Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Photojournalism Commentary (with "deliberate"/awkward sentence structure)

When it comes to editorial sensitivity, I'd imagine the greatest challenge is figuring out which photographs to run. Whereas the newspaper reader has to sit down and read text to understand a story, a photo instantly conveys meaning. If a parent is reading a paper at the kitchen table, anyone can glance over and see what images are accompanying a story. A sudden explosion. An ensuing riot. A charred body. These images can make lasting impressions on any audience, regardless of age.

For instance, we discussed* R. Budd Dwyer, the Pennsylvania treasurer who, during a press conference to discuss a kickback, committed suicide. Our class was shown four images - two with him simply holding a gun and two with the gun barrel in his mouth. The last photo is particularly graphic.

First of all, one of the four pictures needed to run. The story was too monumental to use a mugshot. I would personally run the photo on the left. While a newspaper editor doesn't want to mislead or sugarcoat the truth, I think any adult reader would instantly realize what Dwyer's next action would be. It's still a chilling image, but it isn't gory.

I'm less confident with the next batch of images. Again, we need to establish a balance between presenting the truth to the public and minimizing harm to the public. It's the latter with which I'm wrestling. I can only definitively say that I would not run the picture of the grieving family members standing over their dead boy, for it's both an invasion of privacy and inappropriate.

However, I do think I would run the Mardi Gras photo. It exposes a horrific side to the Fat Tuesday festivities to which no other images could do justice. Of course, there is the question of the woman's identity. Blurred face or not, is it fair to subject her to that kind of humiliation again? Is it fair to expose her body to a potential audience of millions? Perhaps not. I don't have the answers to those questions. However, as a journalist, I would argue that it's absolutely unfair to let this crime go unreported, to bury it in text where I don't think it would elicit the same kind of disgust.

*You can find all of the photographs discussed in this post right here.

1 comment:

  1. Great post. Philosophical discussions and their practical consequences are too rarely juxtaposed and this post (along with the assignment, in general) tackles some difficult questions. While I generally agree with most everything said here, I take issue with one idea in particular.

    I would agree that a journalist needs to establish a "balance" between certain competing principles. Your post, however, lists them as truth to the public v. harm to the public. It is this latter principle that I do not accept as a journalists legitimate concern. In fact, I would be all for the idea that truth, in itself, is always a good thing (from the perspective of a journalist) and should never be subjugated to the journalist's (or his editor's) own subjective moral beliefs. However, I do find the idea of protecting individual privacy quite persuasive. Thus I would amend the balancing act to state that a journalist should balance presenting truth to the public against protecting the individual rights of his or her subject.

    Now, I'm no journalist, so I can't lay claim to any particular knowledge or expertise. However, in my view, a journalist's job is to inform the public. That's it. Why should the idea of "public harm" even enter the calculus? Every day people are murdered or raped, sometimes quite brutally. When any one of these stories becomes worthy of print, why should it be the journalist's job to consider whether the story or some photo is too "harmful" to print? And by harmful, I think we simply mean "graphic" or, I'd say, "real." These things happens - every one of the photo's that your post links to is Truth. Why is it unfit to print (other than infringing upon personal and privately held rights)?

    ~JSK

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