Daily Herald explains journalistic standards of news photos in digital age
In an era of increasingly sophisticated movie magic, can photos and video footage still be regarded as evidence of anything?
Daily Herald Managing Editor Jim Baumann on Wednesday spotlighted a variety of ways manipulated images are used to persuade and deceive and how to safeguard oneself against them during the third in a series of "Facts Matter" presentations at Northwest Suburban High School District 214's headquarters in Arlington Heights.
His examples built up to a video created by actor-director Jordan Peele showing a photorealistic image of former U.S. President Barack Obama speaking in sync with a vocal impersonation by Peele himself.
In this case, Peele's own purpose was to demonstrate how easily and thoroughly the appearance of reality can be faked.
"That stuff's hard to spot," Baumann told his own audience. "Don't use your eyes and ears. Use your brain."
Indeed, the reason manipulated images are often used as or with fake news is to fool the brain more effectively than the printed word can, Baumann said. Many people are still catching up with a world in which one can be created as easily as the other.
Encouraging news consumers to be skeptics rather than cynics, Baumann said one initial exercise they can use is to weigh the likelihood an image presented as truth really is.
Sometimes, such fake images can be used to persuade others to think about something differently. Other times, it can confirm an existing bias. Examples included famous people's faces swapped in photos to put them or others with them in a negative light.
A deceptive caption can be used to suggest that even a vaguely similar-looking person in a photo is a more high-profile person doing something uncharacteristic.
Baumann detailed the standard for photos used by reputable news agencies. Apart from color correction or adjustments to brightness or contrast so a photo more closely resembles the way the image appeared in reality, everything else is off limits.
"We hold accuracy very dear," he said.
The only exception -- with due attention drawn to it whenever it's employed -- is to blur out a license plate number or street address on a house in the interest of someone's safety.
"We'll tell you what we did and why," Baumann said of this rare provision.
Another priority is not to use a photo that's deliberately unflattering or out of context with the subject of an article.
The last two installments of the Facts Matter series are 7 to 8:30 p.m. Oct. 17 and 24 in the auditorium of the Forest View Educational Center at 2121 S. Goebbert Road in Arlington Heights. The Oct. 17 topic is "How Does a News Organization Work?" and on Wednesday, Oct. 24 it's "The First Amendments and Its Role in the Republic."