Should News Organizations Publish Instagram Photos?
October 15, 2013
Samantha Goldberg

This September, Instagram, a photo sharing app, reached a milestone of 150 million active monthly users.  But with more journalists and news organizations increasingly interested in using the app to enhance their reporting, publications now face a challenge in reporting–how to remain accurate and truthful when using Instagram and choosing what photos to publish. There is also the bigger question: Should news organizations be publishing Instagram photos at all?

The reaction to this practice is mixed. And, it gets some news organizations in trouble.

Earlier this year, The New York Times caused controversy for using an Instagram photo of  New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez on its Sunday front page.


Even though the photo was taken by professional sports photographer Nick Laham with an actual camera and then edited on Instagram, some journalists, such as Business Insider’s Megan Rose Dickey, called using Instagram photos a “problem for traditional photography.” 

She said that while making “photos look great” used to require the old-fashioned darkroom and later at least some experience with Photoshop for digital images, Instagram now makes the need for those skills to “diminish rapidly.”

However, Poynter’s Andrew Beaujon argued Laham’s reputation as an accomplished portraitist make the photo credible.

But with Instagram’s ability to alter or put filters on photos, new issues arise for news publications to decide whether using Instagram photos in news reports are accurate or not.

CNN is among the news organizations that publishes a photo feed on Instagram, here, showcasing a photo by John Murgatroyd of panda twins born recently at Zoo Atlanta.

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Here are some tips for journalists interested in using the Instagram service for reporting purposes:

1. If a news organization wants to publish a user’s Instagram photo, they should contact the photographer and see if it’s possible to get a copy of the original, unfiltered photo, to avoid issues of accuracy and ethics, Huffington Post’s Social Media Editor Ethan Klapper suggests in Mediabistro.

“Instagram’s compression makes a photo unacceptable for use in any medium other than the Web. Second, while the filters are artsy and cool, they constitute an altering of a photo that probably violates the ethical guidelines of most newsrooms,” Klapper wrote.

2. Conversely, if news organizations are having their photographers upload their work on Instagram, they should make sure to license their photos so they are free to reproduce and sell their photos, a practice the Associated Press uses, according to the Columbia Journalism Review.

3. The CJR article highlights another “safe” way news organizations can use Instagram–by publishing photos not specifically related to news. For example, The New York Times limits its Instagram usage to fashion photography.

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Lexi Mainland, The New York Times social media editor told CJR, “We’re not keen on filters, and when we’ve thought about using it more, one thing stymied our efforts: You can’t link from Instagram to webpages and stories and other photos. It operates like a walled garden. I’m not sure that’s the best platform for publishers.”

Do you think news organizations should publish Instagram photos on the web and in print? Tell us in comments or tweet us at @AmJourReview with the hashtag #instajournalism