There's a fascinating story today about the LA Times firing a reporter who, in Iraq, digitally altered a photo before shipping it back. Major credit is due to the paper for being up-front about it, their note even shows the photowork in detail. This really raises a deeper issue: are photographs, in this digital day, useful evidence in establishing the truth? I think they remain useful, here's why.
Just a few days before the war started, there was a demonstration in San Francisco that got ugly and the police ended up arresting a lot of people. There wasn't much news coverage, and I was poking around a bit to figure what had happened. It turns out that Lisa Rein had posted a whole bunch of video of the event, which I watched, but can no longer find on her site, although she's got lots of other demonstration footage.
What really impressed me about the video, aside from how unhappy the cops looked, was the incredible profusion of recording devices in the crowd. It seems like every second person had a digicam or videocam or something; a thousand little bright silver flashes of digital memory.
Now suppose that one of the demonstrators or one of the cops or a passing motorist had had a psychotic episode and someone had ended up dead. The evidence from any one of those digital devices, turned in the next day by an attendee, would be essentially useless. But if the crucial events were captured independently by two or three (and it's pretty obvious that they would have been), then if someone was trying to doctor the evidence you'd know, and it's easy to believe that the digital record could be a major help in establishing the truth.
That is to say, at the same time as the advances in digital manipulation technology make any one instance less trustworthy, the increasing ubiquity of digital recording technology more than compensates.