nature of a photo can completely change when the photographer chooses to focus on one part instead of the whole. 
 
There's still something to be said about a purely good photo, taken perhaps by chance, with no cropping or other alteration needed. But how often do we see a photo like this? We'll never know, because frankly, it's a detail most people don't care to know. 
 
As for the social aspect of the Instagrams of the world...I'm having trouble seeing how this dumbs down photography. If anything, it helps good photos rise to the top, and bad photos slowly disappear. It's instant feedback for professionals and amateurs alike. A good photo is a good photo, whether it's taken on a phone or with the most expensive camera on the market. Skill — the kind my former colleague had (and still has) gives you a better chance of taking more good photos than bad. And skill can't be hidden by an Instagram filter.
 
What are your thoughts? Do you think Instagram and apps like it cheapen photojournalism? Or is it really not that big of a deal to you? Let us know in the comments. 


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About the Author
Christine Geraci is the Social Media/Promotions Specialist at MVP Health Care in Schenectady, NY. Connect with her on Twitter @christinegeraci.
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