I don't mean to upsurp someone elses blog post, but I think my answer was going to be a bit longer than really could be handled in the comments section.
The debate is this...there's a fishing tragedy in Atlantic Canada and two men die. The local paper shows the body bags being unloaded from a search craft. Now, does that go to far?
On and off, I was a reporter for about 15 years. And I tell you, there is no right answer for this. I know that's not helpful at all...welcome to Journalism Ethics, easily the most frustrating course I took in journalism school.
I'm not going to get into the merits of that photo and that situation. Instead, I'm going to relate two things from my own experience.
When I worked with the Packet there was only one occasion where I photographed an accident. I was still relatively new to the paper and there had been a fender bender on Manitoba Drive, but there were injuries. My editor sent me up to take photos. When I got there, I saw the ambulances and a guy being put on a board, as a percaution for a back injury. I tried to stay a respectful distance back and use a telephoto lens to get pictures.
However, the family spotted me and flipped out. They came over and yelled at me, told me in no uncertain terms to get the fuck out of here and other profanities. The RCMP actually had to come over to take them away from me. They also shot me a pretty dirty look.
I was still pretty green at this point, but it shook me up. I went back to the office and told my editor, a woman I still have tremendous respect for, in no uncertain terms I was never doing that again and if she had a problem, she could take the pictures herself or fire me.
I never took another accident scene photo during my time with the Packet. I know other reporters after me have, but I never did and my editor was good enough to respect my wishes.
Does that mean I oppose these kind of photos? No. It just means that I, as a reporter and photographer, could not emotionally handle doing it. Others can and they often provide a useful service.
This is hard to grasp, but terrible things are reported every day. And reporters and photographer try to convey that story all the time. They try to get the emotional impact with words and photos, to get past the walls that we all build to avoid having to face these things.
Do I think there are sensationalistic ones out there, just trying to sell a few papers and make a buck? Of course. I'm not an idiot. But I think there are a lot out there who are also just trying to tell good stories and break through the walls we all put up when faced with terrible news.
Reporters can craft the best story possible, but sometimes you just need the punch of a wrenching photo. Surveys have been done showing people are much more likely to read a story if there's a photo. And that goes up higher if it's a photo that really catches your eye. That photo of the fishermen in body bags did. It made people read the story. The tragedy is that lots of fishermen die. It's just the nature of their profession and the risks they take. If you have to do that little bit extra to get people to pay attention to it, and if that involves running a photo that provokes an emotional reaction, sometimes you have to do that.
When I did Journalism Ethics 15 years or so ago, my prof showed me a video. Megan might have seen the same one since we both went to King's. It was from the Lockerbie disaster in Scotland. The video wasn't from the crash site, but from New York. TV crews had gathered at the airport the plane had left from and for whatever reason, the airline hadn't snapped up family right away once they knew the plane was lost.
So this woman rushes to the terminal to find out about the plane, only for some idiot to tell her, right at the counter with the cameras rolling, that her teenage daughter was dead.
The woman lost her mind. There are no other words to discribe it. It is as complete a collapse of a human being as I've ever seen. I'm upset just typing this, that's how horrifying the video was. And the camera crews taped it. But only one news program ran the video. That's how wrenching it was. New York media were too disturbed to run it.
So the question in ethics was, "do you run that video if you're the news director?" Most people said no, but a few said yes.
And I don't know. I don't. Is it explotive or did it just sum up the horror of terrorists blowing up a plane in a way that seeing some wreckage scattered on the ground in Scotland never could? I don't know. Perhaps that's why I'm not an editor at the Globe and Mail. I don't know if I can make that call. I see both sides of that argument too clearly.
But I will say this. There probably have been a dozen or more major plane crashes since Lockerbie. Thousands of people have died. But very few have stuck in my mind like Lockerbie and the costs that come from these events.
These are never easy decisions and don't think the people making them are just looking to make a buck or get some attention. Editors and reporters sweat these things. I've been in arguments with colleagues over stories and photos before. I'm sure I'm not the only one.
I say all this because while I'm not a reporter these days, I still have tremendous respect for the profession. And it always upsets me when people tarnish all reporters with the same brush. There are good ones and there are bad ones, just like most professions have good and bad people. And the decisions they have to make are harder than many. So let's cut them a bit of a break, OK...
1. Consequences - Grapes of Wrath
2. Becky, I keep singing - Hey Rosetta
3. The lucky one (live) - Allison Krauss and Union Station*
4. Broken - Norah Jones
5. Summer girls - Blue Rodeo