Visual journalism

Images associated with NPR content must, individually or collectively, show the events they depict truthfully, honestly and without bias. This requirement applies whether they are taken by NPR journalists or come from other sources.

Accuracy

Overview

Overview: Accuracy in visual journalism # ±

The images and graphics we use to help tell our stories assist us in our pursuit of the truth. Some guidelines are simple: Captions and labels must accurately describe the events in the images they accompany. The same is true of the information we present online in graphics. Some things are more subjective and require more judgement: Be fair to the people in photos and honest with our viewers. Flattering photos can be as deceiving as unflattering images. Use images to convey information and tell stories, not to make the subjects look better or worse than the facts warrant. Likewise, our graphics present information in ways that educate and illuminate. We do not skew data to mislead viewers about an issue or event.

/ Guideline

Take care in using images that have been posted online. # ±

Increasingly, photos and video are being posted online by individuals. In considering whether to use those materials, do your best to verify their accuracy and when in doubt, do not publish them.

Images can be manipulated. Old video can be reposted and made to appear as if it’s new. Photos or video taken in one part of the world can be repackaged and portrayed as being from somewhere else. Again, when in doubt, leave them out.

As with all information, bring a healthy skepticism to images you encounter, starting from the assumption that all such images or video are not authentic. Then, with guidance from NPR’s multimedia and social media teams (and if legal issues are involved, NPR’s legal team as well), work through a series of questions, including:

  • When was it posted?
  • Do the images or video match what has been distributed by professionals (wire services, news networks, etc.)?
  • Is it original work or copies of what others have done?
  • Does this person have the legal right to distribute the work and has he made the materials available for others to use?

More resources: The National Press Photographers Association’s code of ethics is posted online.

Guideline

Be vigilant about presenting data accurately. # ±

It’s easy to represent data inaccurately or misleadingly, especially in charts and infographics. Double-check your numbers and the way you portray them to make sure you’re imparting the proper information.

Accurately presenting data includes guarding against false precision. Politicians may claim, for instance, that a budget plan will reduce deficits by $1.512 trillion over 10 years. Given the many variables and uncertainties involved in such forecasts, carrying the number out that many decimal places could give readers a false sense of certainty — precisely what the politicians would like, but not necessarily what is most “true.” In such cases, rounding may be a better approach (to, for example, “$1.5 trillion”).

When reading raw numbers, pay particular attention to the effects of different interpretations. Absolute numbers and percentages can paint very different pictures. It is true, for example, to say that the U.S. is the world’s largest contributor of foreign aid. It is also true to say that of the world’s major donor countries, the U.S. often contributes among the least of its G.D.P. towards foreign aid. When citing such statistics, be sure they are making the appropriate points, and that you’re offering the necessary context.

Give careful thought to the way data are broken out when showing rates of change. Small differences can look much larger than they should – and large differences can look much smaller than they should – if a graphic is not appropriately scaled. Consult the multimedia team (look for DigitalMedia in the NPR internal email address book) if you have any questions on such matters. (Source: Robert Benincasa.)

Honesty

Guideline

Our visual journalism must honestly depict reality. # ±

When reporting on news events, the photographs we take and use depict them truthfully, honestly and without bias. They are only enhanced for technical clarity — to correct color or improve contrast, for example. We are careful in how we crop them to ensure that the scene is in proper context. We let events happen — we do not stage scenes to make them fit a story line. If we have to rely on “file” art from the past, we clearly state so in the caption and include the date. And when considering photos provided by other organizations (most often, The Associated Press), we view them with a critical eye to gauge whether they meet our standards.

When packages call for studio shots (of actors, for example; or prepared foods) it will be obvious to the viewer and if necessary it will be made perfectly clear in the accompanying caption information.

Likewise, when we choose for artistic or other reasons to create fictional images that include photos it will be clear to the viewer (and explained in the caption information) that what they’re seeing is an illustration, not an actual event.

Photographs we take and choose to use must individually or collectively, show the events they depict truthfully, honestly and without bias. This requirement applies whether they are taken by NPR journalists or come from other sources (such as freelancers or photo agencies).

We take great care when we translate data into charts and “infographics.” For example, while always striving to be accurate, we also guard against false precision. And we carefully consider the scales applied to the information we use, to guard against giving data either too much or too little significance. (For more detailed guidance, consult the discussion of accuracy.)

Independence

Guideline

Use press releases and other handout materials carefully. # ±

We must take into account that press releases and other handout materials (such as images) from organizations we cover are usually delivered with the intent of portraying the subject in the best possible light. We don’t publish staged photos unless there’s a compelling news reason for doing so. If there is, we disclose this fact to the audience.