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The social construction of news photos: A case study of the photo editorial-decision process at the “Philadelphia Inquirer”

, The Florida State University, United States

The Florida State University . Awarded


The goal of this study is to offer a theoretical and practical look at how the newspaper photograph is a social construction of reality. This study seeks to uncover the decisions made in the newsroom regarding news photos and the impact new technology has on those decisions. Resulting from the remarkable growth of communication technologies, one of the apparent problems regarding communication technology is the ease with which manipulated photographs are created. Many fear the image manipulation process will generate editorial decisions that change photographic content for the sake of expediency, composition, or graphic expression, and that in the process the “reality” of the original photograph will be lost.

Using a major metropolitan “prestige” newspaper as a case study, this paper documents the significance of the professional routine of assigning, selecting, and presenting news photographs. This study took place over a three-month period and is based on in-depth interviewing, observation, and artifact analysis of news professionals at the Philadelphia Inquirer . In a written report, this study describes the culture of the newsroom, as well as the roles and responsibilities of news professionals, and a description of the layout and design of the Inquirer.

Analysis of the logic, ideological constructions, and rhetoric of journalism professionals as they pertain to the importance and function of the news photograph revealed valuable responses pertaining to the practice of responsible photojournalism. This study asserts that news professionals at the Philadelphia Inquirer stand as a positive example of maintaining photographic integrity given the current technology and its potential use in altering news photographs. As a result, this manuscript forwards the notion of the photographic principle in order to elucidate how news photos are socially constructed in a responsible manner.

The photographic principle is defined as the overall function of the visual elite to preserve the inherent value of news photography. Those who hold true to the photographic principle qualify as the visual elite a tautology as expressed here. Specifically, if the function of news photojournalism is to remain within the boundaries and conventions of legitimate news, responsible gathering practices dictate that the news photo must remain untouched—a truthful representation of the event or situation that occurred. By adhering to the photographic principle as set forth within, the visual elite present news photos objectively that appeal to an observer's emotions—without editorializing and without inserting fictional matter or deleting original content.


Seelig, M.I. The social construction of news photos: A case study of the photo editorial-decision process at the “Philadelphia Inquirer”. Ph.D. thesis, The Florida State University. Retrieved November 13, 2019 from .

This record was imported from ProQuest on October 23, 2013. [Original Record]

Citation reproduced with permission of ProQuest LLC.

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