Many newspaper publishers in the 1890’s did not recognize or accept the power of photography in story telling [3 – p420]. By the 1920’s newspaper technology advanced to the point that printing quality photographs was relatively cheap and they became commonplace.[3 - 419] Quality pictures helped increase circulation, but startling and salacious pictures helped even more. Decisions about suitable content was usually a local matter, and editors published everything from accurate depictions to enhancements to outright recreations of newsworthy events. Sometimes governments imposed total censorship, such as federal bans on combat pictures in World War I & II, and judicial bans on court room proceedings.
In 1945 the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) was formed, initially with the goals of increasing the professionalism of photojournalists and protecting them from physical and legal attacks. Over the next decade it was recognized that a code of ethical practices would help these efforts, and the NPPA began publishing rules and guidelines for professional behavior with intermittent updates.
The NPPA also features a space on their website devoted to interpretation, Ethics in the Age of Digital Photography. The thrust of this discussion is that news pictures should be documents of life as it is, and they should not be life a we wish it to be. The NPPA makes harsh but clear judgments: set-ups and enhancements directly reduce creditability, a quality that is easily damaged in our digital age. The crummy color balance, the cluttered frame, the blurry subject, the extreme enlargement are the photographer’s problems. If the event is news-worthy then use the real picture, as was the case in “Soldier going ashore on D-Day”, by Robert Capa.