Saturday, November 09, 2013

Why photojournalism matters

Yesterday, the Daily Advertiser ran this amazing photo of the aftermath of a kidnapping rescue: 

Here's another good one.
Family members of the victim were tipped off to an abandoned house, where they confronted and mortally wounded the kidnapper, who later died of his injuries. An Advertiser photographer was at the scene to record the victim's uncle carrying her to safety.

The Advertiser was met with considerable outcry for posting it online. Criticism (which made up most of the 200-plus responses) ranged from offense at the graphic nature of the picture to alleged lack of permission to even the length of her shorts.

I can understand all those concerns. But the Advertiser stood its ground, and good for them for doing so. Here's what I said on the Facebook thread:


What most people probably don't realize is that photojournalists already adhere to a code of ethics. This photo, taken as it was in the poignant aftermath of a major news event, not only falls within that code, but exemplifies what the craft is all about. It is in no way exploitative, prurient or invasive. But it does put in stark visual terms what people otherwise might gloss over in their minds. Some of the most arresting images in history, such as Emmett Till's disfigured corpse (which his mother wanted everyone to see) or Vietnam's multiple atrocities, are painful to see. But sometimes those images are what we need to see most. 

In this case, we see both bad and good news in the same shot. A variety of emotions. Far from something that should be censored over emotions, it's the essence of hard-news journalism.

We would lose a lot if visceral emotion and permission dictated what appeared in our press. Readers can always turn away if they so choose. But news outlets must never flinch. Kudos to the Advertiser for understanding this.

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