Monday, December 12, 2016

Don't do this! Photo illustrations and false light

The rotating photo gallery at the top of home page at today has a nice photo of students walking through campus with this headline:

Students targeted for sex work

The link takes readers to a story about sex trafficking and the STOP organization, which is a campus effort to fight sexual slavery. The story mentions the group's contention that students are a target of slavers and that Chico is no stranger to the problem.

Unfortunately for The Orion, none of the students in the photo on the website has anything to do with the story in any direct way, except that they are students at Chico State. The implication of pairing the photo with the headline is, you guessed it, that they have been the targets of the local traffickers.

This is called "false light," which happens when something published about a person creates a false impression about them. In this case, that photo implies these particular students were targeted by sex traffickers.

Someone who bothered to follow the link to the story would figure out that the students in the photo were not really the subject of the story, but what about those who didn't click the link?

The easiest way to prevent false light problems is to only illustrate stories with photos from the actual events that generated the story. Another way to think about it: Photos with five or fewer people in them should have cutline information naming the subjects. Someone gathering the names for this particular photo might have been asked by the people shown why the photo was being used, and a light of recognition might have been illuminated in a photographer or editor's brain.

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