Journalism ethics and the subway photo conundrum

The journalist’s job is to be invisible and, in that way, to see on behalf of everyone else. We perform our most vital role when the stakes are high, even to the level of life and death. Our duty is to test the tough question, the one at the very heart of a given story, the one immediately at hand.

Should photographers help or shoot? by J. ROSS BAUGHMAN

The whole profession of journalism is an ethical grey area… I mean the whole idea is to observe and not participate. Yet, so often the job is dealing with tragedies as they happen. Should a journalist help?

Though it is never our job to judge (and I truly believe that), it is interesting to see the drama this incident has caused. If the journalist was trying to signal the train, then wasn’t he trying to help? I know I would be physically incapable of saving a man from a coming subway. My attempt would be worthless and would fail. Signaling the driver would be my best hope at doing any good, I would think. But would I still take the picture?

All of the startling photographs which have pervaded history have been of a tragic nature. When I was looking through the most powerful images of 2012, I remember asking myself how any photo journalist just stopped and took those pictures. The same thing happens every time I look at the Pulitzer Prize Winning Photos Exhibit at the Newseum.  How did their conscious let them? Granted these aren’t all negative pictures but some of the most powerful ones are. Often helping in such situations are beyond a journalists abilities, and they stay out of such situations because they must to be professional and objective.

This goes against certain part of human nature, but it is also necessary if we want objective reporting of the news. There are always going to be areas of ethical uncertainty in journalism because of this reason (and many more). Can there be a set standard for when you put down the camera? When to help? When something is too graphic? I’m not sure, at least in- the- moment.

Is there a standard? What do you think?


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