Should you use a stock photograph in a front page story to represent real suffering?

Media analyst Dan Barker’s blog feature’s a Daily Mirror front page about what it describes as the scandal of the growth of food banks in Britain:

Screen Shot 2014-04-16 at 09.03.05

Does it matter?

I think it does matter. It’s not the end of the world and it should not distract from the real story but it does slightly undermine the Mirror’s credibility.

Firstly, in an age of spin and fakery – especially through social networks – it is good for mainstream journalists to be as straight as possible.

Secondly, they could have taken a real picture (a real family is featured inside the paper).

Thirdly, this was a front page visual lead – the photo IS the big impact of the story, so the fact it is a stock photo undermines its authenticity.

Fourthly, this is an emotive issue. The growth of food banks is not all about poverty. There is a real debate to be had around this issue. By manipulation the Mirror slightly undermines its case.

I don’t think this is a huge ethical issue, but imagine if the Mail had done this about, say, immigration. Would people be annoyed?

We live in an age when journalists have to fight for credibility from a sceptical public – this kind of technique doesn’t help.

On Twitter, the Mirror’s online photography editor defended it’s use:

Screen Shot 2014-04-16 at 09.05.59

So hardly the biggest ethical crisis facing journalism today and there are far worse examples of distortion around. The Mirror is a great paper and very driven by a moral perspective. Which is exactly why I think this was a mistake.